Exploiting an unfortunate situation for political gain

Saturday February 25 2017

Striking doctors at Uhuru Park in Nairobi on February 15, 2017. PHOTO | EVANS HABIL | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Striking doctors at Uhuru Park in Nairobi on February 15, 2017. PHOTO | EVANS HABIL | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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Tackling serious national issues never won anyone an election in Kenya. And no one understands this fact of political life like President Uhuru Kenyatta.

Sample this. The President has remained largely indifferent to the grave problems in public hospitals where a doctors’ strike has plunged the country into a public health crisis for the third month now.

There are serious security concerns for the residents of Baringo, West Pokot, Laikipia, Mwingi and Trans Mara where bandits, cattle rustlers and tribal warriors have caused havoc lately. Then there is the drought and the famine in many parts of the country that the government never prepared for.

The unfortunate but comic event in Baringo where daring bandits stole the relief food that Devolution minister Mwangi Kiunjuri was meant to distribute to the residents just about summed up the performance of the Uhuru Government in national security.

Yet, with six months to the General Election, all this hasn’t stopped the President from keeping a healthy lead over his rivals in one Ipsos opinion poll after another. Well, opinion polls are facing a credibility crisis of their own everywhere and they should perhaps come with a disclaimer that people shouldn’t read too much in them. Ipsos and Tom Wolf haven’t particularly sought to put themselves above the fray by going out to ask their respondents curious questions like whether the Opposition leader should retire from politics.

But to their credit, they are the only ones who have made it their business to give Kenyans alternative profiles of their political leaders beyond the self-declarations of popularity at public rallies.


And not all their surveys are wide off the mark. Indeed, much of the bile often directed at the pollsters is down to selective reading. It can’t be wrong, for example, to find that Mr Kenyatta and his Opposition challengers for the Presidency enjoy their strongest support among their respective big ethnic communities or ethnic alliances. It can’t be wrong to find a majority of people belonging to these ethnic communities will vote for one of their own or the candidate for the ethnic alliance featuring one of their own in a prominent position.

Given that Mr Kenyatta leads an alliance of two of the most populous ethnic communities in Kenya, it is not inconceivable that he would enjoy relatively high approval ratings despite ruling a country weighed down by labour unrest, drought, famine and insecurity. What is inconceivable is that his propagandists would shamelessly try to exploit the unfortunate situation for political advantage.

Worried at the resolve of the doctors’ union leadership and the possibility of influencing public opinion, the Jubilee operatives recently went on the offensive, singling out the secretary-general, Ouma Oluga, for personal attacks on social media. Nothing herds Mr Kenyatta’s ethnic support together like some phantom Luo bogeyman out there challenging its dynasty.

Otieno Otieno is chief sub-editor, 'Business Daily'.