Raila’s aborted victory

6 January 2008 at 23:11 | 667 views

By Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem.

In December 2002 we all became Kenyans. The reason was
very simple.

Kenyans got rid of President Moi’s 24 years of misrule and KANU’s monopoly of power for almost 4 decades of post
colonial Kenya. The Kenyans merely followed what had
already been done by the Senegalese who had voted out
the Socialist Party also after 40 years in power.

President Abdou Diouf quietly quit the scene and like
Senghor before him retired ‘home’ to France! However
in the Kenyan case the euphoria was more because not a
few people feared that the Old Fox and Self-appointed ‘professor’ of Kenyan Politics
would not surrender so easily and allow his handpicked
‘successor’ , the son of his predecessor, Uhuru
Kenyatta, to be beaten by the opposition. Even after
the victory of the Opposition alliance, NARC, there
were fears that Moi might ‘try something’ to overturn
the wishes of the Kenyan electorate. There were even
speculations of a Military intervention. But in the
end Moi actually managed his exit rather well and
exited with some dignity.

It was not just the wish of Moi
that settled the matter but the patience and
determination borne of long struggle and sacrifice by
Kenya’s democratic forces that made it impossible for
the elderly Dictator to thwart their victory. Indeed
since 1992 when Kenya held its first multiparty
election, majority of the voters had voted out Moi/KANU
but the opposition due to its fragmentation, short
sightedness and sectarianism had conspired to keep Moi
in office. In 2002 they got their act together and the
rest, as the saying goes, is history. Actually , not
quite, because no sooner than Moi was seen off did
Kenyans start missing him especially as the National
Coalition that won the war against KANU could not keep
the peace.

Within two years the Coalition had
collapsed amidst recriminations about betrayal, sharp
turns, U-turns, etc. President Kibaki remained in
office without a party and no working majority in
parliament. But the enormous powers of largesse and
patronage of the imperial Presidency of Kenya ensured
that he was able to attract enough footloose
opportunists into his government with ever shifting
alliances. The referendum on a new constitution
divided the government and the country with the
Government losing it to the opposition led by its
Senior Ministers.

Since then both sides had been engaged in wars of
attrition against each other. This general election
is essentially a continuation of the power struggle
between the two factions of NARC represented by
President Kibaki and his former Cabinet Minister Raila

The President’s campaign was based on the premise that
his was a steady pair of hands in which the people of
Kenya can
continue to trust their future. Principally he points
at his economic record of over 6% growth in the
economy; increasing confidence of investors both
domestic and foreign in the Kenyan economy; and
relative peace and stability. It was a campaign of
continuity with suggestions that his rivals lacked
experience and even the temperament to get the job
done. When his PR people realized that the campaign of
Change that the ODM was using was gaining in appeal
to Kenyan voters they also adapted it for Kibaki
proclaiming: ‘Trust the
Change you can see’.

The ODM’s campaign was very simple and effective. They
queried the
growth of the economy which has not created enough
jobs for Kenyans; made the richer even more fabulously
rich; and above all challenged the government on its
anti corruption credentials. In addition, the ODM
successfully painted Kibaki’s government as the
Judases of Kenyans’ dream of fundamental change that
brought NARC to power: anti corruption and
constitutional reform. These were issues that the
reacted well to. So ODM presented itself as the
alliance that can continue the momentum for change and
make Kenya better for Kenyans.

So what does the disputed announced result(pending
political and legal challenges whose outcome we do not
know yet) mean? Ten Quick talking points as we try to
digest it.

One, just as we
were proud of Kenyans in 2002 we were also proud of
again for holding a largely peaceful election on the
27th of December
election. But no thanks to the Electoral Commission
whose delay and last minute dithering has created a
political crisis whose end no one is sure about yet.

just as the euphoria of 2002
died down, similarly one should be realistic that even
if the
ODM formed government it is not about to unleash a
revolution on Kenya; however there were expectations it
may deliver more
quickly on some of the unfinished political agenda of
2002 including corruption and constitutional reform.

Three, Kibaki’s loss of office would have been
salutary lesson to
African leaders who buy into the neo-liberal orthodoxy
of the moment. Macro economic reforms no matter how
good they look on paper instigate growth without
which cannot be vote winners. People cannot eat 6%
that is not reflected in their living conditions.
Jobless economic recovery will create a jobless
President in a democratic country.

