Stop trusting politicians too much

Wednesday March 14 2018

kenyan politics

President Uhuru Kenyatta (left) and Nasa leader Raila Odinga arrive for a press conference at Harambee House, Nairobi, on March 9, 2018. They called for unity. PHOTO | SIMON MAINA | AFP 

More by this Author

One of the most conspicuous features of our politics is that it is not driven by any firm belief or ideology.

Apart from the lip service and endless pretensions to democracy, ours is simply ‘politician-eat-voter’ politics.

It revolves around being at the right place at the right time, which somebody told us during the 2005 Goldenberg commission hearings is the easiest way to connections and quick cash.

A glimpse at our top leaders in the past two decades reveals that there are no permanent friends or enemies, yet their antics occasion deep-set differences among the hoi polloi that take years to heal, often times leading to death.

Before then President Daniel arap Moi named Uhuru Kenyatta as the Kanu presidential flagbearer in 2002, Raila Odinga was the secretary-general of Kanu.

That followed a partnership between Raila’s NDP and Kanu that was later clarified as a “strategy to democratise the ruling party from within”.

Before NDP ultimately bolted out of Kanu, Raila, Uhuru, Kalonzo Musyoka, William Ruto and Musalia Mudavadi were not only in Kanu; they held coveted seats in the heavily discredited independence party.

Mwai Kibaki, who would later that year whitewash Uhuru in the presidential election, was in the opposition with Charity Ngilu and Michael Wamalwa.

In 2003, just a year later, the political dance resumed as Raila and his NDP camp joined Kibaki’s government.

Hardly a year later, however, they were back in the opposition with (how funny!) Uhuru and Ruto.

Two years later, in 2005, a Raila-Uhuru push would beat the Wako Draft constitution in a divisive referendum that left the Kibaki presidency so bruised that people rejected Cabinet posts, leading to a legitimacy crisis only cured by the formation of what was called a “government of national unity”.

In 2007, Uhuru and Ruto were on opposite sides — the latter as part of Raila’s ‘Pentagon’ alongside Najib Balala (now in Uhuru’s Cabinet), Joe Nyagah (a 2017 independent presidential candidate) and Mudavadi.

In their cases at the ICC in The Hague, Uhuru and Ruto were painted as being on opposite sides during the 2007/08 post-election violence.

This dramatic irony was also seen in 2008 when Kalonzo joined Kibaki prior to the Grand Coalition government.

In the grand coalition, the bitterest of differences were about who between Vice-President Musyoka and Prime Minister Odinga ranked higher. Raila’s allies claimed that Kalonzo was getting better treatment than him yet he was his senior.

Come 2013 and also 2017 and we played a game of strange bedfellows again. Uhuru and Ruto teamed up, as did Raila and Kalonzo.

As can be seen from the shifting alliances above, our politics is not based on ideological considerations — the type you see among the liberals and conservatives on both sides of the Atlantic.

Ours is an opportunistic venture where coalitions are crafted to curry favour with ethnic blocs that are assumed to fanatically follow those out to form special campaign outfits that we call political alliances.

Mobilising the electorate along ethnic lines would be alright if we were disciplined enough to see the bigger picture.

But, to galvanise support from their ethnic strongholds, most leaders resort to lies and propaganda that sets communities against each other.

One community was even led to believe that their men would be prohibited from wearing trousers if the other side won the elections!

Peasants in another community were convinced that voters on the “enemy” side were so favoured by the State that every home had water, electricity and free education and medical cover and that everybody gets cash from ATMs everywhere on account of their ethnicity.

This creates a dangerous atmosphere of fear, anger and despondency, which flares up every five years, when neighbours in the slums butcher one another on the instigation of people drinking single-malt whisky in five-star hotels.

Kenyans need to look at the alliances formed every five years and realise that the differences that make us fight are so fleeting they are ridiculous and say, “Never again”.

Given that this matter has a serious national stability dimension, civil society, the government and even donors need to launch a serious sensitisation campaign against ethnic incitement.

Otherwise, political violence and enmity is a monkey that can re-emerge every five years till kingdom come.

Mr Munene is a freelance publishing consultant. [email protected]