Kenya: Shadow Cabinet Provides for Inclusivity in National Discourse

11 December 2019

Tribalism has served its time in Kenya's politics. It is time to say goodbye to it and the explosive ethnic loyalties which blow up our country during elections.

The Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) Taskforce identified ethnic antagonisms and divisive elections as two of the nine core challenges our country should overcome.


President Uhuru Kenyatta and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga promised to listen to Kenyans.

The BBI Taskforce offered solutions to the problems Kenyans pointed out. It is now our turn to investigate and approve the recommendations which must lead to a more representative and stable form of government.

The BBI proposal to establish a shadow cabinet is mentioned as one such tool to empower and enfranchise.

According to this, the runner-up in the presidential election will become the leader of the official opposition and the head of the Shadow Cabinet (unless of course he is brought into government, perhaps as prime minister). Their role is to keep ministers and other officials on their toes by challenging the government's position in Parliament.

Institutionalising the opposition's role for in the daily workings of Parliament would ensure a more inclusive system of representation.


It would also promote peaceful elections in future. The Shadow Cabinet would also encourage the government to propose policies which have been well planned and that appeal to many voters.

The introduction of a Shadow Cabinet and a leader of opposition means that even if a presidential candidate finished second in the race, they won't completely lose.

This is a key point that President Kenyatta has emphasised for a long time. Kenyans who supported the second most popular candidate can rest assured that their political views would be represented for the entirety of the upcoming term.

A Shadow Cabinet is essentially a mirror cabinet, meaning that for each ministry and issue area, the Shadow Cabinet nominates a Shadow Minister to monitor the work of government ministers.

If dissatisfied, it is their job to offer better policy proposals. The Shadow Cabinet works as the perpetual critic of the government, highlighting the differences between the draft policies of the latter and the preferences of the minority voter basis.


By holding a mirror up to the work of the government, the Shadow Cabinet can function as a de facto alternative.

This is imperative not only for the purpose of representing the supporters of the opposition but also to point out when the government does not live up to its promises.

As a result, the Shadow Cabinet and the Leader of the opposition can sway votes in their favour throughout the entirety of their political term.

The BBI has been right to highlight that our elections stand out and that our laws unnecessarily pit opposing political groups against each other.

With an institutionalised opposition, we will be able to bridge the divide between election periods and periods of governance.

The existence of a Shadow Cabinet will also change the way government functions.

The same mirror that can be beneficial for the opposition represents a risk for the government.


The incumbent President and his government ministers have to consider this and anticipate that if their policies diverge from what was promised, or what is good for the greater whole, then the opposition will be there to capitalise on it.

This consideration would encourage future governments to follow a consistent people-oriented policy strategy and to think over proposals before presenting them in Parliament.

Establishing a Shadow Cabinet with a leader of the official opposition is one of the most innovative proposals put forth by the BBI taskforce.

It will empower the 'losers' in elections and re-enfranchise those whose voices are currently worthless if their side does not make it into government.


The recommendations put forward will make Kenya a safer, fairer, more representative democracy.

Making sure that the contents of the proposal are enshrined in the Constitution and actually improve day-to-day governance in Kenya is now up to us.

Michael Mugwang'a is a Nairobi based Communications expert. [email protected]

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