The wise men of ancient times have told us that you can never step twice in the same river. About 500 BC Heraclitus, a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher, famously said even if you step into the waters at exactly the same point as you did only a few moments ago, it is a new river. The sage wrote that since the river is endlessly flowing, it is eternally changing, moving with fresh waters. In like vein, you never fight the same enemy twice, even when it is the same individual.
The principal protagonists in the August 8 presidential race, President Uhuru Kenyatta of Jubilee and Raila Odinga of NASA, will want to remember this. At a superficial level, nothing has changed as the focus remains on the same main contenders, as was the case in 2013. Then, as now, all eyes were on Uhuru and Raila. Deputy President William Ruto often scoffs at the Opposition with caustic remarks to the effect, “Are you not the same people we beat in 2013?”
Yet even Ruto recognises one fundamental difference. His team is now in Government. Indeed, he is famous for the line, “If we beat you when we were not in Government, what makes you think that you can beat us, now that we are in Government?” Being in the driver’s saddle is easily the most conspicuous difference between 2013 and 2017. And it comes with both merits and baggage. Incumbency can be a boon. But it can also spell doom. On the positive side, you have a record to speak of. You have been tested and hopefully done a good job.
The Jubilee battalion is aware of this. Using state resources under the guise of showing what the Government has delivered over the past four years, Jubilee got off the blocks long ago, leaving the Opposition napping. You see their footage throughout the day on all leading TV stations, blowing their own trumpet at the public’s expense.
Show of might
Such is the privilege of incumbency. President Kenyatta arrives in Kisii and in sundry other places aboard a military aircraft, professing to be carrying out State functions. There is little the Opposition can do about this.
He reaches into the public coffers to make himself look good by dispensing now this cheque, then that cheque, all in the name of State service. The clout of the presidential entourage, the largesse and the show of might around him have their subliminal effect on the electorate.
The Opposition will do well to know that it is not facing the same opponent as it did in 2013. CORD faced two people before the International Criminal Court (ICC), charged with about the worst criminal accusations in the world. They were a desperate duo, frantically striving to extricate themselves from a global pariah image, as well as the possibility of eating the bread of sorrow and drinking the water of affliction in some foreign jail for decades. Today the pair has transformed itself into an overly confident turbo-charged political twin engine that wines and dines with the finest and mightiest in the global arena.
Moreover, the two have coated their tongues in caustic and eloquent sarcasm, with which they turn even the finest message from the Opposition to their advantage. Put this together with the magnetism of influence, add on State machinery in its widest definition, crown it with denizen ethnic loyalty and you have a redoubtable adversary before you.
Yet, could Jubilee’s incumbency be at once a poisoned chalice and their Achilles heel? For their incumbency comes with a cocktail of both real and perceived failings. Easily, their weakest point has been failure to manage ethnic diversity. There is a sense in which Kenya is thought to be firmly in the grip of an ethnic duopoly. State appointments have tended to favour only two of Kenya’s 42 ethnic communities. Even the National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) has all but admitted that out of every 10 senior appointments in the public sector, four-to-five go to one community.
Three go to the second one and only one or two to the rest of the country. Meanwhile the Jubilee duo seems to delight in paying lip service to national unity. The Opposition is running all over the place with this message. Ethnic exclusion is one of their foremost grievances and rallying points against this government.
Then there is the question of corruption. Even as they flaunt their achievements brag sheet, President Kenyatta and his deputy have to fend off odoriferous accusations of theft in Government. The accusations have sometimes come uncomfortably so close to them that they cannot just wish them away. Regrettably, instead of soberly explaining things and giving credible narratives of their own, they have usually delved into public outbursts of anger and name-calling. They raise their voices when they should raise their logic.
That kind of response to petitions of public accountability does not go down well with the public, apart from what the columnist AR Anderson termed in 1945 as a “sheeple” ethnic following. Fortunately the “sheeple” population remains fairly intact.
Like President Kenyatta, Raila, too, has his “sheeple” population, intact. In both Jubilee and NASA, these are populations in the grip of passive herd behaviour. They are easily led and entirely deficient of any capacity for critical analysis. President Kenyatta’s meek “sheeple” will flow with him because he is one of their own. And so, too, will Raila’s.
In the context, the only real issue in the August 8 elections is going to be the tribe. If there are questions about corruption, cost of living, incessant strikes, hard economic times and the lot, they will only be seen through ethnic prisms. In 2013 there was the ICC affair, being filtered through ethnic prisms.
Today there are sundry achievements on the one hand and assorted grievances on the other hand, all being filtered through ethnic lenses. Now, like in 2013, it boils down to one question, “Of what tribe are you?”
In this regard, tribal rebels of 2013 have sued for peace. Martha Karua and Peter Kenneth — both from President Kenyatta’s Kikuyu tribe and presidential candidates in 2013 — have sidled themselves in President Kenyatta’s wings. Kenneth initially contested for the Jubilee ticket for Nairobi governor but lost to the maverick Mike Sonko.
Karua is fighting it out with Jubilee’s blue-eyed girl Ann Waiguru in Kirinyaga. Yet she has had to eat humble pie. Karua must sound strange even in her own ears each time she reels off flummery about her support for President Kenyatta. Onyango Oloo decamped from Jubilee to look for space in ODM.
Elsewhere, Raila has consolidated communities that peddle themselves as “aggrieved” by the Jubilee duopoly. The synergy between Moses Wetang’ula of Ford Kenya and Musalia Mudavadi of Amani National Congress (ANC) solidly places the Luhya vote in the NASA basket.
If President Kenyatta sincerely believes the Luhya vote is a swing article, then he has an appointment with political trouble this August. The Kisii vote would also seem to be solidly with NASA while the Kuria vote could be slipping from Raila. The Maasai vote is in for hot contestation as is the Somali vote. The Coastal vote is certainly NASA’s to lose and so, too, is the Turkana.
NASA also looks set to cause trouble for Jubilee in pockets of Rift Valley — certainly in the South Rift and with significant gains even in the Central and North Rift, courtesy of the Deputy President’s apparent inability to blend power with modesty — even with his own people.