Tribe-based rotational presidency, if well executed, is not such a bad idea

Wednesday, January 20th, 2021 00:00 |
President Uhuru Kenyatta at a past function. Photo/PD/File


The idea of a rotational presidency in Kenya has gained momentum as the political class and the citizenry alike acknowledge the need to end the Kikuyu/Kalenjin domination of the country’s top office.

Confusing arguments have dominated resultant debates on the practicality of the proposal, with some floating distorted theories that some communities will have to wait over 200 years for their turn to lead.

While a rotational presidency could take one of various formulas, we should look no further than the Swiss model to realize how easy - and worthwhile - it is to apply this unifying approach to leadership.

Switzerland is famously stable politically and socially; mainly as a result of the way in which the country is governed.

Interestingly, the tiny Alpine country has a staggering 17 living former presidents courtesy of a unique rotating one-year presidency.

The president, who is elected by the Federal Assembly for one year, is the head and first among equals in Switzerland’s seven-member Federal Council, the country’s executive branch. The role rotates among the other members in order of seniority - starting with the vice president - at the end of the first year.

While the president chairs cabinet meetings and undertakes special representational duties, the seven-person cabinet is considered a collective head of state and government; it’s one for all and all for one.

Becoming president is thus pretty easy; just secure election to the cabinet, stay out of trouble and wait for your turn, a maximum of six years. The setting hands every interested Swiss citizen aged above 18 a real chance to lead the country regardless of geographical, cultural, biological and other factors.

While not necessarily aping the Swiss model, a rotational presidency in Kenya would go a long way in addressing the traditional struggle for power that continues to stoke political tension and threaten national cohesion.

It has become increasingly evident that the tribalism dragon that the 2010 Constitution set to tame only took a new form; the nagging “us versus them” malady demanding that inclusivity be part of any lasting remedy.

In Kenya’s nascent democracy comprising over 40 tribes, rotating the presidency between the various tribes is an ideal solution. It is a sure bet that will ensure each tribe rules at some point in history.

The presidency could, say, last for a five-year non-renewable term with Cabinet Secretaries, who must represent the face of the country, serving with the incoming president and retiring when the term ends.

A non-renewable term would allow any president and his or her cabinet secretaries to focus on service delivery, unlike in the current setting where they serve in the first term with one eye on re-election.

This would allow presidents to take risks, make tough decisions, and exercise bold leadership without the fear of political retribution.

A rotational presidency should be made as ceremonial as is earthly possible to ensure focus is diverted to institutions rather than the personality cult that the presidency has unfortunately become. This will ensure the usually powerful office of president no longer goes to anyone’s head.

To guarantee equal national development regardless of which tribe is in charge, State projects should not be tied to an individual, and neither should a development be pegged to manifestos crafted by presidential candidates.

Manifestos developed by those seeking power should be adopted by both houses of Parliament (Senate and National Assembly) as well as the County assemblies for implementation. The Senate, which represents counties, could also be tasked with developing a national manifesto for the ruling regime.

This way, a president will not have the chance to dish out development unfairly, one of the root causes of the current political competition.

It is easier said than done, but a rotational presidency will, among others, guarantee long-term peace and shared prosperity by ensuring that all tribes in Kenya ‘eat with one spoon’ and partake in national affairs as equals.

It is a surefire way to annihilate the powerful “tyranny of numbers” election weapon without alienating or overly empowering any tribe.

Mr Mungai is a regular commentator on social, economic and political affairs.

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