The recent elections showed that tribe is not the main driver of politics in Kenya. But while progress has been made, the fight for democracy has yet to be won, with minority communities, women, the disabled and the Diaspora remaining largely underrepresented
The general consensus is that political analyst Mutahi Ngunyi’s ‘tyranny of tribal numbers’ theory was the determining factor for Uhuru Kenyatta’s contested recent win in the March 4 elections. While we all concur that politics is a game of numbers, we should prefer our focus on the fact that the Jubilee Coalition was an alliance of parties that were united by a common agenda to assert Kenya’s sovereignty and independence from neo-colonial justice and Western interference. The Jubilee campaign narrative echoed past triumph of nationalism in the year of jubilee since independence. Notably, the winners President-elect Kenyatta is the son of Kenya’s founding president the late President Jomo Kenyatta, and Deputy President-Elect William Samoei Ruto is perceived among his ethnic Kalenjin as the embodiment of an anti-colonial resistance leader, the legendary Koitalel Arap Samoei.
The President-Elect and Deputy President-Elect presented the election choice as a referendum on the ongoing ICC cases against them for alleged crimes against humanity connected to the 2007/8 post-election violence. The Kenyan people drew motivation in reclaiming national pride as a people by conducting the elections peacefully thereby dismaying international media that were in Kenya in droves for career-making photo-ops and stories about another chaotic African election. Kenya’s nationalist movement has re-invented itself and re-emerged, drawing relevance and appeal from both historic and current political realities. Kenya fought foreign domination then and has categorically rejected foreign interference now.
The opposing platform was argued by the CORD coalition, led by Prime Minister Raila Odinga who was viewed by many as the front-runner. This political narrative gained momentum from the struggle for restoration of multi-party democracy after its ban in 1982 and for a devolved system of government which was a battle Odinga’s father the late Jaramogi Odinga fought in opposition to Jomo Kenyatta’s preferred centralized government under KANU. Raila Odinga successfully rallied opposition to single-party rule culminating in the advent of multi-party democracy in 1992 and the promulgation of a new constitution in 2010. These victories have redefined Kenya fundamentally but have come at a cost to Raila Odinga’s bid for the presidency. He has become a victim of his own successes as the country has moved on. It seems that his proposition for fundamental constitutional reforms has become less relevant as they have largely been accomplished.
Regardless, Kenya has emerged with a stronger electoral system, independent judicial institutions and devolved county governments. While progress has been made the fight for democracy has yet to be won with minority communities, women, the disabled and the Diaspora still largely underrepresented and marginalized in the governance of Kenya. The Democratic movement must redefine itself by building stronger coalitions with civil society actors at the grass roots to achieve greater transparency, equity and representation in perfecting our republic.
It therefore begs the question whether the choice in the election was simply about tribal arithmetic or an argument for asserting nationalism versus democratic reform. Future elections and political theatre will hopefully be a peaceful though spirited tug-of-war between these two ideas in addition to the strong independent voices that emerged with other smaller parties and candidates. It remains to be seen how these forces will distinguish themselves in terms of their domestic and foreign policy. To fortify this narrative Kenyans need to decide what ideological side of the aisle aligns with their values in spite of ethnicity. The media, politicians and parties need to change their insistence on focusing on ethnicity as a driver of politics in Kenya.
Going by the old English adage ‘birds of a feather flock together’, it has become apparent that the Jubilee coalition has a natural ideological ally with the Republican Party that control the House of Representatives in America. My unsolicited foreign policy advice is that as kindred spirits, perhaps the Uhuru administration should focus towards building an alliance with Republicans and should not be obliged solely to what President Obama, a Democrat, decrees. Democrats have shown a subtle bias against the Jubilee coalition. It was obvious during the campaigns when the Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of African Affairs Johnnie Carson, a Democrat, made the ‘choices have consequences’ remark. His predecessor under President George Bush, Jendayi Fraser, a Republican, quickly issued a rejoinder denouncing his position as political meddling. She also went as far as lambasting the ICC as a ‘political court’ cautioning that the US and Europe are playing a dangerous game for their delayed endorsement of Kenyatta's presidency. This anti-ICC sentiment is deep-seated within the Republican Party.
The Rome Statute was rejected by the Bush-Administration in 2002 on grounds that it did not prefer on her citizens the same protections as the US constitution. Arguably, the ICC question can be a unifying factor between Kenya’s nationalist Republican axis under the Jubliee coalition that consists of the The National Alliance, United Republican Party and Kenya African National Union and the America’s Republican Party who are perpetually looking to challenge Democrats that seem to have aligned themselves to Kenya’s Democrats- the Orange Democratic Movement and the Wiper Democratic Movement under the auspices of the Coalition for Democratic Reforms and Democracy (CORD). Evidently, the party and coalition names also indicate that the proverbial two horse political race has pitted Nationalist Republicans against Democrats.
Notwithstanding, whether you voted for the nationalist Republican axis under Jubilee or the Democrats under CORD, every Kenyan must take pride in the fact they voted overwhelmingly for peace and upheld the rule of law. Fortune favors Kenya if we sustain this path. Viva Kenya!
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