HomeOpinionUnpacking Kenya's election fiasco

Unpacking Kenya’s election fiasco

By Edwin Nyanducha

ALMOST all emails I have been receiving from all over the world are asking the one simple question: what is going on in Kenya?

=justify>From the disappointment of those who have always viewed Kenya as a model democracy to predictions by many prestigious circles who had indicated that the elections were not going to have any impact on business and society in our country, the doomsayers seem to be having a field day. I will attempt to give what I consider a meaningful picture of the issues and the likely turn that things are going to take.

There is a saying that all politics are local. In places like the US, the things that affect the Iowans are not the same ones that afflict the Texans.

Likewise, in Kenya, all politics are local and the things the people in the coastal habour care about are not the same things people in the farmlands of the Rift Valley value the most. Further complicating the issue is that region and tribe are synonymous, giving an impression that Kenyan politics is only driven by tribalism. The truth is more complicated than that.

The CIA Factbox divides Kenya into six main ethnic groups accounting for 84% of the country’s population with none having a clear majority: Kikuyu 22%, Luhya 14%, Luo 13%, Kalenjin 12%, Kamba 11%, Kisii 6%, Meru 6%, other African 15%, non-African (Asian, European, and Arab) 1%.

This means that Kenya was, is and will always be a land designed for coalition politics. Complicating the fact further is the long overdue generational change in the politicians holding office. Mwai Kibaki is past 70 years of age. Even Raila Odinga who carries himself as a youthful politician is 62 years of age.

Official statistics indicate that 52% of Kenya’s population currently lives below the poverty line. Agriculture accounts for 70% of the country’s labour force on a pitiful 14% total arable land.

Rigid land acquisition processes notwithstanding, a rapidly growing youth base in rural areas with biting poverty pushing many into urban areas, presents a clear and present danger as pressure on inadequate social services alone could trigger discontent.

After years of negative growth in real GDP, the economy has finally started improving amidst cautious optimism being urged by critics who argue that the economy was simply experiencing recovery, not growth.

In a sense, it can be said that the ill-fated election was about maintaining the status quo versus ushering in change. A far respite though is that after almost four decades of brutal politics under Jomo Kenyatta and Daniel Arap Moi, the quest for humane politics is becoming evident.

Mwai Kibaki is in a sense the quintessential English gentleman. Schooling in Makerere, East Africa’s finest university after independence, Kibaki obtained a first class honours in economics and then proceeded to the London School of Economics for a masters degree in economics. By the early 60’s, Kibaki immersed himself in Kenyan politics starting out as minister for Trade and Industry and moving on to be the minister for Finance for very many years.

Being a sort of economist myself, I must say that Kibaki has put in place quite a number of overdue building blocks in the country’s economy that will keep serving the country well.

In a sense, Raila Odinga can be defined as “The Renegade”. Obtaining his education in engineering and political revolutions from Russia at the height of the Cold War, Raila has always been an agitator for change which has landed him long stints in jail. A charmer of the masses and one who knows how to identify with the common man’s plight, he is a force to reckon with on Kenya’s political scene. From the onset of multi party democracy, Raila has in a sense been a political entrepreneur who would register a party, get on board the bulk of the Luo vote but not manage any significant impact in the rest of the country.

Going into the elections, Kibaki felt confident that his returning Kenya’s economy onto a positive growth path would automatically lead to his reelection. This made him be holed in the seat of government and surrounded himself with technocrats as they strategised on growth et al. During that time period, Raila was busy criss-crossing the country speaking to women at functions, consoling youths at football matches, loudly pointing to the government’s shortcomings, amongst others.

Kibaki seems to have forgotten that politics is by large measure a popularity contest in which the number of votes is a function of the number of hands you shake and the number of places you visit. Kibaki’s punishing travel schedule in the run up to the election is thus explained by this.

But a key failing of the Kibaki administration was not reading the signs of the times. Whereas they were helped to get into power by Raila and other people, no sooner were they in State House than they dishonoured the Memorandum of Understanding they had struck. The Mt Kenya mafia started behaving with arrogance uber ales as if the other voting blocks did not matter and the Kikuyu’s 22% was enough to return Kibaki to power.

