In a few days time, President Uhuru Kenyatta will make his third state of the nation address. The head of state will speak to the joint houses of Parliament and to the country on Kenya’s social, political and economic health. In line with the Constitution, he is expected to show how his Government is adhering to national values and promoting good governance and national unity.
This government arrived to power talking about national unity, the economy and open governance. Naturally the three areas form a basis for assessment of government’s performance. To address national unity, the President and his deputy want to dissolve the constituent parties in the ruling Jubilee Alliance and replace the alliance with one party. Rather than be the harbinger to the much-touted unity, this idea is causing divisions in Jubilee itself, even before they can hope to rope in others. Political parties in Kenya are tribal outfits; each led by a tribal leader. The thinking is that if you replace them with one party, you will achieve national unity.
This is a curious and retrogressive way of looking at things. It is a rollback to the 1960s when Kenya became a de facto one party state. The argument was exactly the same. Tom Mboya and Jomo Kenyatta argued that political pluralism was hurting national unity. That was how competition of ideas was killed and one party dictatorship established. National unity in a multi tribal society is best nurtured through giving all citizens equal opportunities. In this the Jubilee government has failed grossly. President Kenyatta presides over an ethnic duopoly. Even if all the political parties in Kenya were to be dissolved and replaced with only one party, this alone would not create national unity. The face of the Public Service is disturbingly duopolistic. If the President does not dismantle this duopoly and replace it with the face of Kenya, his national unity proclamations remain a pipe dream and a formation of empty words.
On the economy and governance, we are likely to hear statistics of growth and of new targets. We are likely to hear about reduced oil prices and of the visits by President Obama, the Pope and of the UNCTD meeting in Nairobi as indices of good performance. Kenya’s role in regional matters might also come up and maybe a word on devolution, too. This is good. However, sustainable youth agenda remains a challenge. Uwezo Fund seems to be a conduit for corruption, as we have seen what is happening in the Youth Fund. There is no tangible engagement with unemployment among the youth. This is a time bomb. The government must stop paying lip service to the youth.
Equally important is deliberate and sustained exclusion of women. Today President Kenyatta presides over an unconstitutional cabinet. This should not even be a matter for discussion and argument. The gender equation in the cabinet is illegal. Without first correcting this imbalance, the President should avoid talking about the Constitution altogether. Indeed, the Constitution has been failed in several other areas. The National Government continues to cling on to devolved functions because of wanting to control the money that should follow those functions to counties. The catalogue of corruption in National Government is a clear indication of why those functions have not been allowed to go. President Kenyatta should address this or refrain from talking about the equality, the Constitution and devolution.
A related anomaly is that the structure of the Public Service remains unclear. Having created ministries and appointed office holders, the President has failed to show which government departments and parastatals fall under which ministry. Some departments that belonged to defunct ministries do not know where they fall. Now one minister will attempt to lay claim on a certain function, only for another one to say it is his. President Kenyatta should streamline this ahead of the state of the nation address. Once again, corruption and theft thrives under this ambiguity. I would want to believe that this is not deliberate and sinister organized disorganization of government.
Predictably, the President will say many good things about his government, while also finding scapegoats and excuses for the things that have not worked. The President will be mindful that next year is an election year. He is likely therefore to paint a rosy picture and to stretch the reality, both when giving a catalogue of his government’s achievements and explaining away what has not been achieved. In all this, however, the President will do well to remember that he is the person with the instruments of government. He must refrain from scapegoating. In particular, he must allow the Opposition to continue faulting his government while the media faults both. The Opposition, especially, does not exist to praise his government.
Kenyans will expect reliable updates on the standard gauge railway, on the LAPSET project and on the school laptops project. These should not be window dressed to mask corruption that has been alleged in these areas. The latest spin in government is that civil freedoms and liberties and making it impossible for the government to fight corruption. This is garbage. The President should steer clear of this cheap propaganda. Indeed, if he believes that he cannot fight corruption, he must tell the nation why he remains in power and why he needs a second term.
Nonetheless, I expect to hear hard to believe things about the war on corruption. This has been the zone of spectacular failure. Indeed, it is no longer in doubt that one of the businesses and rewards of government in Kenya is corruption. In this regard, both the President and his deputy are most eloquent and angry when addressing those who speak against corruption than they are when speaking about those who loot national coffers.