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Does the structure of the Executive really matter?

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By BITANGE NDEMO
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Next year, Kenya will celebrate ten years of the Constitution of Kenya 2010.

Even before any formal review of this foundational edict is made, political parties have embarked on amending it, although we all praised it as progressive.
The current argument is that the political structure isn’t right for a fledgling democracy.

Democracy (demos for “common people” and kratos, “strength” in Greek) was a creation of the Greek people.

Politicians as well as philosophers in Athens debated the development of this terminology for centuries. In 508-507 BC, the Athenians established the first democracy. Cleisthenes, an Athenian lawgiver, was credited with reforming the ancient Constitution of Athens.

By 411 BC, they were tired of their democratic system and replaced it with some form of oligarchy mostly consisting of wealthy Athenians.

Until the 19th century, the Athenian democracy faced internal conflicts, splits and coups that they ended reverting to the original democratic principles.

There isn’t an ideal structure of democracy as leaders will make us believe. While some are proposing a powerful prime ministerial post and a ceremonial presidency, others think the status quo has no problem. They both fall short in explaining the benefits in their preferred structure.

After all, we spent many years fighting the imperial presidency we discarded in 2010. We are forgetting too quickly before we entrench institutions that will protect those in power when they join the ranks of ordinary citizens.

A casual survey that I conducted shows that despite there being a public debate on constitutional amendment, many citizens have no clue about the intentions of Punguza Mizigo and Building Bridges Initiative (BBI).

Like the Athenians, it is only the elite few (less than one percent) playing constitutional games.

As they say, the devil is always in the details. Politicians want a win-win situation where the winner and the loser will have a cake to eat after a grueling campaign.

The public, however, want responsive and transparent leadership that will deliver desired public services. These two dichotomous propositions must be reconciled.

If we truly cared about the common mwananchi, then we should be ashamed that Members of the county assemblies (part of the expansive governance) gobbled Sh8.6 billion in travel and sitting allowances last year when children are dying from collapsing classes. Yet the same amount could develop thousands of classrooms across the country.

It is imperative that we learn from the British and Americans who are currently faced with constitutional predicaments. In Britain, although the country has no written Constitution, they from time to time face issues that are considered constitutional but they often overcome such challenges through their own traditions, conventions and legislations without resulting to demanding a written Constitution.

The passing of the 2011 Fixed-Term Parliaments Act that borrows its contents from the American system could be the Achilles heel for the British. The Act gives Members of Parliament (MPs) a fixed five-year term.

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Previously, as Robert Tombs writes in a New York Times article, A Very British Constitutional Crisis: Could Brexit transform British politics forever? “a prime minister who lost control of the House of Commons could call a new general election, and so end the standoff.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson now finds himself a victim of the parliamentary changes that he cannot effectively execute policy with sort of a hung Parliament. He needs a general election to be effective in his policy execution.

His only option is mustering a two-thirds majority vote in parliament for a new election and Members of Parliament are against. Some of his own MPs have deserted him.

That effectively brings a crisis with a Prime Minister who can’t govern and MPs who don’t want an election. It remains to be seen as to how they resolve the political quagmire they are in at the moment.

The Americans on the other hand are grabbling on how to deal with an unconfined President. Clear as the US constitution is, the president seems to be unconstrained by the supreme law of the land in his pursuit for re-election.

After years of toying with impeachment threat, the democratic party-controlled congress feels they have reasonable cause to kick out their President. There is clarity with the US Constitution even as politicians seek to interpret it in ways that can favour their course.

In our case, where we have largely borrowed from the two systems, it could be even more confusing. The push for a parliamentary system with scattered clauses from a presidential system could put us in a more difficult situation than what the British are facing at the moment.

In a young democracy like ours, our focus should be how to deal with pressing issues like unemployment and poverty. Much of Asia’s Newly Industrialised Countries first focused on economic reforms before any political reforms.

In my view, it is not the constant changes to our political structure that will bring stability in the country. Our problem emanates from our leadership style.

This is where leaders endear themselves to the tribe first then seek alliance with other tribes. As long as we continue with that kind of practice, the perception of exclusion will never cease. Partly the reason why the UK and the US are in trouble is because of the emerging nationalism that may tear apart the UK and possibly give rise to internal strife in the US.

True leadership will always emerge and disrupt status quo even when unexpected as it happened with President Obama.

As Nelson Mandela said, “A good leader can engage in a debate frankly and thoroughly, knowing that at the end he and the other side must be closer, and thus emerge stronger. You don’t have that idea when you are arrogant, superficial, and uninformed.”

As we debate the impact of tribe in our leadership endeavour, let’s always remember that the other side must be closer for us to emerge stronger as a nation.

The writer is a professor of entrepreneurship at University of Nairobi’s School of Business. @bantigito

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Our wizards saw the Brave New World, but none saw coronavirus

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By CHARLES ONYANGO-OBBO

Last year in December, Nation Media Group held its first Kusi Ideas Festival in Kigali. The festival tried to peer ahead the next 60 years in Africa.

There were many Brave New World ideas about how that future might look like, and also the perils that progress almost always brings. Needless to say, no one saw Covid-19 coming.

A futurist curtain-raiser in The EastAfrican, titled Africa in 2079, came close to outlining a mirror universe to the one Covid-19 is bequeathing us.

