Former president Moi infamously liked warning voters that siasa mbaya maisha mbaya (bad politics leads to a bad life). This was code for vote for the opposition and no roads, no schools and no hospitals for you.
The framers of the new Kenyan constitution must have particularly disliked the power of the presidency in doling out development money and other patronage largesse. According to the Daily Monitor (Ugandan Daily):
“From 2012, it is likely to have the most limited presidency in Africa. The president has only about 10 per cent of the budget to dole out his patronage and fund his pet projects. The bulk of the rest are fixed; both by a constitutional cap, and a negotiation process.”
It will be interesting to see how the Kenyan presidency evolves following this revolutionary clipping of its powers. Already the executive has seen its powers watered down by an increasingly powerful parliament. To reinforce this trend, the judiciary has just seen the appointment of a card carrying reformer as Chief Justice. A powerful judiciary will provide a check not only on the presidency but on the wider executive branch as well – especially the now independent and obscenely corrupt Kenyan ministries.
Credit for the relatively more limited presidency also goes to President Kibaki.
Many forget that for a long period of time Kibaki governed with Moi’s constitutional powers. It is a relief that the limited presidency will now be both de facto and de jure, especially because there are way more Mois than Kibakis vying for the presidency in 2012.
A word of caution, though. Institutions are not automatic fixes to problems of governance. They are like incomplete contracts that have to be reinforced by numerous conventions and “gentleman agreements.” The Kenyan political elite may yet find ways to circumvent the spirit of the new constitution.