Macharia Gaitho on power-sharing

What kind of power-sharing are they talking about?

WE HAVE BEEN GETTING a lot of hype in the past few days about an imminent breakthrough in the talks trying to negotiate a way out of Kenya’s political crisis.

But it seems to me that a lot of what we are hearing is based either on mere speculation or selective leaks by one or other of the parties involved in the power struggle.

So far, a lot seems to be pointing to agreement on a sort of power-sharing arrangement.

But there clearly is no agreement yet. So far what we have is only an acknowledgement by both sides that there is a serious problem which can only be fixed by a political settlement.

Accepting the principle of power-sharing or a joint interim administration is quite some distance removed from an actual agreement.

In any case, details on what shape such an administration would take differ wildly depending on which side is being generous with leaks about what is being discussed behind closed doors.

There is clearly a lot of hard bargaining ahead, but it is at least a step forward that both sides seem to be relaxing their initial intransigent positions and edging towards meeting halfway.

All along the public position taken by the Government has been that President Kibaki won the election fairly and that the opposition reacted to electoral loss with a campaign of violence.

Therefore, in the Government’s view, the only thing worth talking about was the opposition calling an end to the violence and seeking redress in an election petition court.

The opposition, however, has been adamant that its candidate, Mr Raila Odinga was the real victor in the presidential elections.

They have been insisting that President Kibaki was not the winner and therefore should resign to pave the way for a fresh election.

Talk about a softening of positions is a clear sign that both sides recognise the urgent need for a political solution.

The power-sharing option looks like the best option, but such an arrangement can only be of a temporary nature to create room for comprehensive constitutional reforms pending fresh elections.

It should never be, as is being suggested in some quarters, simply to provide “jobs for the boys”.

Creating the post of Prime Minister for Mr Odinga and admitting some of his party MPs in a unitary government is one thing.

Simply creating room, also, for the opposition to appoint its own nominees to senior civil service and parastatal positions is quite another.

What we should be looking towards is creating a strictly apolitical and professional civil service, not one staffed by relatives, friends, political supporters, hangers-on and cronies of either President Kibaki and Mr Odinga.

A POWER-SHARING SYSTEM IN which the principal participants are deeply suspicious of each other is difficult enough to manage.

It would be even more difficult when the policy implementation arm of Government, the civil service, is divided down the middle with key officials loyal to different political camps.

It also follows that where the country is under such a temporary administration, the public service should assume a far greater role in actually running the country than under ordinary circumstances, while the political leadership busies itself with other matters.

Any settlement based on power-sharing should therefore come with radical reform and overhaul to create a strong and very independent public service that is completely insulated from political influence.

This obviously should start with resignation of all permanent secretaries and other presidential appointments to make room for fresh recruitment by an independent and apolitical Public Service Commission, complete with parliamentary oversight and vetting.

Here, the focus should be on strengthening the relevant boards and commissions, getting rid of existing political appointees, and putting in place mechanisms to ensure that merit — in terms of qualifications, experience and diversity — always takes precedence over politics.

Of course, all these concerns about the public service would be academic in the absence of a political settlement.

That settlement hinges on President Kibaki accepting that he probably did not win the elections, and Mr Odinga accepting that he probably did not win either.

In other words, none of the two has a legitimate and cast-iron claim to the presidency, and so the only solution is another election.

Of course, an election cannot take place until there is an adequate cooling-off period, peace is restored, and the necessary constitutional and administrative reforms are enacted.

Any such reforms must obviously be worked on jointly by both sides, and hence the rationale for the power-sharing formula.

Looked at rationally, however, it is really not about sharing power; it is not about sharing the spoils or eating together.

It is about sharing responsibility in an interim administration whose main function would be to push through the reforms vital towards creating an environment for fresh elections under a system that will not again lead this country into the path of death and destruction.

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