Breaking News

Four years later, and stories Kenya’s elections don’t tell us

Thursday September 7 2017

Kenyan Supreme Court judges rule over an opposition petition challenging the result of the August 8 presidential election in Nairobi on September 1, 2017. PHOTO| SIMON MAINA | AFP

Kenyan Supreme Court judges rule over an opposition petition challenging the result of the August 8 presidential election in Nairobi on September 1, 2017. PHOTO| SIMON MAINA | AFP 

By CHARLES ONYANGO-OBBO
More by this Author

Kenya is still in a long and anxiety-filled election season.

The elections were held on August 8; President Uhuru Kenyatta was declared winner on August 11; Raila Odinga filed a petition challenging the results on August 18; and on September 1, the Supreme Court overturned the presidential vote and ordered a new one within 60 days.

The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) has announced that the fresh election will be held on October 17. The Raila-led Nasa coalition has cried foul. We wait.

There are such uncanny similarities about the 2007, 2013 and 2017 elections that, if you based yourself only on those polls as indicators, you would be forgiven for thinking that Kenya has stood still for 10 years.

DRAMA OF ELECTIONS

However, it hasn’t. A lot has changed, for better and worse, and to see that we have to expand our view beyond the drama of elections.

• The 2013 elections were held in March. In August, the arrivals terminal at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport was consumed by a fire. Regular travellers will remember those as chaotic and very frustrating days.

Travellers who have only been visiting Kenya over the past two years wouldn’t know about all that unless they made an effort to read past reporting. The charred terminal is gone and there has been quite some impressive expansion of JKIA. All in the space of four years. If you planted a seedling mango tree in August 2013, it would not yet have borne fruit.

• Kenya left the London 2012 Olympics with 11 medals (2 gold, 4 silver and 5 bronze), placing it third in Africa after South Africa and Ethiopia in the medal standings. In the 2016 Rio Olympics it won 13 medals (6 gold, 6 silver, 1 bronze), placing it 15th—the highest-ever position for an African country. South Africa showed up at 27th and Ethiopia 43rd.

MILD DECLINE

Going by the years since Rio, Ethiopia seems to be in mild decline while Kenya has bulked out even further in the long distances but shrivelled in the short races (400m).

• Terrorist attacks on Kenyan soil have dramatically fallen, especially in the past two years. Crime though still holds it own.

• Between end of 2014 and a few weeks ago, Africa witnessed one of its fastest constructions of a railway line when the Mombasa-Nairobi standard gauge railway was delivered ahead of schedule.

There have been criticisms that some people gnawed on the bone, and that it might turn out to be a white elephant, but the SGR has still dramatically changed many facts on the ground.

• In the past four years, there have been signs that Kenya’s African “Silicon Savannah” kite has probably flown as high as it can. There have been really no significant innovations coming out of the Silicon Savannah the way it happened in the “golden period” between 2006 and 2011.

AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL WORKS

• The Kenya literary world held its end better than the digital one, although it also wasn’t as prolific as the 2003-2012 era. Peter Kimani made up for the indifferent outlook with his Dance of the Jakaranda, a veritable tour de force.

But the unusual—though historically propitious—thing is that Kenyan politicians have served up some very good autobiographical works. In late 2016, there was former Vice-President and now Raila’s running mate Kalonzo Musyoka’s Against All Odds, and this year former VP “Uncle” Moody Awori’s Riding on a Tiger.

• Geopolitically, Kenya—like Uganda and Burundi—remained holed up in Somalia as part of the African Union peacekeeping force Amisom. All these three countries suffered military debacles in Al-Shabaab attacks.

However, it was not in vain. Somalia made one of its most significant steps forward early this year with the first national election of its kind in nearly 30 years, bringing the urbane and apparently straight-thinking Mohamed Abdullahi “Farmajo” Mohamed to office.

ECONOMIC NATIONALISM

• To the south, driven by a new wave of economic nationalism and the prickly, hamfisted but anti-corruption-crusading President John Magufuli, the regional economic momentum swung away from Kenya to Tanzania, while to the north Ethiopia galloped away.

• At home, the once-seemingly infallible Nakumatt supermarket chain is on its deathbed. Imperial Bank and Chase Bank collapsed, leaving more than a trail of heartbreaks.

And this is not even half the list. Elections, then, are really about choosing which politician shall rule. They are too crude a tool to measure the complexities that shape a country.

 Mr Onyango-Obbo is the publisher of Africapedia.com and explainer site Roguechiefs.com. [email protected]