By Uche Igwe
As Kenyans prepare to go to the polls once again, her political terrain is getting charged as ethnic formations rehearse for potentially combustible struggles against each other, which may make or mar the fragile peace in the country.
The preponderance of political ethnicity can be said to be the most retrogressive heritage of Africa’s colonial experience. It is common knowledge that the colonial administration in Africa relied mainly on ethnic clusters to rule in their respective posts in Africa. These clusters gradually magnified and transformed into political cleavages at the twilight of independence. As the nationalist movements began to break up at the verge of independence, many leaders retreated to their ethnic cocoons as they manoeuvred to inherit power. From Nigeria to Sierra Leone, and from Uganda to Kenya, numerically large ethnic groups therefore took advantage of the situation to entrench political ethnicity, to which can be traced all the bigger issues of corruption, inept leadership and underdevelopment in Africa.
A classical manifestation is in the Republic of Kenya, East Africa’s second most populous country and economic hub. As Kenyans prepare to go to the polls once again, her political terrain is getting charged as ethnic formations rehearse for potentially combustible struggles against each other, which may make or mar the fragile peace in the country. Every passing day potentially opens up a scene of uncertainty in the suspense-filled political drama.
The latest controversy relates to the date of the forthcoming elections. Opinion is divided on which date will be most appropriate. The High Court ruled last month that the much-awaited elections could hold in March 2013, 60 days after the expiration of the current parliament’s five-year term. The court ruling also left a possibility of the elections being held 60 days after dissolution of the Grand Coalition Government. A 2012 election date is likely especially if the two protagonists in the coalition government in the persons of President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga decide to part ways soon. The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission has called for a 17 Decembe 2012 election date which is line with what the cabinet had called for earlier. However, the fate of the elections still largely hangs on what the two leaders agree to do. Many observers speculate that Prime Minister Odinga may soon quit the coalition in order to devote more time for his presidential campaigns. President Kibaki is not eligible for re-election. A cross section of the urban population favours a December 2012 date for the elections in anticipation that the Coalition Government will be dissolved in October.
There is more to the date controversy than meets the eye. One possibility will be that two frontline presidential aspirants who have been indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague may not be on the ballot for the polls. Judging from the antecedents of the ICC, it is doubtful if the case will be concluded in the next one year. Some members of the Kenyan civil society have already approached the court in an effort to ensure that the embattled Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta and Eldoret MP William Ruto are excluded from the elections on the basis of Chapter Six of the new Constitution on Leadership and Integrity. Their position is supported by the Minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs Mutula Kilonzo, who has proposed an amendment to the Act establishing the Ethics and Integrity Commission. Mr Kilonzo has asked parliament to give the Commission additional powers not only to investigate but also to prosecute and punish those guilty of non-compliance.
A reading of the public mood especially among the middle class would reveal that many Kenyans would prefer an interpretation of integrity requirements of the Constitution in the broadest possible way to enable the exclusion of every aspirant who has been tainted by or reasonably suspected of corruption in the past. This will mean a political tsunami which may even consume all top contenders for the presidency including Prime Minister Raila Odinga who once served as Energy Minister under President Daniel arap Moi – allegedly the most corrupt regime in Kenyan history.
Though some people may say that this is very unlikely, such a development as suggested above would dethrone the political dynasty and hegemony that has held Kenya hostage since independence. The sterilisation of the Kenyan political space for hastened reform and implementation of the prescriptions of the new Constitution will be easier to realise when the ‘old breed’ of politicians is lawfully excluded. That will also foster new political realignments and trigger fresh bonds of nationalism – that will lead to mutual forgiveness among the ethnic groups.
Although less optimistic observers are very sceptical of the chances of the above scenario playing out and would rather dismiss it with a wave of hand, no one can rule it out completely. Rather, other pundits are predicting a possible alliance along ethnic lines between the Kikuyus, Kalenjins and the Kamba – the so called KKK/G7 Alliance. In the likely event of Uhuru Kenyatta (a Kikuyu) and William Ruto (a Kalenjin) not running for the presidency, the beneficiary may well be Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka (a Kamba). On the other hand a segment of ‘diehard’ conservative Kikuyus favour the emergence of a ‘dark horse’ in the person of the Minister for Internal Security, Prof George Saitoti (a Masai/Kikuyu) as a possible inheritor of the Kikuyu block of votes per chance Uhuru Kenyatta is excluded from the contest. It is rumoured that Prof Saitoti has a Kikuyu lineage hence the affinity of some Kikuyus towards him. Opposition to this alliance is already mounting and has allegedly led to formation a group known as Kikuyus for Change – a coalition of those who see the KKK alliance as an extension of the old style politics rooted in ethnic appeals and patronage.
So where do we go from here? The palpable wish among Kenyans to find the best way to challenge entrenched power structures of the malignant political class and virulent power elite is commendable. The progressive letterings in the new constitution will require a conducive political environment for its effective implementation. There will be efforts – indeed desperate ones – to contaminate such an environment by the same people who have been associated implicitly or explicitly with the political rascality and irresponsibility of the past – who exploited ethnic divisions to service selfish interests and primitive accumulation.
Expectations are high that the forthcoming elections could become that long-awaited keen contest between the progressives and the so-called ‘dinosaurs’. Candidates like 27-year-old Ms Kamenchu Kingwa and Ms Martha Karua – both female aspirants for the presidency — symbolise a radical departure from the past and mirror the yearnings and aspirations of the youth and women for a deeper democratic space in Kenya. A broad interpretation of Chapter Six of the constitution could provide a level playing field that will lay a foundation for that new Kenya that many Kenyans dream of – where transparency, centrifugal devolution of powers, political accountability, professionalism, commitment and meritocracy will be enthroned above cronyism, divisive hostility, backward political ethnicity and corruption.
Uche Igwe is a governance expert. He can be reached via [email protected].