Kenyans are justifiably jubilant about prospects of a new government that seems committed to change. After the headlines fade and the excitement wears off, however, they must sustain the pressure for political reforms instead of reducing it.
A new and democratically elected president means little if he does not follow through on his pledges to reduce corruption and ensure his government stays lean.
The over-excited throng that attended the president’s inauguration serves as a warning to the new regime; that it must address their needs urgently. People now know how sweet it is to change a regime, and they will not hesitate to do the same thing in the next five years.
The new government has an uphill task of fulfilling the high expectations of the people, and it would be advisable for it to ask for more time to deliver on its pledges.
Sound economic policy involves considering both short-term and long-term effects of whatever one does and its impact on everybody — not just a minority. Focusing on a few visible solutions will, in the long run, be counter-productive. Will the new team turn the economy around?
Scavenged From Foreign Junkyards
Picture a bus that broke down due to bad roads and reckless driving, with passengers agitating for change of driver. The scholar, George Ayitteh, describes this bus accurately in his book, Africa in Chaos, when he talks of a vehicle with “– a motley collection of obsolete, discarded parts … scavenged from foreign junkyards, and operating on borrowed ideology.
“The carburettor was a gift from Norway and the battery was donated by Austria. The tyres came from Britain and China and are mismatched. A headlight is broken and the electrical system malfunctions. Turn the ignition switch and the windshield wipers fall off. The engine sputters and belches smoke that pollutes the entire country. There are no brakes or shock absorbers [checks and balances]. The fan belt is ripped, which means its cooling system is inoperative.”
In this same bus, some passengers are keen on scavenging the remaining parts. Some are either selling them or simply taking them into hiding.
President Mwai Kibaki may be a good driver, but the bus needs urgent fixing. To simply use ropes and other accessories to make the bus move on will not help Kenya.
The new team should organize the available resources prior to asking for foreign aid. They should enlighten Kenyans on the fact that there is no such thing as a free lunch, and take this country off dependence on aid.
They should ensure that Kenyans get economic freedom that will allow them, without looking up to the government for solutions, to address their individual economic needs. They should take off the heavy burden caused by corruption that costs Kenya an estimated $895 million a year.
Without the constitutional provision of a limited presidential term, it would have been almost impossible to dislodge Moi from office. That he agreed to hand over makes him a hero to Kenya and Africa in general.
Other Heads of State who have been in power for more than 10 years ought to rethink their strategies and allow their citizens to enjoy the ventilatory exhilaration that Kenyans tasted on December 30 last year.
The question is, will the proposed new constitution take effect and allow power-sharing?
Change of power through term limits has made Kenya achieve a democratic feat admired all over Africa. Term limits for Members of Parliament and civic leaders will do a greater job, for it will make Kenyans more responsive to constituent demands and less prone to inciting tribal sentiments.
The new constitution should move away from addressing interests of certain ethnic and religious groups, and focus fully on specific principles.
The Constitution of Kenya Review Commission should identify key principles that could make it easier for Kenyans to manage their daily lives without creating a bigger government system. The previous regime made serious mistakes due to lack of balance of power between the Executive, the Legislature, the Judiciary and local government.
Freedom of Expression
Addressing aspects of protection of life and private property and allowing people to own the same are key areas that transcend religious and ethnic interests.
Giving provision for the minority to express themselves by ensuring that freedom of expression is allowed will go a long way towards moulding a strong democracy.
Press freedom is urgently required. The new regime ought to ensure that the airwaves are liberalized and laws that make it difficult for people to engage in both print and electronic media services repealed.
Our fragile democracy will not hold long if people are the uninformed and misinformed. Only liberalized media will create the competition necessary to ensure that people get accurate information.
Most important of all, the new government must limit its role in economic activity and allow Kenyans to choose freely what they would rather do to create wealth.
”’James S. Shikwati is the director, Inter Region Economic Network [IREN Kenya]”’