Four, in a
democracy political issues have to be addressed
politically instead of hoping that economic delivery
alone will sort things out. Kibaki was punished for
ignoring genuine political demands, sensitivities and
interests of many Kenyans. Rightly or wrongly the
benefits of his economic growth are seen to have been
skewed in favor of particular classes and political
groups, both too narrow to deliver popular mandate to

Five, there was a lot of talk about ethnicity and
there is no doubt that Kenya is a highly ethicized
polity. There is the usual ethnic manipulation by the
political elite at play but there are also genuine
perceptions of injustices and imbalances that the
elite are feeding on. For instance the fact that the
Kibaki government set up a special committee for
Muslims and Raila Odinga signed a secret Memorandum
with Muslims are both admissions that Muslim Kenyans
are not being treated equally. I do not think that
Muslims are demanding special treatment; they just
want to exercise and enjoy the same rights as fellow

Six, the result also dealt a needed blow to certain
assumptions about who could and could not or which
ethnic group or the other could become president of
Kenya. In a country of over 4O Ethnic groups it is
neither right nor democratic that particular groups
arrogate to themselves the right to rule in

Raila’s victory demystifies the widely
held belief that being Luo was not a vote winner. It
is quite similar to how Nigerians used to think a
Yoruba person could not be democratically elected
until Abiola’s annulled election in 1992 and the
‘wisdom’ of generals imposed Obasanjo against another
Yoruba candidate in 1999. Every citizen no matter
their origin should have the right to vote and be
voted for and aspire to the highest office in the
land. It does not mean that everyone will get there
but ethnicity should not be a ceiling on individual

Seven, it has been said by many analysts and
it is largely
true that ideology or even party loyalty is in very
short supply in this campaign. But let us not delude
ourselves that this is a particularly Kenyan or
African disease.

Look at the American campaign and
tell me what the ideological disagreements are between
the leading candidates. Kenya’s laisez faire politics
may be bordering on the extreme of entrepreneurial
politics but side by side this is also genuine
individual merit. There were candidates rigged out in
big parties who left to join lesser known or unpopular
parties and still won. There are a number of Young
Professionals, Women and Youth activists who, in spite
of all challenges including violence especially
against Women, stood and fell veteran politicians.

Eight, it is not true that African electorates are so
backward, easily led , naively manipulated by
politicians, bribed or coerced to vote corrupt
politicians. The record number of very rich
politicians, cabinet ministers who are well connected
and some of them have both the
financial and criminal infrastructure to impose their
will that lost in this election is a testimony to

Just imagine the roll call of high profile
losers: Nicholas Biwott (the Total Man, a man who was
so feared as Moi’s top
Dog); Moi’s three sons, Vice President Moody Awori;
several cabinet ministers including the foreign
Minister, Tuju, the Defence Minister Karume Njenga. In
Tuju’s case everyone testifies to the fact that he did
take ‘development ‘to his
Rarieda constituency in Nyanza. But still that did not
save him from the wrath of his constituents who
think of him as a traitor for remaining in Kibaki’s
government after his mentor, Raila, and others left.
Amidst all the opportunism voters are also judging
politicians individually not necessarily on delivery
of projects or the bribery called ‘development’ but
also by other values that matter to them.

The final two points have to do with RAILA. One is
an apology: that like many of his Left critics, I never
trusted him since he went to bed with Moi. His
argument then was that it was impossible to destroy
without going in. He did and KANU has been withering
away since then and it is now facing oblivion. Without
Raila I do not think that all
those KANU leaders whom he led out of KANU would
have had the guts to do so. His critics may have been
ideologically but strategically he has won the

The second is a challenge: The English say
be careful what you pray for, you might just get it.

If and When Raila becomes President he would have to
show that the
goal was not just occupying the Big House on the Hill
but using the power to deliver social justice to the
poor and marginalized in Kenya so that UHURU will
finally have meaning and making real the betrayed
dreams that made his much more famous strugglist
father to pen that seminal book ‘NOT YET UHURU.

"Forward ever , backward never".....Kwame Nkrumah (1909 - 1972)

..................DON’T AGONISE!