As the dust settles on elections in Kenya, it is important to remember one Mohammed Abduba Dida, a former English Literature and Religion teacher at the Dadaab Refugee Camp in northeastern Kenya, and one of the eight presidential contenders.
Explaining why he decided to run, the 39-year-old spoke candidly: “I have seen tough life until I got tired. Everyday things would get tougher until I gave myself two options – either flee the country or remain and become an agent of change. I chose the latter.”
But Dida’s story could not be more different from that of Uhuru Kenyatta, Kenya’s new president-elect. Kenyatta is not only one of the richest men in the country with an estimated net worth of $500 million and half a million acres of land; he is also the son of the country’s founding president Jomo Kenyatta, the man former President Daniel arap Moi wanted to succeed him, and the godson of the outgoing president Mwai Kibaki.
To an extent then, Dida’s story reflects the feelings and experiences of a majority of Kenyans, while Kenyatta symbolises the entrenched political and economic interests that have led to that popular dissatisfaction.
Kenyatta’s victory does not signify the end to ethnic divisionism that it may seem like from the outside; the same concoction of ethnic strife and political demagoguery was present during these elections as in 2007. In a controversial television interview, political scientist Mutahi Ngunyi predicted Kenyatta would win purely based on the size of the two largest voting blocs. Provocatively titled ‘the tyranny of numbers’, Ngunyi’s theory indicated that Kenyatta would win by garnering very high majorities from two of the largest ethnic blocks, the Kikuyu and Kalenjin, and their respective neighbours in the Mount Kenya and Rift Valley regions. Ngunyi also quipped that Raila Odinga’s team, Kenyatta’s main rivals, had “slept through the revolution” by failing to urge residents in their strongholds to register during the voter registration exercise in December.
That Kenyans vote along ethnic lines is a well known. However, the outcomes of the elections reveal so much more than just numbers. Below are some of the lessons to take away from the 2013 elections and some things to watch for during Kenyatta’s presidency.
For anyone to become president of Kenya they either have to be Kikuyu or must find a way to either entice or divide the Kikuyu voting bloc. Party-based coalitions are one way of doing this, but not the only one.
Former president Daniel arap Moi, for example, was able to retain power particularly after the return to multiparty democracy by actively suppressing the Kikuyus’ ability to vote as a bloc. To this end, he deployed various tactics including the dangling of monetary carrots (i.e. political patronage) and the sponsoring or condoning state and inter-ethnic violence.
Revealingly, the second runner-up in the 2013 elections, Musalia Mudavadi, recognised the importance of tackling the Kikuyu question and therefore appointed a Kikuyu politician, Jeremiah Kioni, to be his running mate. Kenyan social media has been awash with rumours that Kioni voted for Kenyatta.
The political (his)story of Raila Odinga, his family and by extension other non-Kikuyu communities, seems to be written in stone. Like his father and other nationalists such as Tom Mboya, Odinga is most valuable to the country for the opposition he offers against one ethnic political status quo. Against the odds, Odinga was able to gain a wide following across the country – no mean feat considering how polarised the country was just a few years ago. Nonetheless, it is probably going to be a while before Kenya can have a non-Kikuyu, non-Kalenjin leader.
Unifying against foreign interference still remains an attractive political narrative. Kenyatta centred his election campaign on the charges he faces for crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court (ICC). His choice of William Ruto as running mate was undoubtedly a strategic move to enrich this. In setting themselves against a powerful external actor, one as frequently accused of showing a bias against Africa as the ICC, Kenyatta and Ruto tied themselves into a rich African history of foreign oppression and defiance.
There is little indication that any other factor, such as Ruto’s past political successes or lack thereof, played a role in Kenyatta’s decision to ally himself with Ruto. As these two defendants led the Jubilee coalition campaign, they pursued a dual platform that played up their alleged victimisation and emphasised Kenyan sovereignty. It also enabled them to chastise Odinga as the evil force behind their troubles.
It is perhaps easy to overstate the grounds for the coalition’s success, but the slim margin of victory shows it was neither an indication of national unity nor necessarily a premise for future unity between Kikuyu and Kalenjin. The outcome of this particular election was the result of a unique situation – one that could change as rapidly and unexpectedly as the events leading up to it.
Kenyatta’s first and single most perilous source of trouble will be his deputy president, William Ruto. Kenyatta will be hard-placed to find a meaningful use for Ruto, who is more adept as a political missile than as an administrator. Ruto is also relatively tainted as a politician on the local scene. He has several cases pending in court, including one where a victim of the 2007/2008 post-election violence has accused him of illegally acquiring part of her land after she fled. He has also been accused of playing a role in a 2010 corruption scandal which occurred within his ministry when he was Agriculture Minister.
Just as Ruto fell out with Odinga after the previous elections, there’s sufficient evidence to suggest that as soon the common ground in Kenyatta and Ruto’s fates is removed, or Kenyatta’s first term comes to an end, the president-elect will sever links with Ruto.
It may be too early to decisively pronounce other lessons. Results will be challenged and counter-claims will be filed. What is beyond doubt is that Kenya is better off thanks to the new constitution enacted two years ago. Devoid of the need to make short-term political gains, the constitution shows a real potential to unite the country. It is hoped that the right statesmen and administration implement it and allow Kenyans the opportunity to continue the peace-building efforts that began after the last post-election violence.
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For further reading around the subject see:
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