The mask has slipped. For the best part of the last two decades, Kenya’s civil society has played a duplicitous yet surprisingly successful double-game.
They have pretended to be non-partisan and carried themselves as independent protectors of the “interests and will of citizens”. They have posed as non-partisan actors and pretended to be autonomous from the political parties – an unwritten requirement of civil society especially in countries where political parties often represent narrow ethnic and regional interests.
It took the intervention of a reader of the Nation on May 5, 2017, to raise the question with the public editor why the Nation was consistently publishing opinion articles by individuals who purported to be independent civil society actors and yet they were in fact card-carrying members of the Opposition and bitter opponents of the government.
The unquestioned leader of this band of actors is David Ndii. It is a remarkable demonstration of the weakness of the Jubilee administration’s communication team that his one-sided rants and screeds, charitably described in some quarters as analysis, have gone unanswered for the better part of the last three years.
While Ndii’s endless doom and gloom message on the future of the Kenyan economy – defied by the wave of investment that continues to pour into the country – can be excused as partisan propaganda aimed at advancing the ambitions of the opposition he ardently and now openly supports, his more recent outbursts must not go unchallenged.
Picking up the theme of a notorious article he wrote calling for the breaking up of the Kenyan republic, Ndii has spent the past week promoting the key theme from that article: “Kenya Will Burn if Uhuru Wins Another Sham Election,” Ndii said on Twitter, quoting himself.
There are many ways to challenge this type of incitement. Ndii has been rightly attacked for his recklessness on many grounds.
Conscientious citizens, including many from his own side, have pointed out that wealthy members of the civil society that he belongs to are unlikely to “burn” in the event of a post-election crisis. Instead, it is the poor that are routinely used as the foot-soldiers to fulfill the ambitions of politicians and those that seek appointments in their administrations that stand to suffer.
The more fundamental point that needs to be addressed if Kenya’s politics is ever to enter the mature stage is simple: National politicians, particularly the major presidential candidates, need to internalise a culture of accepting that they can be defeated in a free-and-fair election and that the culture of repeatedly dismissing defeat as the product of “rigging” only stunts the nation’s journey to democratic maturity.
The notion that the 2013 election was a “sham”, for example, is only held by Ndii and other civil society oppositionists but is not supported by a single report of the tens of thousands of outside observers who were in Kenya for that election.
As has been widely reported, there were 1,834 international observers in Kenya who worked alongside 21,554 domestic observers and 6,327 local and international journalists to cover that election.
The outcome was unwelcome to most of the Western world. The West, which funds most of those observer groups, resolutely opposed the UhuRuto ticket. But they all endorsed the results because they saw that it reflected the will of the Kenyan people.
The most important safeguard installed in that election, for example, the donor-funded parallel vote tabulation system which involved independent tallying in centres across the country and was conducted by the Electoral Observer Group found that the outcome of the presidential race matched the outcome of their own research.
Still, there is no culture of conceding defeat in Kenya and the opposition, far more fleet-footed at propaganda than the government, has spent the last four years honing a sense of victimhood, including through easily debunked claims such as the view that two million people voted only for the presidential candidates in 2013.
Looking forward to the 2017 election, one of the foremost western scholars on Kenya, Charles Hornsby, a professor of African history and the author of Kenya: A History Since Independence, published in mid-June a detailed analysis of possible outcomes of the 2017 election.
Of course, making predictions in any election is not an easy game and projections should not be taken as immutable truth. But the point is that when you assess analysis by outside experts who do not have ethno-regional or partisan interests at stake, many of them consider Jubilee to be on solid ground in 2017, particularly when you consider regional distribution of registered voters.
In the case of Prof Hornsby, he makes the concession that Nasa have had a strong 2017. In particular, they managed to stay united despite many predictions of a breach in the coalition. However, Hornsby makes the point that they might have had a better chance if they had picked a candidate different from the line-up they chose in 2013.
“NASA’s choice of Raila Odinga and Kalonzo Musyoka as presidential and vice presidential candidate, respectively, was both logical and predictable, but also a conservative strategy that set the two alliances up for an exact reprise of 2013,” he writes. “On that basis, it is hard to see the result being materially different. For Nasa, the opportunity to improve on their 42% performance in 2013 lies with the incorporation of much of Mudavadi’s vote (4% nationwide, mostly in western Kenya) into Nasa. For Jubilee to improve on their 50% performance in 2013, it needs to leverage the power of incumbency, its deeper pockets, the resources it has allocated to specific communities and the positive messages (hard to sell as they are proving) about their delivery to Kenyans during 2013-17.”
Incumbency means that Jubilee has managed to woo far more MPs and governors to back them than they did in 2013.
The most important element that Hornsby analyses is the vote register. He makes the point that “Kenyan election results are far from random; they follow regular patterns and rarely exhibit discontinuous changes, and it is possible to make educated guesses about what will happen based on previous experience”.
Based on a reading of the vote register and projecting outcomes from elections in the counties in the 2013 election, Prof Hornsby says: “Nationally, the combination of registration numbers, turnout and an ethnically and historically voting-based preference model still predicts a first round win for Uhuru and Ruto, by 53% to 46% (with a maximum of 1% of votes to other candidates)”.
He writes: “It suggests Kenyatta and Ruto will get roughly 8.5 million votes (of which more than five million will come from the Kalenjin and Kikuyu communities) while Odinga and Musyoka will poll 7.5 million, of which approximately three million will come from Luo and Kamba voters. This would be on a national turnout of 83%....”
You may not agree with this projection and that of other external observers, including TIME magazine, which published an analysis predicting a comfortable win for Jubilee.
Projections can be offered either way. The key point here is that the assertions by Ndii and other oppositionists that the only way in which they can lose the election is through rigging are not only wrong but fallacious. They are also dangerous.
Combined with consistent efforts to erect roadblocks in the path of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission’s preparations for the election and the endless efforts to undermine the credibility of the electoral body, these actions simply show that the country is being prepared for a crisis.
It is a dangerous game. But Kenya has the misfortune of having some of the most reckless politicians and civil society actors in Africa.
The revelation that a prominent racketeer is funding the opposition has embarrassed the ever-moralising civil society actors and shown them to be opportunists.
Kenyans should wake up to the reality that there are some actors who have rewritten the rules of democracy and concluded that a free and fair election is one in which their candidate triumphs and a “sham” election is one won by those they do not support; to hell with the decisions voters make at the ballot box.
Dr Bitange Ndemo is an associate professor at the University of Nairobi’s School of Business.