The Role of Advisors in Government of Kenya is Misunderstood
By Maurice N. Amutabi
President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda has the dubious distinction of having the largest number of advisors in the world, about 100, enjoying all kinds of pecks such as government salaries, allowances, vehicles and offices and subordinate staff. He has an advisor on Buganda, Bunyoro, Karamoja, Toro, Ankole, Busoga affairs, among others. He has advisors in all sectors, such as education, health, agriculture, forestry, wildlife, etc. Many of Museveni’s advisors are former comrades in arms. Some of them are jobless friends and relatives. He also incorporates his political foes as advisers in order to keep tabs on them. This is bad example of selecting advisers.
In Kenya, the role of advising in government is not clear to many who have been appointed to those positions. Advising is a recent practice introduced in 2008 when President Mwai Kibaki appointed Prof. Kivutha Kibwana, Mr. Raphael Tuju, among others as his advisers while Raila Odinga incorporated Dr. Adhu Awiti, Prof. Oyugi and Miguna Miguna, as advisors. Most of them had lost baldy at the polls and it appeared as if they were being rewarded for being party loyalists more than for their technical knowhow.
In many developed democracies, advisors are technocrats, skilled in political, economic, cultural, military and others affairs. In the US for example, the Chief of Staff at White House acts as the chief advisor to the President of the United States, but there is a litany of advisors on security issues, foreign affairs, military issues, economic matters, energy, minority affairs, and Israeli-Arab affairs, among others. The chief security advisor is regarded as more important.
Advisers play an important role in guiding the political and economic direction of an administration or regime. Some advisors are sometimes brought on board during campaigns, and if they handle their candidate appropriately and he wins, they end up in government, occupying important positions. Advisors can make or destroy a leader. In 1979, an advisor in Ronald Reagan’s campaign team changed Reagan’s political fortunes against then popular Democratic Party nominee Walter Mondale when he advised Reagan to deflate age as an issue in the campaign. Reagan was 72 and running against a youthful Walter Mondale and many doubted that he could be elected at that advanced age.
In the first debate in South Carolina, Reagan stated, “I will not make age an issue in this campaign, because I do not want to take advantage of my opponent’s age and inexperience.” Many pundits believe that this single statement changed fortunes for the Reagan campaign. The statement was witty and intelligent because it took away one of the advantages that the Democratic candidate had against the old, sluggish Reagan. No candidate had ever been elected as president past 70 years and the odds were against Reagan.
In 2008, at 72, Senator John McCain faced such odds when he became the nominee of the Republican Party, running against a robust, charismatic and intelligent Barrack Obama. One of the advisors on the McCain campaign team argued that Barrack Obama nomination as Democratic Party flag bearer had angered many women who had supported Hilary Rodham Clinton in the bitter DP primaries to the extent that they would vote for any woman. That is how Sarah Palin the little known Alaska governor ended up on the GOP ticket. The advisor forgot to add that the female running mate should have a brain and intellect as Hilary Rodham Clinton. Due to her blunders and blips, Palin became a burden to the GOP ticket and McCain lost badly to Barrack Obama, with the biggest margin in recent years.
Advisors are supposed to keep the corner of their man or woman secure by adding value. They can make a candidate win, such as Reagan’s advisor in 1979, or destroy him, such as McCain in 2008. In the US, they cannot write a book using facts they came across in their official capacity because that is protected information. They can only write a book after they leave, usually as memoirs and not while in office. Kenyan politicians should be careful in choosing advisers because not all technocrats are material for advising, especially loud mouthed ones.
Prof. Amutabi teaches Political Science at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa, Nairobi. Amutabi@yahoo.com