Does Kenya Kwanza have the social licence to rule?

Thursday, March 16th, 2023 08:40 | By
Ruto plans to build 100 mega dams for irrigation, livestock, domestic use
President William Ruto at State House Nairobi on Thursday February 23, 2023. PHOTO/Facebook/State House Kenya

Barely six months after a hotly contested election in Kenya between a deputy president (perceived as the opposition) against opposition leader (seen as part of the government) Kenyans are back to an unnecessary political contest between President William Ruto and Raila Odinga.

The main contest is on who won the election. Raila maintains Ruto’s government is illegitimate. He gave 14 days’ ultimatum, which have elapsed, and has now called for mass action to eject the President from State House.

While Kenyans are concerned about the most pressing issues such as the cost of food, power, school fees, fuel, healthcare and job creation, politics has taken the centre-stage.

How should Kenyan collective wisdom assess such a situation?

Governance involves both legal and social licences. Unfortunately, many leaders overemphasize the legal licence at the expense of social licence to govern.

Whereas the legal licence is awarded by the regulating authority, social licence is given by the community, which accepts the legal person’s rule.

In the Kenyan context, the legal licence to govern is awarded by IEBC that declares the president-elect, issues the certificate of election and then the Chief Justice swears-in the President and issues the certificate of inauguration.

In case the IEBC’s declaration is challenged in the Supreme Court, it is either rejected or upheld. This due process was followed in President Ruto’s case and, therefore, he has the legal licence to govern.

But it is not enough to legally occupy the office. The society, or a larger part of the society for that matter, need to have the conviction that the leader has an unquestionable legitimacy and deserves to govern them.

This grants the social licence, which seems to be stronger and more important than legal licence, since it is earned – not imposed and cannot be taken by force, bought or stolen.

It is the same social licence that made the colonial government to hand over the legal licence to illegalMau Mau leaders who had the social licence.

Legal licence can be acquired by fraud. Examples abound of doctors, professors, Members of Parliament, Members of County Assembly, presidents and the like who got the posts through illegal means such as bribery, rigging and deceit.

Since they possess the legal paper without offering true value, they may still struggle to win the hearts of the people.

The contrast between Jesus and Herod may even make it clearer: though Herod was the de jure King of Judea as he had the legal licence, the people still regarded Jesus as their de facto King due to his actions and teachings which demonstrated that the Kingdom of God had come (Matthew 11:4). Jesus, therefore, earned the social licence, which made Herod scared of him.

Though not a legal concept, social licence has been accepted not only in legal circles but even by many countries because it has more weight than the legal licence – for is it not that those in power should have the assent of those whose daily lives are more directly affected than any one organ of the government?

Those with power to give social licence are Kenyans, and one of the best ways to do this is to ensure that leaders fulfil their mandate, especially by delivering on campaign pledges. 

In developed economies, prime ministers and presidents relinquish their legal licence to govern when they lose the social licence – the trust of citizens. In that regard, Kenya Kwanza government reminding Kenyans that they were elected on August 9 is not sufficient.

Let them deliver on “The Plan” which was their pledge to the Kenyan people if they don’t want the opposition to gain relevance and social licence due to broken pledges.

Even a father, when he cannot provide food, school fees and clothes to the extent that his children feel that their future is not in safe hands, cannot morally continue to remind them that “I’m your father”.

— The writer Fredrick Ogola is a strategy and governance expert. He is also the leader, Operation Linda Ugatuzi

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