Though Potentially Messy,
Coalition the Only Way Out
The Nation (Nairobi)
13 February 2008
On the face of it, A grand coalition of parties does not appeal.
Cautious voices have warned that we are likely to end up with an
adhocracy in Parliament - a messy arrangement where the
distinction between the opposition and the Government will be
blurred, and where oversight institutions of the House will find
it difficult to function.
Yet in our present circumstances, and in a context where politics
is played along ethnic lines, only an arrangement that allows all
the major interest groups to share power according to an agreed
formula has a chance of healing the country.
We cannot just cling to the adversarial system of governance as
though it was dogma, when the alternative is hundreds of people
dead, thousands displaced, and a looming economic crisis.
In ethnically divided Kenya, staying in the opposition implies
permanent exclusion of members of some communities from public
positions, including those of permanent secretaries, directors of
parastatals, and top positions in the disciplined forces,
especially the military.
It can also imply that the regions of the ethnic communities
sitting in the opposition benches are starved of resources, while
the communities "in government" continue to hog the lion's share
of resources and public positions.
In this country, the State is still the most important source of
investment and national employment. This is why it is so difficult
to persuade people to sit in the opposition benches or to convince
them that it is worth their while to play their watchdog role of
taking seriously the leadership of the oversight committees of the
Sitting in the opposition is also disadvantageous because of the
risk of losing your members to the Government side through
The Big Man will be dangling the carrot of public appointments,
lucrative contracts to insiders, new districts for your region,
and a university for your province.
And before you know it, the opposition will have been reduced to a
one-ethnic-group affair, and its members will be dismissed as
bad-tempered and eccentric individuals with neither influence nor
clout - very much in the vein of the small group of radicals that
former power man Charles Njonjo used to refer to as the "seven
What is my point? It is that at the stage we are in at the moment,
a well-crafted power-sharing formula will send strong signals to
This might be the only way to demonstrate to the various ethnic
communities in this country that their political leaders are now
prepared to reunite and heal the country. IT IS TIME OUR LEADERS
DEMONstrated a capacity to change and learn from past experience.
If we are to get the nation's adrenaline going again, we must end
the era of stiff-necks, frozen postures and unbending minds.
If there was a time we needed leadership, it is now. Leaders must
emerge, from both sides of the political divide, who avoid
inflammatory speeches, who can restrain the tempers of their
ethnic followers, and who are willing to make compromises with
their adversaries. This country badly needs a leader to hold the
country together and replenish its self-confidence - a healer to
treat the political as well as economic wounds inflicted on its
citizens, and a pilot to guide the nation onward to a modern state
where citizens will prefer to relate to one another as compatriots
instead of as kinsmen.
And, as we address power-sharing, we must also address radical
reforms of the civil service. All those politically-appointed
permanent secretaries who have reached retirement age should step
aside to leave space for de-motivated career civil servants who
have marked time in public service for years, hoping against hope
that they will one day rise to the top. Today, you can count with
a few fingers the number of permanent secretaries who have risen
through the ranks to occupy this coveted post.
We will need to introduce measures to strengthen the Public
Service Commission, the official employer for the Government. On
paper, the commission has very transparent systems of recruiting
people in the civil service. In 2005, it published new regulations
spelling out detailed procedures for recruitment and tightening up
the qualifications needed for each position.
Under the new rules, all positions have to be advertised, even
when internal promotions are being considered. They include an
appeals mechanism, as well as an obligation to ensure regional
balance in employment.
But in reality, the rules are honoured more in breach than in
practice. The appeals mechanism has not worked. In view of the
fact that perceived discrimination in civil service appointments
has become a highly-charged political issue, there is a strong
case to raise the profile and autonomy of the Public Service
The Cabinet has also proved to be too large and unwieldy. There is
a strong case for reducing the number of ministries by redefining
roles and reducing responsibility to a few core functions.