A daring suggestion on Tuesday by trade unionist Francis Atwoli to extend President Uhuru Kenyatta’s role after the end of his fixed 10-year term “because he is young” was met with indignation by a section of Kenyans, who termed it “warped” and the brainchild of “hardliners” within and around State House.
Mr Atwoli said that letting President Kenyatta, who will be 60 when he retires in 2022, go without any well-defined role in his retirement will be an exercise in futility as “his base will not accept it”.
And, arguing that lack of enough senior positions within the Executive has been the driver of Kenya’s high-octane, often violent politics, the Central Organisation of Trade Unions (Cotu) Secretary-General called for an amendment of the Constitution to bring in an expanded structure.
“We need to amend the Constitution,” Mr Atwoli told workers during Labour Day celebrations at Uhuru Park in Nairobi. “Let us use the Bomas Draft, because the problem we have now is exclusion. Not everyone can be president, (and so) the Constitution should be amended to accommodate more people.”
As he embarked on a short philosophical argument on why this is the right time to start a national conversation on the post-Uhuru years — he said the unveiling of a 14-member team to spearhead the implementation of the March 9 handshake deal between President Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga was the bulwark needed to cushion the two after 2022 — Mr Atwoli did little to prepare his audience for the bombshell brewing within his chest.
“If we do not amend the Constitution, where do you think Uhuru will go, and he is a young man?” he asked. “We must amend it and fix him somewhere, or he’ll start disturbing those who’ll take over.”
The suggestion was immediately dismissed by Senate Majority Leader Kipchumba Murkomen and Tharaka-Nithi Governor Muthomi Njuki, who termed it “an insult to workers” as it had been made on the day the nation paused to celebrate and reward the labouring masses.
“I urge Uhuru to look at respected leaders like (former US President Barack) Obama, who retired at 54,” Governor Njuki told the Nation on the phone. “If he does not want to destroy what has been a hard-fought legacy, he should not allow people to impose him on Kenyans after 2022.”
The governor argued that while the President might not even be interested in the proposed roles or a continued stay after 2022, “some hardliners around him” were selling him the idea because they want to “hold onto power at the expense of democracy”.
“I will oppose this kind of change because it is oppressive and selfish,” he promised.
Mr Murkomen, a close ally of Deputy President William Ruto and the Elgeyo-Marakwet senator, described the suggestion to accommodate President Kenyatta as warped thinking and an attempt to “create jobs for those who are already in authority”.
Mr Odinga, who was at Uhuru Park when Mr Atwoli made the suggestion, and whose party has backed calls for the reintroduction of a Prime Minister’s position, avoided the constitutional change debate in his speech.
Mr Musalia Mudavadi, who was also at the venue, and who this weekend called for an expanded executive, also refused to comment on the matter.
This, however, is not the first time politicians and national leaders have proposed carving a role for President Kenyatta from the executive when his second term ends. It has taken different forms and employed different tactics, including hushed conversations on whether to amend the Constitution to allow Mr Kenyatta to come back as Prime Minister or some other powerful title.
Initially, the suggestion was to keep President Kenyatta in politics but only as Jubilee Party leader, but this has since mutated into political office with perks.
“People want Uhuru to go home at 60 yet Raila is trying to be president at 75. Where do you want Uhuru to go?” Jubilee Party vice-chairman David Murathe, who was not available for comment yesterday, told the Sunday Nation in March, but insisted that his was a personal and not party position.
Still, this was a loaded statement, especially because it came barely a week after Tiaty MP Kassait Kamket proposed a one-term, seven-year ceremonial president and a powerful executive Prime Minister who would hire and fire the Cabinet.
Now Mr Atwoli is reviving that debate by proposing a re-examination of the Bomas draft constitution of 2005, which proposed the positions of President, Deputy President, Prime Minister and ministers at the top.
The Prime Minister, who had to be the leader of the largest political party or coalition in the National Assembly, would be appointed by the President from among MPs with the approval of Parliament.
The Premier was proposed to be the head of Cabinet with two deputy premiers, a maximum of 20 and a minimum of 15 ministers, and an equal number of deputy ministers. The ministers, the document proposed, were to be appointed by the President upon being nominated by the PM from among members of the National Assembly.