ONYANGO-OBBO: How Kenya’s elections set it apart in the region - Daily Nation

Kenya’s vs other East African elections: Follow the questions

Thursday June 15 2017

 Jubilee Party primaries

A voter casts her ballot at Kirigu Primary School in Dagoretti South Constituency on April 26, 2017 during the Jubilee Party primaries. PHOTO | ANDREW KILONZI 

More by this Author

The battle for, especially, Kenya’s State House in August, has truly been joined.

In East Africa, the Kenyan and Tanzanian presidential races are usually watched closely in the region for one main reason.

Because they are the export and import routes for Uganda, Rwanda, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, and South Sudan, the outcome is important.

First, if a madman came from left field and won in either of these countries, he could yank up levies at the ports, increasing the price of goods for the hinterland nations.

And, as happened in Kenya in 2007/2008, if there is post-election violence, it could bring the inland economies to their knees.

There is less concern about that, though, when it comes to Tanzania.


Tanzania is interesting for another reason. Because CCM’s rule has been unbroken for over half a century, if it ever loses power it means that Jesus Christ will possibly return one of these days – politically speaking, that is.

In other words, that it is possible for a dominant long-ruling party to lose power anywhere in Africa (except perhaps in Equatorial Guinea and Eritrea).

Outside that, the Kenyan elections have become a very unusual five-year spectacle in Africa, in ways many people don’t realise.

First of, on the ruling Jubilee side, at over 90 per cent of their rallies, President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto have appeared together.


In Kenya’s case, that is necessitated by the fact that there is actually no distinct national constituency.

What goes for national politics is regional interests stitched together.

Daniel arap Moi was probably the last president who could monopolise the stage alone (with his rungu).

Otherwise, imagine Rwanda’s Paul Kagame or Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni sharing the campaign stage with their deputies or a clutch of local politicians to bolster them. It just doesn’t happen.


The same thing is happening on the opposition Nasa.

Not only does the flag-bearer, Raila Odinga, also most times appear with his running mate, Kalonzo Musyoka, but because of that peculiarly Kenyan animal called “principals”, from time to time, they also show up with Musalia Mudavadi, Moses Wetang’ula, and Isaac Ruto.

It’s the preferred way to convey the idea that you are a big-tent opposition, with all the regions included.

Seems you can’t tell Kenyans stories about inclusion and they believe you.

They must touch it, and unless they see you dancing with principals from other communities on the stage, they won’t believe you.


In Uganda, as all who followed events there last year saw, the majority of times the dogged opposition leader Kizza Besigye was alone.

It means that you can carry him in a sofa to his nomination (it would not be practical – and would perhaps look too comical - to carry the five Nasa principals on a single sofa).

And, of course, when he was being beaten and tormented by the state police, he was mostly alone.

But, perhaps, the biggest difference the Kenyan election has from the rest in the region is that it is very vexing predicting who will win.

In 2007 it was very close. In the end, Mwai Kibaki won with 46.2 per cent of the vote against Raila’s 44.07 per cent.


The violence broke out because of the tell-tale signs that Kibaki’s camp had fiddled the vote.

They denied it, but assuming they did, it was striking that the “theft margin” was still so small.

In 2013, Uhuru won with 50.07 per cent of the vote, and Raila came second with 43.3 per cent.

However, needing just more than 50 per cent, Uhuru was pulled over the finishing line by just about 8,000 votes.

Raila then went to court, alleging fraud, but the justices found in favour of Uhuru.


Considering that the International Crime Court case against Uhuru and Ruto, among others, became so emotional in 2013, and analysts said it rallied their central and Rift Valley bases like never before, it’s remarkable that they took it with just 8,000 – about the number of postgraduate students at the University of Nairobi.

The result is that the language in the region about Kenyan elections is very different.

Right now, most non-Kenyans ask: “Who do you think will win”.

As Ugandans voted last year, the question was different. Everyone asked; “Do you think this Besigye fellow can really beat Museveni?”

In Tanzania in 2015, they asked; “Do you think CCM can be beaten?”

The author is publisher of Africa data visualiser Africapedia.com and explainer site Roguechiefs.com. [email protected]