Let politicians, not technocrats run the government
Wednesday, December 2nd, 2020
Sammy Kwichichi Wekesa
The Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) Report recommends that the heads of ministries be drawn from elected MPs.
This is unlike the 2010 Constitution which authorises the president to appoint unelected people to these positions.
Save for President Uhuru Kenyatta and DP William Ruto, who are politicians, the original composition of the 2013 cabinet was made up of technocrats, who seemed to have been selected on the basis of their expertise and not political instincts.
The 2010 Constitution does not disallow an elected president from appointing a politician into government.
Nor does it impose on the president the duty to form a government of technocrats.
However, exclusion of politicians in the formation of cabinet, which, in public perception is the Government, inadventendly made it technocratic. Government is an inherently political institution.
It is created as an agent of the polis, the political community. Regardless of the nature of government—whether monarchical aristocratic, democratic or otherwise—the leaders who make decisions affecting the state are politicians.
The people oscillate around and look to them to satisfy their expectations or to allay their fear. Ultimately, they are the face of, and glue that holds the polity as one.
The president should recur to fellow politicians to govern. Politics is about the art of government, management of public affairs, compromise and consensus, power and the distribution of resources.
It is strange that neither political scientists nor journalists have written anything about whether technocratic government is superior to a politically dominated government.
The only technocratic cabinets we have had in recent political history are is in Italy, Greece, and Bulgaria.
They were all appointed in times of economic difficulties to avert imminent economic disasters.
They are often appointed after a crisis caused by a political scandal. We have neither had serious economic difficulties or political scandal to invite them to run government.
It is now eight years since Kenya opted for a “technocratic government”. What has been the experience?
My first impression is that the presidency cut off the natural link between his office and the people. Technocrats cannot be a reliable link between the two; politicians are.
The CSs don’t have grassroot knowledge of the people to appreciate issues and challenges they face to be able to brief the president as politicians are wont to do.
Secondly most of them had never worked as civil servants. Nor did most of the Principal Secretaries.
They were to rely on career civil servants to understand government operations to give meaningful input to their dockets.
Thirdly, politicians have a much higher Emotional Intelligence than technocrats. Civil servants have indicated some CSs have had little regard for them.
Thus, they have hired so-called special advisors with zero knowledge about government and policy operations to guide them.
Fourthly, the major limitation with technocratic cabinet includes little capacity, tenacity and empathy when faced with issues that are more humanistic, social, abstract, multidisciplinary and complex. Most steer off such.
We have seen naïve simplification of complex issues and sometimes, open arrogance or indifference, to legitimate concerns.
Either way, issues purely humanistic and metaphysical important to stability and health of the polity, have been hushed or glossed over.
BBI should help the president—current and future—in returning politicians at centre of government.
— The writer is former head of Public Communications, State Department of EAC