In Summary
  • Lower intellectual standards have left Africa with leaders who can barely express their ideology.

  • Prof Nyong’o is both a statesman and an intellectual. That is a rare combination of skills in Kenya today.
  • The writer takes the reader to basic theories of democratic government to specific country experiences.

In his testimony to the Building Bridges Initiative last month, Prof Peter Anyang’ Nyong’o, the governor of Kisumu and former Cabinet minister for national planning and for medical services, reduced his recommendation to two basic dimensions: a parliamentary system of government for Kenya, and the introduction of proportional representation as the electoral system, as opposed to the current first-past-the-post simple majority procedure.


Prof Nyong’o considers enhanced devolution through regional economic blocs as a necessity, but not an urgent priority.

The essays presented in his new book, Presidential or Parliamentary Democracy in Kenya, underpin the two basic recommendations that he made to the Building Bridges Initiative. They amplify, illustrate and justify in greater detail the need for Kenya to introduce constitutional reforms at this stage in favour of parliamentary government (as opposed to the current presidential system), and proportional representation in the election of legislators at all levels.

His narrative in the book, published by Booktalk Africa, takes the reader to basic theories of democratic government — from the biblical Moses, Robert Michels, St Augustine of Hippo, Karl Marx and Jean Jacques Rousseau — to specific country experiences, ranging from Kenya itself to the United States, South Africa, Mauritius, Tanzania, Congo DR, Ghana and Nigeria.

On Kenya specifically, the essays touch repeatedly on its immediate post-independence experience that saw the elimination, as elsewhere in Africa, of parliamentary government and its replacement by an autocratic presidentialism, the resistance to one-party rule in the 1990s, the betrayals after the 2002 General Election that were won by Narc, and the electoral crisis thereafter. Lessons in favour of the two basic constitutional reforms are drawn from that diversity of experiences, and theories.


Prof Nyong’o is both a statesman and an intellectual. That is a rare combination of skills in Kenya today compared with where the country (and Africa generally) was in the immediate post-independence period. In those days, Africans debated their most fundamental political and economic development policies against the backdrop of the contours of thought charted by their leaders in government or out of it. One thinks of Tom J. Mboya, Julius Nyerere, Kwame Nkurumah, Leopold Senghor, Dunduzu Chisiza, Frantz Fanon and many others. It became normal for the first generation of African leaders to commit their thought and policy goals to paper and to invite debate.

The goals of African independence, African identity, national unity, African socialism, strategies of achieving pan-African unity, economic development, inequality, non-alignment in international affairs — all these were subjected to vigorous public debate.

Somewhere along the way, Africa lost these lofty intellectual standards and dropped the bar so low that the number of our leaders who can commit thought to paper is now but a tiny minority. Campaign manifestos are increasingly commissioned to consultants, including international ones. For this reason, we are indebted to Prof Nyong’o and the few like him who have bucked the trend of African intellectual denudation. For whether you agree with what he says in the book or not, the truth is that democracy in Kenya and the rest of Africa will be better served by educated and informed debate in comparison with the dreary intellectual flimflam that we hear from our legislators and read on social media and the daily press.

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