Domestic Politics in Kenya’s Foreign Relations II: Uhuru Talked to Aljazeera


It never received as much attention both in the so called mainstream and social media. Maybe it is I who needs to find new friends who follow such events of national importance, or follow the news a bit closer. I am talking about Uhuru Kenyatta’s interview with Aljazeera’s Folly Bah Thibault on the programme Talk to Aljazeera. If you missed it, here’s a link you can watch it and form your own opinion about your future leaders:

The main issue, which may be obvious to fervent followers of Kenyan politics, was the ICC. A while back, on the 4th of November 2012, I published a post on a similar issue. It revolved around the consequences to our foreign policy of having the Hague pair at the helm of Kenya’s political leadership. For 25 good minutes Uhuru Kenyatta was grilled about the direction he would take the country if elected.

Notwithstanding the perpetual interruptions by the interviewer almost frantic for direct answers, there were pertinent questions that needed answers by the interviewee. A lot of commentators focused on the journalistic ethics of the former and did not objectively scrutinize the answers of the latter. What issues did this interview bring to the fore?

First, there is the issue of trial dates. The ICC trial chamber has set the dates in April. These dates will be smack in the middle of elections if the current opinion polls are above reproach. Under the current constitution of Kenya, if there is no clear majority winner (i.e. 50% + 1) then the county goes to a runoff. It must be done within 30 days of the general elections, between the first and second placed candidates. It means that UhuRuto ticket may be engaged in serious campaigns while at the Hague facing egregious charges.

Secondly, suppose they win what then? Folly posed this question to Uhuru who started off by reiterating their support for the process. Despite the barrage of questions on he could be genuine about this support whereas the current ICC prosecutor has accused the government which he serves of non compliance, Uhuru stood his ground. However therein lays a bigger issue.

If come April, we have Uhuru and Ruto as the president who will handle the affairs of the state while the pair fends off international criminal charges? In my view, Uhuru was elusive as he just said ‘the government will continue to run’ without any specifics as how that would happen. In case you have not noticed, it is unprecedented that the president and his deputy of any country would be out of that country at the same time. Considering the close proximity in dates and the preparations involved, there’s a strong likelihood that both the president and his deputy will be out.

Thirdly, there is the looming question on sanctions. The presidential candidate can shout sovereignty at the top of their lungs but must understand that the concept is not practiced in isolation. There is always the international community that we must deal with and I think it is not enough for him to say that he will work with those who are willing and ideally leave out the rest. He questioned the interests of those states in Kenya perhaps in an attempt to impute imperialistic motives.

The ambassador of the United Kingdom to Kenya has been categorical on the issue. It is not the policy of the United Kingdom to deal with persons subject to the ICC process. In other words, we will not deal with Kenya should they choose the ICC pair. This is a perfect example of freedom and necessity as there is what you want to do and what you can do.

Finally there is the issue of state failure. There is no universally accepted definition of the term. However whenever one speaks of the term the first example would be Somali. So can Kenya end up like Somali of the pair will be elected? I do not see any evidence of this owing to the strong institutions that have been placed by the constitution. If we had strong and armed resistance to the government like in Mali of DRC, then perhaps a situation like that could ensue.

All in all, it is up to the Kenyan voter to choose his/her leader wisely. Keep the peace!


Kenya General Elections Series: How to Win Party Primaries

The more things change the more they remain the same. These words are accredited to one Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr, a French journalist and novelist by profession. It best portrays the political system in Kenya after the hyped New Constitution of Kenya that was promulgated on 27th August 2010. But how does this statement relate to the current madness prevailing in the system? Check this out.

Hon. Kenneth Marende in an interview with one of the local dailies declared that the 10th Parliament broke legislation passing record. Among these pieces of legislation were the Elections and Political Party Acts. I thought we were ‘professionalizing’ politics with party hoping being initially capped, party primaries conducted in time among many other good things that were (as some were long amended) and are in the act. But after the primaries, I wonder what lessons we have learnt.

I observed the following as a winning formula and thus a reflection of some of our leaders:

Have Connections on the inside

How does one win a party primary and then the certificate given to the loser? It reminds me of those mlolongo (Swahili for queue) days in the KANU era. Supporters of a candidate would queue behind him/her and ideally the one with the longest line should be the one to clinch the post. Sounds simple doesn’t it? The only problem there was that the ones with the shortest lines were often declared the winners since these had more of ‘KANU blood’ running through their veins.

More than 20 years later plus a new constitution, not much has changed. Aspirants from various counties in Kenya are complaining that they have been unfairly and illegally locked out. Some of these won their primaries fair and square but only for the certificate to be handed to their opponents. That’s democracy working right there as the last shall surely be on the first on the ballot paper.

