Kenyans are caught up in a DICTATORSHIP problem that is presently manifesting in two fundamental ways: dictatorship from within and dictatorship from without. In this arena of struggle, Kenyans are pitted against two chief enemies: Kenyan political leaders especially those in the executive arm of government who continue to reject the post-2010 constitutional order, and “international bureaucrats” who control their economy remotely from the boardrooms of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank (WB).
I was heavily involved in the final stages of Kenya’s constitution-making process as the leader of the Katiba Sasa! Campaign. I understand intimately, not only the body of the Constitution but also the philosophy behind each and every article therein. I understand why Kenyans wanted a more elaborate Bill of Rights and why the country needed a devolved system of government, etc., etc., etc.
I did my Master’s degree research partly at Kenya’s Treasury and wrote my thesis on “The Influence of Foreign Aid Conditionalities on Domestic Policy-Making: A Case of Policy-Making in Kenya, 1995-2005.” If I tell you I know a thing or two about how International Financial Institutions operate vis a vis African states, their economies, and National Treasuries, it will be a gross understatement! But, hey, humble is my second name!
The key arena of the fight against dictatorship from within is the Constitution and the delicate balance of power between the judiciary and the executive arms of government. The executive arms under presidents Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto have been thoroughly and unnecessarily overbearing, tending towards usurping the powers of the other institutions. They have both fought the judiciary ceaselessly.
They have found a good ally in the 2 chambers of Parliament: the National Assembly and the Senate. The Parliament of Kenya is today the weakest link in any attempts to have a government that accounts to its citizens and in which the constitutionally defined system of checks and balances works. The reforms instituted for almost two decades now have been a complete waste of time and resources.
When Parliamentarians became involved in executing projects through the unconstitutional Constituency Development Fund (CDF), which they see largely as a slash fund, control of Parliament by the executive arm of government was ensured. For legislators today, everything else is secondary to their ability to access and increase allocations to the CDF.
Add to this the fact that the 2 Speakers of Parliament are completely beholden to the President, and you see the magnitude of the problem. A subjugated and compromised parliament can not and will not check dictatorship. This fact is further compounded by the high levels of corruption in Kenya’s leadership. Elected leaders are always busy chasing after deals, construction contracts, and travel out of the country to make money through allowances.
Now to the International Financial Institutions (IFIs). IMF policies are often geared towards only one thing: ensuring that debtor countries are able to pay their debts. The catch, generally, is that IMF loans are both concessional and cheaper than loans from commercial entities. But ML loans come with a raft of intrusive conditionalities, precisely what I spent time studying for my Master’s programme. It follows that IMF conditionalities are not geared towards building African economies; rather, they are geared towards improving their ability to meet their loan repayment commitments! That is why you hear government bureaucrats announcing that loans are “the first charge on the Exchequer!”
Because Parliament cannot fight for Kenyans, and the executive is steeped in corruption and rejection of the same constitutional order that gives it power (Professor Okoth Ogendo’s “Constitutions without Constitutionalism”), Kenyans can only, logically, run to the judiciary! This has made Kenya a “litigious” society.
It is only through litigation that constitutional adherence can be secured. I suspect that this situation is replicated in many African countries. Kenyans must also consider themselves lucky that their judiciary, to some extent, exercises independence and is able to confront executive excesses; in many other African countries, including our next door neighbours, this is not the case!
From where I sit, judiciaries in Africa will be called upon, over and over in the next decade, to fight against the two manifestations of dictatorship I have elaborated in this article. If you are an activist in any African country, you must ask yourself: How well is our judiciary prepared to defend the rights and interests of the people? What needs to be done to make it stronger?
Do not hesitate to debate me on this issue!
Morris Odhiambo, Coordinator, Missing Voices Coalition (MVC) in Kenya, and Vice-Chairman, Diplomacy Scholars Association of Kenya (DIPSAK).