Ngovi Kitau: Kenya's economy is on its sickbed; where's the cure

AFTER THREE MONTHS OF political impasse, Kenyans can breathe a sigh of relief because we now have a grand coalition Cabinet in place.

However, the delay in appointing the Cabinet has left the economy bleeding and many Kenyans suffering.

The latest publication of Kenya’s Leading Economic Indicators reveals that the Consumer Price Indices (CPI) and month-on-month inflation rate are sick and have been moved from a general ward and now heading for the ICU.

The CPI increased from 260.94 points in January, 2008, to 266.37 points in February. It then rose to 274.55 points in March. This is a significant increase of 20 per cent compared to the same period last year.

The month-on-month overall inflation rate increased from 18.2 per cent in January to 19.1 per cent in February. It then jumped to 21.8 per cent in March.

Compared to the same period last year, inflation rate for January 2007 stood at 9.7 per cent. It was at 6.8 per cent in February, 5.9 per cent in March and reached a low of 5.7 per cent in April 2007.

To ensure Kenya does not drive on this potholed road again, we need to address two issues. The first one has to do with what caused this impasse.

It was caused by three failures. The first one was the inability of political leaders to shake off cartels who financed their elections and are demanding a share of the cake. The second failure was lack of national vision and leadership among the political elite.

And finally, PNU and ODM parties differed fundamentally in their understanding and interpretation of the National Accord and Reconciliation laws.

The second issue is the need to develop a conceptual framework to assist Kenyans to discuss and evaluate what kind of power-sharing is suitable for Kenya.

In theory, there are two feasible types of power-sharing systems ideal for a divided and acrimonious multi-ethnic society like ours. These are technically referred to as consociational democracy, and integrative consensus system.

According to Andrew Reynolds, in his publication, Constitutional Design 2000, Majoritarian or Power-Sharing Government, consociationalism is driven by the premise that a society is deeply divided along ethnic lines, segmented into a number of non-conversing and antagonistic cultural groups. And as a consequence of these divisions, voting affiliation is primarily driven by ethnicity. This is common in rural parts of Kenya.

On the other hand, an integrative consensus system assumes that society is in conflict, but that those divisions are not necessarily determined by ethnic identities. There are other cleavages along the lines of class, wealth, regionalism and clan which are more salient. This is abundant in Kenya’s urban centres.

From the above analysis, Kenya has a hybrid of both systems. However, it is leaning more towards consociationalism because the majority of our population lives in rural areas.

THERE ARE FOUR CRITICAL ELEments of consociationalism. The first is grand coalition or sharing executive power among the representatives of all relevant groups.

The second element is segmented autonomy or a high degree of internal autonomy for groups that wish to have it. At this stage in our development, this could be a dangerous step to take because of the pending land, constitutional, and prevalent tribal issues.

A third element of consociationalism power-sharing is proportionality. This entails proportional representation and proportional allocation of civil service positions and public funds.

This is a big challenge to us because majority rules arrangement like in the case of PNU and ODM parties can deprive minorities of their political voice.

And should the minorities be left out, and they are armed, as they are in parts of Rift Valley, northern, and Western Kenya, then political violence remains the only avenue of political expression available to them.

Finally, consociationalism incorporates a mutual veto or a minority veto on the most vital national issues. In the Kenyan situation, this can be very complicated because of the numerous and diverse minority groups. The best way is to ensure minority rights are captured under a strong individual Bill of Rights.

In an article: Where Civil Blood Makes Civil Hands Unclean, Andrew Cooper, points out that successful consociational democracy requires four things.

The first is that the elite in the coalition must accommodate the divergent interests and demands of subcultures. From what we have witnessed, this ability is lacking in Kenya.

Secondly, the elite on all sides need to have the ability to transcend cleavages and to join in a common effort. This is another area where our performance has not been commendable.

Three, the elite must show commitment to the maintenance of the coalition and the improvement of its cohesion. This has not happened because some MPs on both sides of the political divide endorsed the National Accord and Reconciliation Bill in Parliament, but continue to preach ethnic hatred outside.

And finally, the above three requirements are based on the understanding that the elite clearly comprehend the perils of political fragmentation.

There is a need to have public debate on all these issues so that all Kenyans can take ownership of coalition building.

Mr Kitau is the managing director, Bruce Trucks and Equipment (EA) Ltd.

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