Printer-friendly versionSend by emailPDF version

What is important for the Kenyan politician today is the economic resources of the state and the ease with which they can be used by them and their accomplices. The Kenyan state provides endless opportunities for this kind of exploitation.

Kenyans are obsessed with politics — and love talking about it, almost all the time. The media are obsessed about politics, devoting most of their coverage to politics and politicians. Nearly 100 per cent of op-ed pieces deal with politics (including, I have to confess, most of mine). There are endless commentaries on the relationship between parties and politicians, especially movement of prominent politicians from one party to another. Most of our politicians have migrated from one party to another, and then another and another. New alliances of politicians are formed fairly regularly, as are breakups of alliances. The obsession is surprising because Kenya has no politics; politicians seldom propose or discuss policies, but attack each other fairly constantly on their conduct.

Or perhaps there is too much politics. In a famous essay, “The Vocation of Politics”, the well-known German sociologist, Max Weber, argued that people who go into politics do so because they want to use the power of the state. He distinguished two types of politicians: those who live for politics and those who live by politics. The former go into politics because they want to promote the welfare of society by promoting or pursuing policies and administrative action for this purpose. They may of course differ in their view of welfare. Today in Britain, from where I am writing this column, the minister of finance in Cameron’s right wing government presented his budget based on the views of his and his party’s view that “welfare” policies are those which improve conditions for the rich to become richer (even if as a consequence the poor become poorer). On the other hand, the politician who lives by politics wants and expects to make money or obtain other advantages for himself or herself by exploiting the resources and patronage of the state.

Weber’s assumption (largely correct at his time) was that the state enjoyed the monopoly of the use of force, which facilitated those in control. This assumption no longer holds true in Kenya today, where one thinks that al Shabaab and other armed groups achieve more of what they want through the use of force than the government — though the armed forces are indeed an important prop of the administration. What is important for the Kenyan politician today is the economic resources of the state and the ease with which they can be used by them and their accomplices (which include members of executive and the legislatures). The Kenyan state provides endless opportunities for this kind of exploitation. The state is a significant investor, especially in the infrastructure, so the grant of contracts can suitably be manoeuvred to favour state officers and their friends; there is state money for their generous allowances; land can be grabbed illegally with total impunity; all kinds of deals can be negotiated with the private sector, in some instances completely fictitiously — the list seems endless.

There are three consequences of this type of politics — economic, political, and social — though in practice there is no such clear distinction. The raids on the Treasury and the other ways of stealing the resources of the state (including securing of state loans in large part to profit state officers and their business partners) push the state into further debt, imposing an enormous burden on future generations. The new Governor of the Central Bank is the only official I know who has expressed any concern on the irresponsible use of state money. The poor are getting poorer; life in informal settlements, and other marginalised areas, is becoming unbearable.

The second consequence is the intensification of ethnic politics. For the capture of the state, Kenyan politicians think they need to stir up tribal politics, bribe voters, use intimidation and violence if necessary, and manipulate the constitution and the electoral process. The main weapon for politicians still remains ethnic affiliation and its manipulation. This creates great tension in society and often leads to ethnic fighting and displacement and killing of members of the poorer, undermining national unity so essential for social and economic development.

The third consequence is the increasing division of society into the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. For the fact is that despite the cynical way that politicians promote and then manipulate ethnic identities, there is a fundamental solidarity among them. Most of them come from privileged families, their children go to expensive private schools and then university (here or abroad) forming friendships which continue after schooling, as they join the same exclusive clubs and through other forms of socialisation. For them, these class differences constitute, over the longer term, bonds stronger than the ethnic. So we have paved the path to other forms of conflict, just as ruthless as the ethnic conflicts and massacres that have blighted our history.

Much of this has been foreseen for a long time, but infrequently discussed. However, the orientation, and many provisions, of the 2010 constitution, anticipating these consequences, seek to establish a new kind of political system and ethnic relations which would avert this tragedy. There are numerous chapters requiring integrity on the part of state officers, prohibition of corruption, an open procurement process, prevention of ethnic politics through inclusion and the restructuring of the electoral process, including rules governing the formation and operation of political parties prohibiting ethnic orientation and requiring a “national character” and promotion of “national unity”.

Political parties are expected to do a lot more: formulate policies, hold governments accountable, promote democracy, involve people in politics and policies, and more generally, promote the objects and principles of the constitution, including the rule of law. For this government, and for politicians in general, ethnic politics and the fruits of politics are too important to be sacrificed for the constitution promulgated by wide public support.

The politics of Kenya, which encompassed access to and use of state power, is the most fundamental problem facing the country. The access and use of state power depend on the violation of a number of key provisions of the constitution, including its national principles and values, and substantive provisions to achieve these principles, institutions and procedures. The former include national unity, human rights (like equality and social justice), rule of law, democracy, good governance, integrity, transparency and accountability. The latter includes institutions and procedures to secure these values, such as the electoral system and procedures; integrity of public officers; political parties not tied to tribes and their conduct desisting from inciting racial and tribal hatred, bribery, intimidation or violence.

Once in power, they go about stealing public money and extorting payments from the private sector in return for lucrative and generous contracts – sometimes purely fictitious. Other venues of loot include land-grabbing. If people oppose, or even question these deals, they are liable to be arrested, punished, tortured and even killed. The whole system of government becomes deeply corrupted. It leads to the enrichment of a few politicians, bureaucrats and business people — and the misery of millions. The former become a class with interests in deceit of the people and in corruption, while it leads to ethnic tensions among the poor.

In all these ways, politicians, civil servants and the business community violate the essential principles and provisions of the new constitution meant to herald national unity and amity, human rights, social justice, equity and the rule of law.

* Prof Yash Pal Ghai is a legal scholar and a director of the Katiba Institute in Kenya.



* Please do not take Pambazuka for granted! Become a Friend of Pambazuka and make a donation NOW to help keep Pambazuka FREE and INDEPENDENT!

* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.