Devolution key in building national cohesion
It is now a week since President William Ruto was sworn in after a protracted electoral battle against his strong rival Raila Odinga, the doyen of Opposition politics in Kenya.
President Ruto has today joined other world leaders at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York after attending the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II, the monarch of Britain which Kenya has deep historic traditional ties.
Kenyans have shown the African continent and the world that they have reached a level of political maturity that robustly upholds democracy, electoral justice and the rule of law as a dominant prerequisite to peace, national stability and progress beyond protest and conflict.
While he may rue his missed chances to clinch the presidency, his consolation lies in the solid support he enjoys in more than half the country and a national following that transcends regional and ethnic parameters.
He is widely respected and recognised for his contribution to the struggle for liberation and the freedoms Kenyans enjoy entrenched in the Constitution through devolution of power and decentralisation of national resources. Devolved governance has reduced political contestations at the centre although the presidency still wields immense influence.
In the complex Kenyan political landscape buttressed by constitutionalism and legislation, ethnicity and regionalism nevertheless still play a major part in determining who ascends to the presidency, despite contrary arguments by leading politicians.
Indeed, Ruto’s win was engineered largely by a carefully crafted and executed pact involving two of the most dominant ethnic communities in the country. Incidentally, only these two communities happen to have rotated the presidency since independence.
Raila’s loss was accelerated by immediate former president Uhuru Kenyatta’s community’s adamant rejection of his passionate appeal to break this stranglehold. Ruto’s win has therefore left the country still sharply politically divided.
Establishing national cohesion remains Ruto’s and the nation’s biggest political challenge as he consolidates power in the top seat and the opposition suffers attrition in Parliament.
The two-tier government anchored in the Constitution makes it prudent for the new President to bring citizens across the political divide closer to national cohesion by strictly enhancing the independence of the arms of government – the Legislature and the Judiciary. The Executive needs to let constitutional offices including the Independent Electoral Cand Boundaries Commission, Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission, National Police Service and Kenya Revenue Authority enjoy total autonomy.
Devolution, regardless of whichever political side one belongs to or owes allegiance to the presidency, offers the best opportunity to address common problems affecting wananchi – the prohibitive cost of living, poverty, unemployment, corruption and provision of basic services in education, health and agriculture (two critical devolved functions).
As President Ruto attends UNGA in New York where the global food crisis tops the agenda, he has his own national “unga” (staple maize flour) problem to urgently address back home. Kenya is experiencing a major food price crisis compounded by a devastating drought ravaging large swathes of the country. Wananchi across the Kenya Kwanza and Azimio la Umoja political frontiers are united in the conviction that economic revival, lowering the cost of “unga” and strengthening devolution overwhelm any bitter differences manifested in the recent election.
By applying a salve to the economic wounds festering in citizens and fast-tracking allocation of 35 percent of annual national revenue to the 47 counties, Ruto could score a double political victory by also attaining the elusive quest for national cohesion.
—The writer comments on political and justice affairs. – [email protected]