Large Cabinet is Good for Kenya

Published on 15th April 2008

Some of the cabinet members
The National Accord and Reconciliation Act 2008 provides no direction to resolve the issues of cabinet size and portfolio balance in relation to government policies. I intend to develop an explanatory formula by which to predict the future relationship between the rival PNU and ODM factions as 2012 approaches.

A comprehensive coalition-building theory should anticipate how stable the country's economic policies are likely to remain and therefore assist to advise developers whether to invest or divest. A large cabinet bodes for greater democracy, a new constitutional dispensation and good governance.

You see, the governance strategies adopted by a winning coalition vary depending on whether the country is autocratic or democratic. In autocracies, like Kenya, members in a winning coalition prefer a small cabinet, relative to the number of MP's, to enable the incumbent president to reward fewer ministers by using available public resources to produce private goods. If the size of cabinet increases, then there is less national cake to be shared privately among his corrupt cronies. Therefore, theoretically, the larger the cabinet, the more likely its members are to defect to the rival candidate at the next election.

In democracies, by contrast, the members in the winning coalition prefer large cabinets, relative to the number of MP's, so that the president is forced to use available public resources to produce public goods. However, since everyone, irrespective of party affiliation, benefits equally from consuming public goods, there is high temptation for many ministers to defect to support the challenger at the next election, since they hope to get a better deal, privately. But such defection is also risky as one never knows how well they shall be received.

Apart from the foregoing remarks, the tribal equation applies to the African situation. The dynamics characterizing Kenyan coalition-building can benefit from hindsight beginning from the reasons why Kibaki abandoned the NARC informal MOU. In 2003, his Mount Kenya cronies wanted to benefit from Moi's corrupt conduits such as Anglo-Leasing, inherited under Kenya's prevailing autocratic constitutional framework. Kibaki's kitchen cabinet preferred a smaller coalition government, which eventually came into being in 2005 upon sacking of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) after the national referendum disingenuously rejected the Wako constitutional draft. The rejection of most of Kibaki's ministers by the electorate at the 2007 general election is explainable by the fact that Kibaki's small coteries of NAK ministers, excluded LDP, and therefore were perceived to be insufficiently public-minded but only bent on pursuing private benefits. e.g. Chris Murungaru, David Mwiraria and this backlash even affected the re-election of loyalists such as Musikari Kombo, Mukhisa Kituyi, and Moody Awori. Their attempts to persuade wananchi that they should be re-elected on performance record were rejected.

In 2008, a large winning coalition cabinet including a wide spectrum from PNU, ODM-K and ODM will this time round, force the Kibaki grand coalition government to be judged exclusively according to the ideological prioritization of their public policies at the 2012 election, that is, by performance record. The current squabbling over cabinet portfolio's between the so-called Principals, President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila is not about having the ministry which has higher budgetary allocations. Neither of them shall be able to afford the luxury of using public resources for private activities given the large size of the cabinet and the diminishing rewards ministers from either side can expect to gain from corruption relative to the other.

The cabinet crisis is fuelled by a demand for "quick performance" ministries which can show visible and tangible policy investment returns by 2012. If the coalition survives until 2012, the ministers will be able to take credit for relative success of their ministries. The minister for constitutional affairs shall appear to succeed if a new constitution is effected. Then Gichugu MP Hon. Martha Karua can plausibly run to succeed Kibaki at the presidency-that is, if Kibaki is barred from contesting a third term. You never know.


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