One country, two presidents

For all intents and purposes, Kenya has two presidents in the same government. This bodes ill for the country’s stability as supporters of President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga fight it out for control of state largesse.


This is what all the fighting is about: the power to appoint cronies to state jobs, the power to award government contracts in exchange for kickbacks and the power to fill the security services with loyalists.

The 2007 General Election was so chaotic it almost caused civil war in Kenya. Consequently, the two top candidates – Kibaki and Raila – got into a power sharing deal brokered by the international community. In a normal country, the roles of President and Prime Minister are clearly defined in the hierarchy of state power. Each person holding the position knows their boundaries and responsibilities. But alas, Kenya is no longer a normal country.

Strongly believing that he was the rightful winner of the 2007 poll, Prime Minister Raila Odinga has insisted that the power sharing deal gave him and Kibaki equal powers. He has demanded equal respect in a protocol war that has pitted him against Kibaki and Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka.

What has surprised analysts is the presence of both the President and Prime Minister at almost every function. Last week, Kibaki and Raila were in Mombasa officially welcoming the first undersea fibre optic cable in Kenya. Though a significant event in Kenya’s economy, it did not warrant the presence of both the President and Prime Minister.

The previous weekend, both the President and Prime Minister jointly attended a funeral and series of rallies. The crowd was not impressed and several local legislators took advantage of the hostile mood to launch scathing attacks on the dual presidency. Kibaki and Raila were urged to end political wrangling that has paralysed government and divided Kenyans on ethnic lines. Not surprisingly, the dual presidents banded together to contemptuously dismiss the constructive criticism.

The President and Prime Minister have been attending together agricultural shows, sports events, church services and political rallies. They have been invited to weddings and funerals as well.

In countries that have a well established separation of powers between the Head of State and the Prime Minister, the two officials only come together during very important national events. The roles of Head of State and Prime Minister should not cause confusion. The Queen of England does not attend the same functions as Prime Minister Gordon Brown, except a few of national significance.

President Hoerst Koehler of Germany does not accompany Chancellor Angela Merkel to every official opening. Neither will Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insist on having a similar toilet to that of President Shimon Peres.

Kenya must be a unique case where a Prime Minister can confidently proclaim himself as equal to the president. This is why there is uncertainty in parliament over the leader of government business because both the President and Prime Minister insist on having their way. As far as parliament is concerned – a fact rightly stated by Speaker Kenneth Marende – there is only one government and when the President and Prime Minister give conflicting directions to parliament, the Speaker cannot decide which of the two letters reflects the government position.

As a pointer to Kenya’s two-headed leadership, government delegations are increasingly adopting a partisan nature. The Prime Minister’s trip to the United States and Iran are a case in point. Apparently, the Kibaki branch of government was not involved in the logistical organization of the trip and neither was the President aware what kind of deals the Prime Minister was negotiating for Kenya.

On his part, Raila has complained that he is never consulted on Kibaki’s decisions. Raila has blamed civil service chief, Francis Muthaura, for undermining the Prime Minister’s office by over-riding Raila. Muthaura, a Kibaki ally from their university days in the 1950s, has argued that his position as Head of the Civil Service is enshrined in the country’s constitution. Following this argument, Raila’s allies emand the abolishing of Muthaura’s position terming it an affront to the Prime Minister.

A two-headed presidency is not good for any country. It results in constant conflict over responsibilities, powers and priviledges. It divides the security forces making them unable to defend the country. It stifles the economy as investors adopt a wait-and-see attitude. It completely ruins a nation’s politics because everything is interpreted as being pro-Kibaki or pro-Raila. Even the constitution cannot be reviewed objectively as any decision touching on the two offices will be personalized as anti-Kibaki or anti-Raila.

Ever heard of the Austro-Hungarian empire? It used to be a powerful Kingdom at the heart of Europe. However, political wrangles forced the empire to adopt a dual leadership consisting of Austria and Hungary. When World War 1 broke out, the empire could not survive and both countries went separate ways.

A similar fate that awaits Kenya with this strange concept of two leaderships for one government. Did I hear someone say, “lets go for elections!” But aren’t you forgetting that, thanks to the two-headed monster, we neither have a voter register nor election staff to oversee the process?


5 Responses

  1. Kweli kabisa, true signs of a failed state

  2. ‘ Bure kabisa ‘ this coalition thing. We should have gone for elections as soon as disputes of the true winner of last general elections arose. Look at the mess we are in now? Over 40 ministries whose only service delivery to the public is squabbling. Who will save us?

  3. Well, all this would not have happened if Kibaki had not STOLEN the elections and the will of the people prevailed.

    Let us be honest with ourselves, Kibaki is president because he STOLE it from the right full winner (Raila). To believe otherwise is to live a lie.

  4. the real answer is sanmarino of this question.

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