Thursday, February 14, 2013

Elections: What we must do right to prevent a 2008-style meltdown

 

By MUTUMA MATHIU

How I wish that Prime Minister Raila Odinga was deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta’s political valentine.

Then we would be able to look at the two men without the blinkers of the conflict between Mzee Jomo Kenyatta and Jaramogi Oginga Odinga obstructing the view.

This election brings out the worst in us.

It provides the perfect excuse for half the country to retreat into one tribal grouping and the other half to the other.

All the tribal prejudice, all ancient grudges and feuds, all real and imagined slights, all dislikes and hatreds, everything is out walking the streets like hordes of thirsty undeads looking for innocents to devour.

On the positive side, this really is a test of our resilience and strength as a country: if we can survive a close election between Mr Kenyatta and Mr Odinga, then we shall be tougher and stronger as a democracy than many of our neighbours who, secure in the strong arms of party or African big man dictatorships, are yet to dip their toes into the hot water of democratic chaos.

Personally, I believe, and I have no facts, just a sense, that the election will not be entirely peaceful.

There will be pockets of rioting in the strongholds of the candidate who loses.

The scenes witnessed in Nyanza and some parts of Kiambu and Nyeri suggest to me that the followers of Mr Odinga particularly and Mr Kenyatta, to some extent, will find an unfavourable outcome hard to accept.

There are a couple of things that can be done to prevent a 2008-style meltdown.

First, the military, police, provincial administration and the intelligence people must establish a rapid-deployment and heavily armed taskforce with clear orders to stamp out violence wherever it breaks out.

I am sorry but the use of violence – rioting, burning things and blocking roads – as an expression of democratic rage is unacceptable and must be stopped.

Secondly, the candidates must help in managing their supporters’ expectations.

I know when you go into an election, you are advised to act presidential and to conduct yourself with the arrogance of inevitable victory.

First, we need a couple of good opinion polls to tell us where things stand.

There are many people, fired up by fealty and kinly fervour, who blindly believe in victory.

Secondly, candidates must prepare themselves and their followers for possible defeat.

They and their key supporters must hold night meetings to agree how the future will look for the loser.

The statement at the debate by Mr Odinga that he will accept defeat and will take his grievances, if any, to the courts is one of the most important declarations to come from that event.

Thirdly, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission is best advised to come off its high horse and build confidence that, though it might not be as efficient as most would like, it is not part of a conspiracy to steal the election.

This can only happen if it operates with unprecedented transparency.

Let it open its operations to public and party scrutiny.

With the possible exception of the murky area of procurement.

At this late date, we are more interested in ensuring good election than disrupting corrupt deals.

Finally, Chief Justice Willy Mutunga must spend the next couple of weeks building confidence among political leaders that the Judiciary will decide any dispute quickly and fairly.

Guys, if you just sit in your office, fold your hands confident that your good intentions and competence is known to all, you will not be providing leadership and helping your country.

You have to have a good and credible plan, to be carried out by trusted and competent people and you have to sell it to politicians.

Politicians are some of the most suspicious people on earth.

When they talk about conspiracies and propaganda, they are talking about the things they spend their time spinning.

For my fellow Kenyans, you need to style up.

The victory by some politician you have never met and who you will never meet will have zero impact on your personal life and fortunes.

If your wife beats you, she will still be beating you whether your candidate wins or loses.

Actually, if her candidate loses, she might take it out on you and hammer you even more and there isn’t a damn thing your man can do.

So just relax, vote for the guy you like and if he is defeated, we’ll try again in 2017.

Mr Mathiu is the Group Managing Editor, Nation Media Group. (mmathiu@ke.nationmedia.com)