BOOK NOOK: Tragic reminder of our refusal to learn from past elections

Tuesday October 24 2017

The Kenya’s Past as Prologue: Voters, Violence

The Kenya’s Past as Prologue: Voters, Violence and the 2013 General Election in its entirety is a wonderful way to look at Kenya today conjunctly with the events of 2013 election. PHOTO| BENSON MWANGI 

By BENSON MWANGI
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After the 2013 General Election, French and Kenyan academics undertook research through a multi-disciplinary approach to look into the event as it unfolded, including circumstances and factors shaping the electioneering period. This culminated in the book, Kenya’s Past as Prologue:  Voters, Violence and the 2013 General Election.

Reading the book in 2017 eerily raises issues, recommendations, fears and insights that have already taken place in this election cycle.

The book was published by Twaweza Communications and edited by Christian Thibon, Susan Mwangi, Mildred Ndeda and Marie-Aude Fouéré. Different scholars tackle diverse topics that stood out during the 2013 election.

HISTORY REPEATS ITSELF

In “Kenyan Elections: When Does History Repeat Itself and Does Not Repeat Itself?” chapter by Christian Thibon, the ethnic polarisation of Kenyan politics is laid bare, including factors that contributed to Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga’s election outcomes in 2013.

Thibon writes that Kenyatta's narrow victory was largely from his “ability to win over outsider ethnic groups and populations” while maintaining his base, running a highly “mediatised and modern campaign”, particularly aimed at the young population with political marketing to many segments of the Kenyan society from the coastal, Asian populations to pastoralists and winning the Internet battle.

Thibon also looks at the ICC question in 2013 and presentation of Uhuruto as victims of the international court.

The irresistibility of Jubilee after painting a picture of digital leaders falling out with older politicians is superbly explicated, including the Musalia Mudavadi effect that weakened the performance of CORD in Western region.

Thibon sees Raila Odinga's 2013 presidential campaign as "less incisive in terms of electoral marketing, political communication and program".

He also suggests that the failure of de-legitimisation of Uhuruto championed by the civil society in the eyes of the international community had a huge effect on the 2013 presidential outcome and aftermath.

‘GOD’ STRATEGY

With the national day of prayer called on 22nd October by President Uhuru Kenyatta in mind, Hervé Maupeu's chapter on “The ICC, God and the 2013 Kenyan General Elections” is an interesting read.

Maupeu offers that after preaching a discourse of victimisation by the ICC, Uhuruto used a neo-Pentecostal religious register to strengthen their strong strategy of self-justification and repentance and profusely developed a compelling “pentecostalisation of their political life” that contributed to a peaceful election.

OBSERVERS PARTISANSHIP

The issue of election observers has been as controversial as ever, particularly in 2017 with scathing accusations of a shoddy job by Raila Odinga and NASA.

In the 2013 election, the matter was endemic as it is now as observed in the chapter “Role of Election Observers: Diplomatic Bias and the Findings of the Kenyan 2013” by Mwongela Kamencu. The Carter Centre Election Observation Mission, KHRC, EAC, IGAD, COMESA, EUEOM among others were accused of one-sidedness as some opted to be “diplomatic in reporting their observations to maintain the reciprocal relationship between the host state–Kenya–and other member states”.

With the high demands of the new constitutional dispensation in mind and the incessant call for peace throughout the electioneering period, the high premium put on the need for peace leads Kamencu to prevail on the idea that it compromised election observers' reportage.

DISMISSIVE MIDDLECLASS

The Kenyan middle class is also sharply criticised in “Twitting Votes: The Middle Class and the 2013 Elections in Kenya” by Patrick Mbataru.

Their failure to participate in party nominations and primaries and dismissing them as lacking any importance is well expounded.

He concludes that as a result the upper class decides the election in boardrooms before operationalising “through bribery and manipulation of the lower classes”.

Even as the Kenya middle class continues to expand it has not coalesced and homogenized efficiently in its political thought to play a critical role in our social life due to its dismissal of grassroots activism and zero national agenda.

According to Mbataru, the way to reduce class inequalities in Kenya and ensure the upper class does not solely influence voting patterns is the full participation of the middle class, a creature currently without form and void of a Kenyan agenda and standardised political posturing.

PERSISTENT SUPREME COURT TEST

One of the reasons the book reads like an audit of the 2017 electioneering period is Marie Wolfrom's chapter on “The Election Commission and the Supreme Court: Two New Institutions put to the Test by Elections”. Wolfrom observes that while the 2013 elections were largely peaceful the outcome was questioned, asking “was justice sacrificed on the altar of peace?”

 From the High Court to the Supreme Court, international observers and other watchdogs the election of 2013 was concluded as transparent, fair and free, begging the question whether the irregularities of 2013 could then be deemed inevitable in every election cycle.

 She asks whether Kenyans should then simply resign to accepting that election results will always be imperfect.

Clearly, the Supreme Court decision that reversed the 2017 election is a loud answer to Marie Wolfrom and many Kenyans on imperfections in elections.

Wolfrom's incisive input also casts aspersions on the failure of the courts to prosecute electoral malpractices and illegalities committed across Kenya, such as intimidation of voters and rigging and unwillingness to pursue multiple registered voters even after a promise to prosecute the offenses.

Wolfrom also looks at the tarnished credibility of former Chief Justice Mutunga and his supposed betrayal of the civil society, the paradoxical nature of the Supreme Court and the July 2013 threat by Raila Odinga to “boycott all future large elections the IEBC might organise in the future, demanding that the commission undertake fundamental reforms”.

The Kenya’s Past as Prologue: Voters, Violence and the 2013 General Election in its entirety is a wonderful way to look at Kenya today conjunctly with the events of 2013 election, its effect at the coast and explanation of the emergency of secessionists such as MRC, minority communities and political integrity, expanding political entrepreneurship and religion in politics, morph of Kisii vigilante groups, Kikuyu-Kalenjin unity of purpose in perspective, Odingaism, new constitution and the internal democracy in the ODM party or lack of it and place of women aspirants, voters, third gender rule nightmares among others.

The book is definitely a perceptive tragic reminder that Kenyans have refused to learn from their own recent history.