Experts agree with Obama on Kenya’s democracy gains

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Prof Peter Kagwanja. “President Obama has a very reliable intelligence system around him and his bird-eye view of Kenya still gave a positive diagnosis on democracy." FILE PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP
Prof Peter Kagwanja. “President Obama has a very reliable intelligence system around him and his bird-eye view of Kenya still gave a positive diagnosis on democracy.” FILE PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP

US President Obama was right to point out the progress made by Kenya as a democracy, but it is too early to “count our chickens,” experts have said.

Development and governance experts said it was unfortunate that it took a US president to tell us that our democracy was doing okay, but the effort was much appreciated.

Africa Policy Institute CEO Peter Kagwanja said Obama was right in pointing out the progress made by Kenya as a democracy, but it was still too early to celebrate.

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“President Obama has a very reliable intelligence system around him and his bird-eye view of Kenya still gave a positive diagnosis on democracy.

“We should be proud. Our challenge, though, is in guarding these wins,” Prof Kagwanja told theDaily Nation.

He said that the key indicators of a good democracy were in place, namely; free and fair elections, a free media, and a vibrant independent civil society.

“Indeed, democracy has triumphed in Kenya. But how do we move forward? How do we make it better? As one philosopher once said, ‘the cost of democracy is vigilance’,” said Prof Kagwanja.

President Obama, in his Sunday address at Kasarani, attributed much of the gains made by Kenya to the new Constitution.

“A strong, inclusive and transparent democracy begins with elections but does not end with elections.

“Unchecked power is dangerous to democracy and power must be devolved to local communities,” he said.

OPPOSITION DOING POOR JOB

But according to Prof Kagwanja, the Opposition was doing a poor job of “checking” power and lamented that Cord never accepted any election results that ended in their defeat.

Ugunja MP Opiyo Wandayi said the US leader spoke from his heart and was honest. “He spoke as someone who genuinely means well for Kenya, but was disappointed by the leadership. If you were keen, he was simply saying the country has the potential for takeoff,” he said.

Governance consultant and Democratic Congress Chairman Tom Mboya echoed President Obama’s praise for Kenya’s Constitution, describing it as “one of the best and most progressive constitutions in the world.”

But Mr Mboya was equally wary of putting too much confidence in a legal system when the people meant to implement it did not seem to value democracy.

“Democracy needs more than just good laws to become a reality in Kenya. We have a problem abiding by the rule of law in Kenya.

“You see, a law will not give you a culture, it only provides a framework under which the people will work to develop the culture,” he said.

Mr Mboya suggested the first place to cultivate a democratic culture is in the way political parties conduct their affairs between elections.

He affirmed Cord leader Raila Odinga’s efforts to push for electoral reforms, but said emphasis should go beyond elections.

Human rights lawyer Gitobu Imanyara was, however, less reluctant to hop onto the “democracy has come of age in Kenya” bandwagon, saying there was a lot of ground to cover before describing the country as a democratic nation.

He highlighted the increasing media exposure of corruption as one of the indicators that Kenya is heading in the right direction.

-nation.co.ke

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