alexa As 2013 elections approach, Kenya is like a frightened child beside the pool - Daily Nation

As 2013 elections approach, Kenya is like a frightened child beside the pool

Wednesday October 24 2012


By CHARLES ONYANGO-OBBO [email protected]& [email protected]

There has been a lot of press the last two days suggesting that either through the design of a few devious politicians, or seemingly insurmountable problems that the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) is facing, Kenya’s next elections could end up being held in August instead of March.

That would turn the Kenyan election date into the fastest moving target in African politics.

That is because elections have actually become one of the most predictable things in Africa today.

Yes, incumbents are still more likely than not to steal elections, but at least we all know when they will do it.

When the Constitution was passed in 2010, the immediate popular understanding was that the elections would be held in August 2012.

As August approached, a new view emerged that the correct reading of the Constitution was that elections should be held in December 2012.


The matter went to court, and the judges kicked the date farther down the road to March 2013. Now realpolitik and skulduggery, we are told, could push it farther back to August.

The irony is that the election date was far more stable — December — before the reforms brought by the new Constitution.

And it puts Kenya in a strange position in the East African Community. In Rwanda the next presidential election will happen in the month of August. In Tanzania, it is October. In Uganda, February.

Even Somalia, of all countries, held its recent constituent assembly and presidential “elections”, on schedule!

So why can’t Kenya do as well as Somalia? My sense is that beyond political machinations and missteps by the IEBC, there is something deeper at work. The first is fear of the known. The second is fear of the unknown.

The known is the post-election violence of 2008. Recently, I met a friend who is a businessman in Nakuru.

He is what in the sometimes-puzzling Kenyan political jargon you would call part of the “Kikuyu Diaspora” in the Rift Valley.

His business is doing well, and he is very optimistic about Nakuru’s future.

I asked him whether he had any concerns about election violence next year.

We were walking, and he even stopped when I asked him that, and looked at me with a look that said I was terribly naïve: “Of course, Charles, there will be violence”, he said matter-of-factly.

“These fellows [referring to the Rift Valley indigenous populations] will attack and kill us”. It was a scene from a Franz Kafka story. He was certain there would be violence, but he was also very upbeat about the area’s economic future.

Anyhow, the sense many people have that there will be violence has created a higher acceptance of postponing the day of reckoning that actually makes it relatively easy to postpone the election.

One sign of this is what is happening to Narc-Kenya leader and presidential aspirant Martha Karua.

Ms Karua has been the most consistent and vocal critic of the change of election date.

Polls show that most Kenyans, too, are unhappy about it. One would, therefore, expect that they would embrace Karua.

While there is more buzz around Karua’s candidacy, it has not yet propelled her to the top of the opinion polls.

The fear of the unknown is that the election under the new Constitution is unwieldy.

On Election Day, Kenyans will be electing leaders to over 4,200 positions, a record rivalled only by Nigeria (a country with 150 million people, three times Kenya’s, and nearly double in size).

If the 12 or so presidential aspirants remain in the race, and there are dozens of contenders for Senator, Governor and so forth, Kenyans could end up going into the voting booth with ballot papers the size of a bathroom towel.

Because there are still so many unknowns, Kenyan today looks like the child who wants to swim but is standing by the pool too afraid to jump in.

Often, the only thing to do with such a child is to push it into the pool, and try and prevent it drowning.

Kenya needs to be pushed into the election pool. The only person who can do so is probably Karua, but I am sure no one will let her near the pool. Otherwise, it will never swim at this rate.