Mutahi Ngunyi: ‘Matatu presidency’ and power vacuum

President Kibaki says there is no leadership vacuum in Kenya. And I agree.

Instead of a vacuum, there is a leadership saturation. We have a bloated cabinet and a ‘matatu presidency’.With power sharing, the presidency has been split into two.

If you are to add the vice-president and the two deputy prime ministers, what used to be the presidency has a crowd of five occupants now.

But leadership is not position only; it is action. This means that the ‘matatu presidency’ must have a driver.

Decides to sleep

If President Kibaki decides to sleep, someone in the crowd of five will take over as driver. With this arrangement, there can be no leadership vacuum; only a power vacuum.

And if the grand coalition has a problem, it is because of this power vacuum. But what is the difference?

Leadership is positional, while power is personal. From leadership you get allegiance; from power you get loyalty.

Jesus Christ for instance, did not hold a public office like that of a party leader or a cabinet minister. He was just a lumpen carpenter with revolutionary ideas.

And from his personal mission, he wielded power. Today, half the world is loyal to him.

To the contrary, President Kibaki has no power — just authority arising from his position. As a result, he does not attract loyalty, only allegiance.

Loyalty is an expression of love and commitment; allegiance is a dry act of duty. This is why Ms Martha Karua will defend him vigorously one day, and then ditch him the other.

The girl was just doing a job, fulfilling a duty: No love, no passion, and no commitment. But what does this have to do with a power vacuum?

Human beings have a desire to believe in someone. And the person they believe in is the person who wields power.

In politics, this person is usually a symbol; an icon that will attract devotion and hate at the same time. One that will inspire some people and make others perspire.

Former president Daniel Moi was such a person. We loved and hated him at the same time. And to those who disliked him, he still remained a symbol of national unity.

In other words, he wielded power over his enemies and followers alike. The same cannot be said of President Kibaki.

Our good president has not attracted serious loyalty and devotion beyond my relatives from Nyeri. As for his opponents, he has absolutely no power over them.

This is why he had to invite Mr Raila Odinga into government to contain them. In sum, the country has no centre and no symbol of power. The ‘matatu presidency’ has created a power vacuum

A while ago, I would have argued that this is good for the country. But the more I study the coalition government, the more I am convinced otherwise.

In fact, I am now persuaded that the grand coalition is a primitive and escapist form of government, worse than the one party system.

And as we export it to Zimbabwe, we must post this warning on it: “User Be Ware!”

But why do I call it primitive and escapist? I am compelled by two things. One, should this government collapse, the country could go into civil war.

The coalition is therefore the glue that is holding us together. And this is what annoys me.

A country like ours should be forming coalitions to achieve greater things, not to avoid civil war.

But because of the incompetence of President Kibaki’s first regime, the nation disintegrated into a ‘banana republic’.

Now we have to adopt a mode of government that is only fit for the ‘junk nations’. This is why I call it primitive.

Sloppy Annan accord

Two, the Peace Accord brokered by Mr Kofi Annan was sloppy to the extreme. It paid undue attention to the immediate and did minimal for the future peace architecture.

My main beef with the Annan process is that it squandered a constitutional moment.

Such moments are brought to us by the gods, and we could have effected some significant constitutional changes.

But because some people were in a hurry to become ministers, that was not possible. Come 2012 or before, we have to start all over again.

This is so because the Peace Accord was designed to cover five years only. After that, any attempts at power sharing will have to be re-negotiated — maybe after some violence.

And this is why I call the coalition government escapist: it is a five year ‘commercial break’ from reality.

But is there a way out? In my view, we need to face our reality straight in the face. For starters, the cabinet is in a state of confusion because of the power vacuum.

This means that the government cannot operate like this for a long time. The alternative therefore is to disband it and call for an early election.

This dynamic might give us new alliances that would defuse the ethnic tensions significantly. For instance, I see no reason why Mr William Ruto cannot team up with Ms Martha Karua.

When you think about it, this would be a win-win situation for both politicians and their communities.
Apart from an early election, the other alternative is a civilian coup.

In this scenario, ODM would table the Bomas constitution in parliament and transfer executive powers to the PM.

At least this would fill the power vacuum. Besides, it has always been Mr Odinga’s preferred system of government.

And since a man is not judged by his intentions, but by what he finishes, he should complete this Bomas ‘project’. Or what do you think, Mr Odinga?

Mr Mutahi Ngunyi is a political scientist with The Consulting House, a policy and security think-tank for the Great Lakes region and West Africa.

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One Response to Mutahi Ngunyi: ‘Matatu presidency’ and power vacuum

Anonymous said...

I support mutahi Ngunyi's ideas and especially on the political situation in Kenya and what hurts most is that in Kenya, what we have is politics throughout. but I believe the best solution is elimination of all our political leaders to give rise to a new breed of politics even though they wont be the best still.As paliament opens tomorrow, I wish a earthquake would give them a surprise4 but goodriddance visit to hell. the 222 of them. what kenyans need is liberation from these selfish individuals, not politics and as long as these politicians, tribal politics, poor leadership and civil wars are here to stayn after every five years, more kenyans will die, for our 'beloved' politicians.