The year 2017 will pass as the year during which Kenya had the longest political campaign period since independence.
The campaigns for the August 8 elections began quite early in the year. And this period does not include the usual political competition that began immediately the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) announced the 2013 general election results.
Divisions that emerged from the 2013 election continued to widen. These divisions and alliances that formed after the elections remained in place until August this year.
They are very much in place even now.
But most worrying is that elections in Kenya do not seem to resolve political challenges. Instead, they tend to create new worries and challenges. This has remained so especially since the return of multi-party democracy in the early 1990s.
In 1992 and 1997, elections resulted in mass evictions of ethnic communities from certain parts of the country, Rift Valley in particular.
The election held in 2002 passed as a peaceful one but it resulted in creation of a new identity in politics — the Mount Kenya and its cabal that excluded other tribes from enjoying the political power they collectively achieved.
The 2007 election was followed by unprecedented violence. This split the country and even threatened the future of Kenya itself as a state.
Even though the 2013 election was the first under a new Constitution, it created two uncompromising political blocs divided not largely on basis of ideology but more on basis of assembly of ethnic groups for the purpose of winning the election. The divisions continued to widen and to inform the voting in the August 2017 elections. In other words, Kenya’s elections are a cause of worry rather than a solution to political challenges.
The August 2017 election inherited the 2013 divisions without any alteration. The divisions have been intact.
In fact, never before has the country been this polarised along political and social lines. There is no doubt that Jubilee and Nasa are sharply contrasting in both opinions and beliefs to a point where they see the same issue differently. If it is “white” to Jubilee, expect Nasa to say that it is “green” or “blue”.
The annulment of the August 8 presidential election and the order that a fresh election be held appears to have widened these divisions.
It is apparent that Nasa will not participate in the fresh election to be held on October 26. But Jubilee will participate in the election.
Nasa is concerned that the IEBC has not sufficiently addressed the problems that led to the annulment of the elections. For this reason, it has withdrawn from the fresh poll and called on its supporters to boycott the election.
Nasa leaders have also urged the coalition’s supporters to go on with their protests including during the election day. The coalition has travelled less across the country to campaign compared to the period before the August 8 polls.
On the other hand, Jubilee is going on with campaigns in preparation for the fresh election. It has also convened meetings during which some Nasa supporters have defected to the party.
To Jubilee and its leadership, there is no crisis. And there is no point for mediation and therefore the party continues with preparations for the October 26 poll in a “business is usual” manner.
Unfortunately, the campaigns and the press releases that dominate the road to the fresh elections are focused on one issue: the electoral process and what the Supreme Court ruled. All are bitter that the election did not end on August 8. Lost in these issues are many policy issues around which the parties mobilised supporters before the August 8 election. The bitterness that both parties are expressing is preventing them from laying down policy issues. They are not even addressing any of the issues that the Supreme Court raised. Instead the bitterness is emboldening the divisions each passing day.
On account of the bitterness witnessed in the recent weeks, it is safe to conclude that the country will remain polarised. The October 26 election, whether it happens or not, will not address the differences between the two blocs.
And these differences have an ethnic dimension. They are also ethnic because the support base of these parties is largely ethnic. This implies that ethnic divisions will continue to widen. For this reason alone, the country may end up in more problems after holding the election on October 26.
Several reasons account for the unending differences between the parties and their blocs of supporters. First, the Constitution and some of the laws have several grey areas.
The Constitution itself is not the best reference point to guide on how to come out from these problems. Some of the articles of the Constitution are subject to multiple interpretations, and yet the country has no precedents on how to deal with such articles.
A simple matter such as the meaning of “fresh election” gets different interpretations.
The IEBC was convinced that “fresh election” is a poll in which only the petitioner and the president-elect should be in the contest.
But the courts ruled otherwise, that the electoral agency includes all the other presidential candidates who were in the ballot on August 8.
Still, others argue that fresh election means starting the electoral process complete with new nomination of candidates. It means a fresh start or a new beginning on the electoral process. This matter has been presented at the courts for determination.
The electoral law is also silent on whether the polls should take place in all the 290 constituencies for the IEBC to announce the winning presidential candidate. The law requires elections to take place in 290 constituencies. Some say that voting must take place in these 290 constituencies to satisfy the legal conditions. But there is lack of clarity on what happens if some polling stations in a constituency fail to conduct elections.
Others say this is not a correct interpretation of the law. The IEBC may announce results and the winner even if polling does not take place in some constituencies and polling stations. However, in their view, the commission must be satisfied that this would not have material impact on the final result. Those holding this view add that the polls need not take place everywhere for the winning presidential candidate to be announced.
Without legal clarity on a number of issues, and also lacking precedents on how to address the grey areas in the Constitution, the divisions will continue to deepen.
“White” will be “green” to some and the vice versa. Two, the polarisation will not end because Jubilee has a majority in Parliament, but a majority that lack interest in showing statesmanship. Relatedly, in the Nasa strongholds there is no room for tolerating any other view other than the coalition’s.
Intolerance on both sides is on the rise. Supporters in both blocs have taken dangerous policies of radical opposition to others. Each of them is taking a dangerous policy of exclusion.
Three, the social media - good or bad – has become a central instrument of politics. But social media is behaving badly. It is the source of not only fake news but also ‘beyond the headline’ news that the mainstream media will not cover.
The main problem, however, is that social media is providing space for civil war. Battles are fought hard on social media. Leaders are tormented on social media. Troubles are cooked or allayed through social media. All this is deepening the challenges facing the electoral process.
Four, Kenya practices a unique type of politics. Political competition is driven by self-interests. Individual interests take the place of national interests. To politicians, national interests can only be addressed when they have satisfied individual interests. Furthermore, leaders make individual self interests look like national interests. This type of politics is not helpful to the country.
These issues do not have simple solutions. The grey areas in the Constitution will require judges to apply their mind and pass judgment on recognition that the future of Kenya is far more important than political parties and their leaders. All the courts need to do is to put Kenya first and ensure that their decisions will enforce the rule of law. Politicians cannot be trusted to address these problems.
Already, leaders in both blocs have demonstrated limited interest to accommodate each others’ views. There is a belief that everyone is right. But of course many do what they do to advance their self interests.
The good thing is that devolution and the county governments are in place even though many governors are facing petitions. Politics within the counties is issue-based. It is focused on service delivery irrespective of whether one is in Nasa or Jubilee counties. This is the one thing that will keep the country moving as political leaders continue to hurt one another at the national level.
Prof Kanyinga is based at the Institute for Development Studies University of Nairobi; [email protected]