Buy lots and lots of Photocopying paper

If a candidate smells defeat coming from a far and is unwilling to let go, what does he/she do? They cannot create constituents loyal to themselves and even if they could they have to wait for them to reach the age of majority to vote (18 years in Kenya). Thus the other option available is to photocopy ballot papers and ensure their names are on every one of them.

The next task would be stuff these papers. This would not be an easy fete. However, since human beings are easily distracted, create commotion and ensure that it lasts for as long as you need to elect yourself. Alternatively you can have party officials and presiding officers in your pocket. This route will be smoother as many of these agents callously suggest particular candidates as they ‘help’ senior citizens and those illiterate exercise their political right.

Have an Exit Plan

Those who live by the sword must die thereby. It may very well be that you might use these tricks but your opponent would take the better of you. Thus there must be an exit strategy. Always have a certificate from a smaller party waiting to be signed. However you must be careful that this party is registered as the laws passed are serious on this. As soon as you reach Parliament, do something about that law. I mean the education requirement for members of Parliament was watered down to benefit them why not do the same for this requirement?

Take Vocal Lessons

Do not confuse the title with singing. Well you will do some amount of singing to woo unsuspecting voters but these lessons are more on how to shout successfully. Party primaries are often acrimonious and do at times degenerate quickly into shouting matches. Thus he who shouts the loudest must have been aggrieved and therefore must have been the winner. Isn’t it simple logic?

If you stick to these simple rules, you will have earned the title mheshimiwa (Swahili for honourable) and thus the ‘right’ to steer your constituents and the country to greatness. Congratulations, we are proud of you.

Kenya General Election Series: Ethnicization of Kenyan Politics

Kenyans have for a long time been described as an ethnic minded people. Proponents of this notion often point to our political culture as proof. They say Kenyans become more polarized along ethnic lines when politics is involved and usually during elections. But I think that they may be missing the bigger picture while focusing on the pixels. I hereinafter state my reasons for this proposition.

When talking about any country in Africa, analysts (both African and non-African) use colonial history as the starting point for their analyses. The Kenyan situation, I believe, is no different. The colonial history of this country is based inter alia on discrimination and separation of the African folk; a policy known as divide and rule. As long as the Africans were divided, there would be no meaningful opposition to the establishment.

Division brought with it marginalization which a predominant theme in Kenyan political history. The divide and rule policies of the British Empire planted the seeds of discord among Kenyans as some regions were favoured more than others. However successive governments put the fertilizer and provided the necessary conditions for the so-called negative ethnicity seeds to flourish and take root based on how resources were distributed.

Throughout Kenya’s political history, one community has been pitted against another at one point in time. For instance, the perceived animosity between the Luo and the Kikuyu is as a result of the former perceiving the latter as megalomaniacs. From the assassination of Tom Mboya and the tribulations of the erstwhile vice-president turned opposition leader to the bungled elections of 2007, events have further conspired to fan these perceptions.

Whereas I cannot deny with a clean conscious that there were no schemers of such machinations, I cannot in the same breath say that ALL Kikuyu’s are megalomaniacs. This is just one example of the many complex political conflicts that exist in the country. Surprisingly, if one looks hard enough he/she is bound to find the distribution of resources as the bedrock. I therefore agree with one Murkomen, who on an interview aired on Aljazeera English (Inside Story) on Wednesday 16th January at 2030hrs (local time) stated that political violence on Kenya can be traced to marginalization and distribution of resources.

In addition to the foregoing, there’s a fact that often skips the minds of many. In 2002 Kenyans voted side by side without any issues. At this point we all wanted a change from the KANU (Kenya National African Union) rhetoric since independence. Tribes that were erstwhile mortal political enemies supported a common candidate. In these elections, two tribes that were engaged in acrimonious violence are together again or so it seems. In my view, these events do not depict a people that are inherently ethnic.

What is my point? Scarce resources, growing population, inequitable distribution of resources are among the issues that drive Kenyans into ethnic shelves with slogans such as ‘it’s our time to eat’. Leaders often have used these issues to create tribal bases wherefrom they can negotiate with the powers that be for a slice of the national cake. But in true Machiavellian fashion, they betray the expectations of their people once they get into positions of power.

Therefore, one of the principal reasons for decentralization was equity in distribution of resources. Looking at the counties created, one can almost trace tribal boundaries although the law does still provide for ethnic balance in each county government. By this, I hope, people will be keener on their governor than their president. Consequently, Kenyans will not be easily divided into ethnic shelves by presidential aspirants seeking to sweep into power. However, I am not sure I can say the same for the gubernatorial office.

In conclusion, bad governance is the reasons Kenyans behave as they do. Frustrated that the independence of the nation was hijacked by a few excited chaps, Kenyans came up with a defense mechanism. That defense mechanism was ethnicity wherein through regional balancing they could at least get a slice of the cake. Perhaps a study on the same would vindicate my position on the role of ethnicity in Kenyan Politics but until then, it remains an opinion.