Kap Kirwok: Look beyond portfolio balance

Balance is the word in vogue. And we seem to have gone to town with it. As soon as the list of the members of the coalition Cabinet was released, everyone wanted to know if it reflected the spirit of portfolio balance.

Based on the "weight" we attached to each ministry, we drew our own conclusions. Some people felt the balance of power was tilted towards PNU. I do not agree. If anything, in terms of real importance, it is probably tilted in favour of ODM.

Consider these: are there things more foundational as sources of national livelihood than land, water, food and human health? You do not need the United Nations to tell you that, in years to come, water is going to be our single most important resource. Nothing is more significant and strategic in my view. The new Minister for Water and Irrigation, Mrs Charity Ngilu should, therefore, consider herself highly honoured for she is not only in charge of a resource that is synonymous with life, but one that is increasingly at the centre of the struggle for human survival.

After drawing our conclusions about portfolio balance, we turned our attention to regional balance. Here, because of the absence of any complicated weightings, we seem to have agreed that the President and the Prime Minister achieved the desired regional balance.

Next, we wanted to know if the balance extended to all the parties based on their parliamentary strengths. Again, party balance seems to have been achieved to everyone’s satisfaction.

Another area is gender balance. Even though we are still quite far from parity in male/female ratios, it is with gratitude that the President and Prime Minister appointed into the Cabinet the highest number of women ever.

Not content with balance in portfolio, regional, party and gender dimensions, we turned our attention to the most riveting of all balances: tribal balance. After all, one of the official reasons given for the huge size of the Cabinet was the need to ensure that every community felt part of the government at this time of national healing. So, how was ethnic calculus factored into the Cabinet? Let us take a closer look at how the 40 full Cabinet positions have been shared.

Our source of statistics for Kenya’s ethnic composition is the March 2008 edition of the CIA’s World Fact Book. If we map ethnic composition against the distribution of full Cabinet positions, we get the following statistics.

The Kikuyu, our most populous ethnic group, compromises 22 per cent of the population. Their share of positions in the Coalition Cabinet is 19 per cent.

The Luhya, at 14 per cent of the population is the second most populous ethnic group. Their share in the current Cabinet is 19 per cent. The Luo come next at 13 per cent of the population; they occupy 12 per cent of the slots in the Cabinet.

The Kalenjins represent 12 per cent of the population and their share of Cabinet positions is also 12 per cent, while the Kamba are 11 per cent of the population with a share of seven per cent of Cabinet positions. The Kisii represent six per cent of the population and have six per cent of the Cabinet positions, while the Meru are six per cent of the population with a two per cent share of the Cabinet. The rest of the other 35 African ethnic communities comprise 15 per cent of the total population. Their share of the Cabinet is a surprising 21 per cent. Finally, the non-African "tribes" — Europeans, Asians and Arabs — comprise one per cent of the Kenyan population with a share of the Cabinet of two per cent.

The picture changes only slightly when we include the Assistant ministers. We may quibble about a percentage higher here and a percentage lower there, but a it is reasonably balanced.

Incurable cynics might still view this attempt at ethnic balance as driven purely by cynical electoral calculus, rather than a genuine effort to distribute power and resources. I am not one of those cynics. I believe we may have finally realised that we cannot make meaningful progress until we acknowledge the need for ethnic balance in power and resource distribution.

But ethnic balance should be seen as a temporary strategy for achieving the ultimate economic balance between income groups — poor, lower, middle and upper income groups. The best weapon to fight negative ethnicity is economic growth and reduction of disparities between income groups.

It is, therefore, critical that we urgently entrench the concept of balance into the Constitution and give it effect through a system of laws and policy tools. But what would really help ingrain the habit, attitude and practice of balance in the national psyche is citizen activism.

The writer is based in the US.

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