Between London, Zimbabwe, and the corners of Africa where Econet’s fibre optic network reaches, Strive Masiyiwa, founder and chairman of Econet Wireless and former chair of the board of AGRA wrote:

“I recently invested in a tech start-up that has created an Uber-like platform for tractors, enabling farmers to link up with a central database and order a tractor via SMS…freeing the farmer from the drudgery of the hoe. This service is particularly valued by women farmers, enabling them to circumvent social norms that might otherwise hamper their ability to hire a tractor.” From wherever we are hiding from the virus, unable to roam the farm, Uber farming could be the new way a lot of our food is produced.

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From Tanzania, Aidan Eyakuze, who is executive director of Twaweza East Africa and has been confined in-country as an elegant prisoner for nearly two years because of his love of inconvenient data, painted an intoxicating but strange utopian-dystopian picture of Africa at the end the century.

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By 2079, he foresaw the “vast majority of Africans earn their living through multiple micro-tasking (MMTs) ever since every ”job” was unbundled into its component tasks…leaving only those unbundled micro-tasks needing social intelligence, creativity or dexterity to be done by people. All ”taskers” are always-on private contractors who bid relentlessly for the privilege of tasking.

Incomes are kept low by the relative scarcity of tasks requiring the human touch.

“The unrelenting competition for tasks is both stressful and socially divisive — you are competing against everyone all the time…even marriages have renewable term limits, ‘in case someone better comes along.’” With work-from-home regimes, the former has come 78 years earlier.

Indeed, even for the latter, more people now probably think being cooped up with the same man or woman in the house “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part,” is a very archaic model.

Between Italy and Kenya, the Society for International Development’s Arthur Muliro, peered into a what a truly borderless Africa might look. Among others, his gaze settled on, of all places, Libya.

“Libya…was now welcoming other Africans and allowing them to settle. The peace deal that had come after a decade of civil war was holding and there was new optimism, in part boosted by the arrival and expansion of new migrant groups who had settled there and were helping rebuild their adopted country.”

On a close re-reading, turns out Aidan hinted that Turkey, which jumped in the Libyan fray as the coronavirus made its way out of Wuhan, might have something to do with it.

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Stadiums progress welcome – Daily Nation

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By EDITORIAL

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Last week, the Sports ministry’s top officials, led by Chief Administrative Secretary Hassan Noor Hassan and Principal Secretary Joe Okudo traversed the country to access the ongoing construction of stadiums.

President Uhuru Kenyatta also made an impromptu tour of the Nyayo National Stadium to ensure that all is well besides giving Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed full support. That has made sure that renovation works resume at all the stadiums — including Kasarani, Nyayo, Kipchoge Keino, Kamariny and Wote — and that everything is running on schedule.

Upon completion of some of these arenas, the country will have positioned itself to host major world events, especially in football, athletics and basketball. The ministry must, therefore, ensure that, while it has given contractors an ultimatum to finish their work, it also insists on quality delivery.

But there are concerns about work at county stadiums, especially in Mombasa, where those who redesigned the arena have done away with the internationally approved running track.

The new stadium has been designed for football only hence won’t host any track and field events. The four lane track will only be for warm up and this has raised eyebrows.

Mombasa County Chief Sports Officer Innocent Mugabe said Bububu grounds in Likoni and Kenya Ports Authority’s Mbaraki Sports Club will be upgraded for sports use. Mombasa being at low altitude, it is suitable for staging major World Athletics events, having staged the 2007 World Cross Country Championships.

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Kenya is bidding to host the 2025 World Championships in Athletics and Mombasa can easily be the venue with a good stadium in place. There is still time to build a county stadium.

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Ensure reopening of schools runs smoothly

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By EDITORIAL

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When Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha announced a fortnight ago the postponement of school reopening to January next year, he gave an exception. Universities, teacher training colleges and technical training institutions were directed to be ready to reopen in September.

Consequently, they were asked to put in place safety measures prescribed by the Health ministry, including reorganising classrooms and hostels to ensure social distancing. Just a month to the planned reopening, are those institutions really prepared?

In the past few days, Prof Magoha has convened meetings with the heads of the institutions to plan for the reopening and visiting the colleges to assess their preparedness. Preliminary reports from these engagements indicate that just a few institutions are ready.

POOR STATE

At the university level, so far, only Strathmore has been declared ready for reopening. Ensure reopening of schools runs smoothly

For teachers’ colleges, three — Murang’a, Kibabii and Kericho — have met the threshold. Assessment is ongoing for the technical training institutions.

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But the broad observation is that most of the institutions are not ready. Though not surprising, most of them are ordinarily in poor state and Covid-19 has just exposed them. Beyond the situation, long-term actions are required to revamp and revitalise them.

Reopening the colleges in September will be the starting point for relaxing restrictions in the education sector. The reason for beginning with colleges is that they have mature students who understand the health protocols and can, therefore, take care of themselves and minimise infections. Their experience would then inform plans for reopening primary and secondary schools.

REPEAT CLASSES

Closure of schools and colleges has dealt a huge blow to education. Learners in schools have lost a whole year and have to repeat classes next year. This comes with high social, economic and psychological. Indeed, this is the first time in history that schools are being closed for a year.

The last time the education sector suffered most was in 1982, when, following an abortive coup, the University of Nairobi and then-Kenyatta University College were closed for nine months. That created a major backlog and that took five years to clear. This is the reason steps should be taken at the earliest opportunity to mitigate the damage.

The challenge, therefore, is for the colleges to work on those health protocols to prepare for reopening. All other sectors, such as transport and tourism, are reopening and, therefore, colleges have no reason to lag behind. We ask the management of the institutions to expedite the required processes and get ready for reopening in September as directed.

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