Raila read the mood of the time and assembled all those discontented voices under a single roof named ODM.

Four months to elections, Kibaki saw the opinion polls and for the first time, the possibility of losing the reelection started registering. Quickly cobbling together PNU which comprised of disparate parties that had not agreed on many critical issues, Kibaki packaged himself (and himself only) as the continuity that the country needs and a moderate in the face of the radicals calling for change.

The elections were conducted via combining presidential, parliamentary and civic elections. Kenya’s MP’s make about US$12 000 per month in tax free pay that is exclusive of very many other allowances they make. It is estimated that many people who were running for parliament were spending between US$120 000 to US$300 000 to clinch a seat.

This led to very hotly contested parliamentary elections where losers kept insisting that the election results should not be announced until their disputes were heard and determined. As the days dragged on, the increasing delays started creating an impression of a plot to rig the elections.

Even constituencies a few kilometers away from the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK) headquarters took up to three days to announce their results. There have been allegations of vote rigging conducted via tampering with the vote tallying process some of which has been verified such as Molo constituency where Kibaki’s votes at the counting centr eread 50 000 votes while results as announced at ECK headquarters were 75 000.

Juja constituency has also been singled out where Kibaki’s votes counted at the constituency level were 48 000 while those announced by the ECK were 113 000 votes. Another factor to take into account is that the voter turnout has been the largest in the history of the country’s elections.

In 2002, the total registered voters were 10 million while in 2007 the figure had risen to 14 million. Coupled with the highest ever recorded voter turnout, the project management challenges this state of affairs created were formidable. Add on to this severely deficient electoral laws that were negotiated in 1997 at the Inter Parliamentary Parties Group meeting at Safari Park which was all about Arap Moi making the minimum necessary concessions, it becomes understandable why the ECK’s electioneering laws have so many flaws.

Raila Odinga is justifiably aggrieved and will most likely do all within his power to see if he can clinch State House. The violence and chaos in the country are part honest expression by Kenyans of their disappointment in the electioneering exercise and part instigation by politicians. But what is not excusable is the senseless loss of lives, by and large caused by the ODM side. Burning of women, children and the elderly in a church by ODM affiliated youth in Eldoret is not forgivable. This was followed closely by the burning of another church in Ngong. No matter what explanation ODM will give, savagery and barbarism of the nature they are displaying gives the impression of a bunch of power hungry hooligans who will stop at nothing to rule.

But the blame does not stop there. Kibaki’s rigging of votes in certain quarters increasingly paints him as someone desperately clinging onto power by whatever means. The senseless loss of lives due to the actions of Kibaki and Raila are not excusable and a big shame on the both of them for their selfish ways.

Kenya’s economy is long overdue for a total redesign. What is needed is not a maintenance engineer overseeing an outdated system. We need an architect who can mentally wipe the slate clean and position our country on a whole new level.

We have total installed capacity of 1 150 MW of electricity which is what a small town in a place like the Philippines consumes. Our road network is sorely inadequate and in dire need of expansion. Our rail system was done by the colonialists in the late 1800’s and is still expected to serve the country.

The Mombasa port was designed to handle 10 million 20 foot equivalent units whereas it is now handling 14 million and rapidly growing yet I have not seen a new port or berth being constructed. Such bottlenecks to the growth of our economy and with no visionary agenda from the politicians just goes to demonstrate how they are still a part of the problem rather than the solution.

Is it any wonder that tribal flare-ups due to competition for small unproductive lands are leading to loss of lives?

Perhaps the time for principles-based politics based on people able to manage an internet economy in Kenya and not political entrepreneurship is surely long overdue and I have faith that 2012 will be the year when the democratic space will be clearly defined and be upheld thereafter.

* Edwin Nyanducha is Principal Consultant of Strathmore University Research and Consultancy Centre. His email is edwin.nyanducha@gmail.com.

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