NASA leaders Kalonzo Musyoka and Moses Wetangula arrive in Eldoret, 64 stadium for their coalition’s rally (PICTURE BY DENNIS KAVISU)
Early last week, the opposition National Super Alliance (NASA) signed and deposited an agreement with the Registrar of Parties.
The agreement annuls the former CORD, and lays out the rules of engagement for the political parties and the four principals that comprise the coalition.
On the same day, the US-based National Space Agency (NASA) astronomers announced they had discovered seven earth-sized planets in a nearby solar system where human life is possible. For the superstitious, the coincidence could not have been better timed.
But at the ceremony where the agreement was signed, the mood was a complete departure from previous joint meetings. The raised, hand swinging ritual characteristic of dramatising political unity was displaced by solemn, dour faces, nonchalantly holding up the signed documents for the cameras.
The lack of clarity on the NASA flag bearer coming at the backdrop of some opinion poll showing President Uhuru Kenyatta with a slight lead might possibly have unsettled the NASA principals. Still, there is every indication Kenya is on the brink of another significant political shift.
The question that begs is whether NASA is bold to ride and lead it. For NASA to make the most of the prevailing political situation, it needs to do a number of things. First, the coalition needs to exploit the widespread disillusionment occasioned by a seemingly busy but reckless Jubilee government and second, by picking the ‘right’, rather than the most popular presidential flag bearer.
Why Maasai are warming up to NASA
Why Maasai are warming up to NASA
I will expound on the circumstances nourishing the prevailing despair and thereafter, explore the attributes of the ‘right’ candidate who can pose the most formidable challenge to the ruling coalition in the coming polls.
The next elections are going to be held in the context of a political Tsunami that has swept away incumbents in the continent. From Ghana, Gambia to Nigeria, the patterns are curiously similar; corruption, high costs of living, and a disconnected political elite. Many politicians in Africa are paying a hefty political price in the context of an increasingly enlightened electorate. The situation in these countries prior to the political changes mirrors closely what we now have here in Kenya.
Despite persistent denials from the Jubilee leadership, it is clear that our economy is not doing well. In the last three weeks alone, the shilling has lost significant value against the dollar. In the last 12 months alone, tens of companies have closed shop and relocated, leaving hundreds of thousands of Kenyans jobless.
From the media industry to aviation, manufacturing, tourism and banking among other sectors, news reports of layoffs and massive job losses have become so common that they no longer make the news. Something is just not right. The country is currently beset by a doctors’ strike that is now entering its third month, with possibilities of more health workers joining in. Reports that talks are again almost collapsing is reflective of the leadership crisis in the country. Meanwhile, a punishing university lecturers’ strike has completely paralysed learning in campuses, with thousands of students idling at home or drinking themselves silly in empty campuses.
There is little hope that some closure will emerge with the academic calendar now in disarray. Worse, there is a disturbing silence over key national concerns such as our military campaign in Somalia, unsustainable debt, overpriced mega projects, the ‘criminal’ practice of politicians and their close relatives doing business with the government they lead, and the many commission reports such as the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission report that have been virtually ignored. These, and a legitimate perception of exclusionary politics in the Jubilee government, are welling up to an already simmering popular anger that might on its own, prove fatal and sweep away this administration. NASA must ride on this public anger and provide leadership by giving expression and momentum to this nascent agitation.
Second, the tribal goddess, who has ruled Kenya for decades and dictated the pulse of her politics, has for the last four years failed to deliver to her adherents. She is a sham. I watched with dismay when the IEBC released the newly-registered voters. Politicians on live TV reduced men and women to statistics of tribal clusters with politicians claiming ‘to have the numbers’.
The routine yet bizarre clarion call to ‘protect the tribal kingdom’ is already sounding hollow in the context of widespread government looting. Citizens now realise that it is individuals, not tribes, who benefit from ethnic mobilising and political tribalism. The narrative that some communities are ‘in’ government and others ‘out’ comes off as a terrible hoax when residents of central Kenya continue to receive relief food and inhabitants of the North Rift live in daily fear of armed gung-ho cattle rustlers.
The tribal goddess is a lie, and her true identity is now exposed. It is the reason for possible voter apathy in Jubilee strongholds. To gain traction with the masses, NASA must aggressively expose the futility of worshipping the tribal goddess by providing an alternative to the exclusionism that has monopolised public service in the last four years.
However, even with their multiple troubles, Jubilee might just snap a second term if the NASA coalition bungles in the selection of its presidential candidate. News reports of some of the ‘rules’ formulated in selecting their candidate makes for depressing reading. These rules appear designed to ‘legitimise’ the candidacy of the more dominant principals. The coalition must not be swayed by opinion polls. The timing of some opinion polls are suspicious.
NASA must distinguish between a popular candidate and the right candidate. For over four years now, the Jubilee coalition has been training its entire political arsenal on Raila Odinga. Indeed, some Kenyans have reasons to believe that the current ‘elaborate process’ to select a candidate is a charade aimed at legitimising Raila Odinga’s claims to the presidential ticket. In my opinion and observations, if the NASA coalition were to deviate from this expectation, they will completely scatter the Jubilee campaigns strategy. It is Jubilee’s fervent and abiding prayer that Raila is declared the NASA presidential candidate.
For them, his candidacy is predictable and an easier target of the usual fear mongering. Raila might be the NASA fulcrum, the sun from which the other principals orbit about, but the coalition must go beyond a candidate who excites to one who can deliver the prize. In a sense, the right candidate is the one who is most likely to gain support over and above traditional opposition voting blocs. For NASA to liberate the country, they need to narrow down to a candidate who can consolidate traditional opposition support and also win over a significant percentage of perceived Jubilee zones. Thus, primary consideration should be on an individual who can easily appeal to sections of Kalenjin and Kikuyu voting zones. This way, the offensive, negative political tribalism epitomised in the infamous tyranny of numbers discourse will be exposed and shamed, alongside the tribal goddess.
—The writer is Head of Department, Publishing and Media Studies at Moi University, School of Information Sciences ([email protected])