Third Eye

Today’s election stirs memories of independence

Tuesday, August 9th, 2022 01:03 | By
IEBC chairman Wafula Chebukati speaks during the 2022 General-Election Observer briefing yesterday at the Bomas of Kenya, Nairobi. PD/John ochieng
IEBC chairman Wafula Chebukati speaks during the 2022 General-Election Observer briefing yesterday at the Bomas of Kenya, Nairobi. PD/John ochieng

Today millions of Kenyans will vote in a competitive General-Election, marking a historic milestone in the evolution of the nation’s political life since attaining independence in 1963.

 While the voters will be casting their ballot in Kenya’s peculiar hybrid system of electing six seats in one day of voting – Wards, Woman Rep, National Assembly, Senate, and County Government – the main focus will be on the big one – the Presidency.

Today’s presidential election is inextricably linked to the first liberation struggle, the dawn of independence and equally turbulent post-independent Kenya. The two frontrunners are a lesson in contrast viewed from this background.

Azimio-One Kenya presidential flag-bearer Raila Odinga is a direct descendant of this complex evolution of the Kenyan nation and a key player in the struggle for the “Second Liberation” that saw the restoration of multi-party democracy and the acclaimed Constitution of Kenya, 2010. Kenya Kwanza leader William Ruto is a product of the de facto authoritarian one-party state, with no credit for the “second liberation”. His contribution to the birth of the “new” constitution is contentious, yet he is a major beneficiary.

The choice facing voters at the ballot is clear between two candidates with divergent political credentials, ideologies, and styles.

Raila is a thoroughbred classic Kenyan politician nurtured in the roots of the tree of nationalism, adept at navigating the twisted terrain of ethnicity and political deal-making, with a charming appeal to a rich and faithful grassroots national constituency.

Ruto is a smooth operator, with a heavy financial war chest, well-oiled political machinery and a sharp tongue. A true “hustler” in the political sense of the word, he has captured the hearts of a large, disgruntled population with his “bottom-up” dogma.

While they differ, somewhere along the way they have been political co-habitants up to the highest level. In politics, there are no permanent enemies while poverty and economic hardships transcend ethnic and political barriers. The Presidency will be won through the simple equation of electoral politics in Kenya – ethnicity, and repayment of political debt. Will outgoing President Uhuru Kenyatta repeat history reverse mode, endorsing Raila to succeed him following their historic “handshake” of 9 March 2018?

The endorsement has elicited vehement protestations from jilted deputy Ruto, who expected him to honour a presumed political debt repayment for rallying his Kalenjin community to help him secure two terms.

Uhuru’s decision evokes memories of 12 November 1959 when Raila’s father Oginga Odinga rejected British overtures to take over independent Kenya’s leadership. Instead, Raila endorsed Uhuru’s father Jomo Kenyatta, demanding his release from prison alongside the ‘Kapenguria Six’ – Achieng’ Oneko, Paul Ngei, Bildad Kaggia, Fred Kubai and Kungu Karumba, who were eventually freed on 21 August 1961.

By forfeiting a golden opportunity for power, Raila shattered the ethnicity barrier to water the roots of nationalism, breaking the silence on a subject considered taboo in the colonial era. Raila’s magnanimous gesture remains a major talking point as a repudiation of the politics of ethnicity in favour of nationhood. However, that decision brought him personal and political grief extending to members of his Luo community.

It developed into mutual suspicions, uneasy dalliances and political contestations with Kenyatta’s Kikuyu community that persists to date, a large pro-Ruto voting population thrown into the mix.  

Whether President Uhuru’s decision will succeed in breaking the jinx to heal the wounds of the past will only be determined after the votes are counted tonight.

—The writer comments on political and justice issues  - [email protected]

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