Earlier this week, I have heard the stories of two middle-aged, working class women living in Nairobi who have registered as voters for the first time. They are older than me but they have never voted. For the life of me, I could not understand how anyone could have stayed away from all the political drama, especially in the last three elections.
That aside, their reasons for registering as voters are quite interesting. One has registered out of her own accord because her ‘own’ candidate now has a reasonable chance of winning the election. The other registered due to pressure from her husband who is keen to ensure that ‘their’ candidate wins. ‘Own’ and ‘their’ here, as you’ve probably guessed, represents ethnic groups.
Analysis of the gender and agency questions in these stories could fill a book, but that’s not my focus here. My interest is that these stories reveal two important insights about our politics. The first, that ethnicity is a key driver of our political choices, should be fairly obvious even though we often encounter strategists and leaders who seem to forget it. The second, that the elite are a key driver of the political choice is often ignored.
We often see ‘tribal chiefs’ as just being beneficiaries of the tribal numbers but not as their creators. These stories tell us something different: ‘Who’ is on, or is likely to be on, the ballot will determine whether people register and turn out to vote. The fact that ‘our’ candidate has a chance of winning is as important as that of he is ‘our’ candidate.
This tells us that democratic politics is as much about the elite as it is about individuals and groups. And on this front, NASA is winning. They are working extra hard to see how everyone is accommodated because that is the only way they can pose a significant challenge to the incumbent. On the other hand, Jubilee, seemingly still driven by hangovers of the past victory, seems least bothered about the elite side of politics.
It emerged recently, from the technical team they’ve appointed to craft a power-sharing agreement and method of nominating its candidates, that the two principals who will miss out on the presidential and running mate slots will get the posts of Speaker and Majority Leader. This presumes that the coalitions would have a parliamentary majority, if they were to win the presidency. This is not given.
I presume that this is where the idea of the president naming one of the principals as chief minister comes from.
This idea of a chief minister, much like a prime minister, has seen NASA being accused of being just power hungry individuals only keen to reward themselves with positions. I find this argument very shallow. Politics is about power. You run for elections to get power or to keep it.
The longer Jubilee takes to come to terms with the need to build, or even appear to build some elite consensus, the more difficult their stab at a second term will become. It is plausible that at some point in the next few months, they will reach the inevitable conclusion that while merging political parties may have appeared as a solid strategy, it is certainly not enough to guarantee success.
If they were to borrow something from NASA, they would learn that the idea is to accommodate people not to lock them in.
It is therefore unsurprising that Jubilee is facing defections and defiance from some small parties in its strongholds that refused to fold up. Leaders want to feel that they are wanted and respected and that they have a fair chance of getting what they are fighting for. They need to trust in the people and the systems put in place for them to stay on board or join.
The landscape has changed. The constitution created constraints in the way the political elite are rewarded to attract and retain them in political camps.
Innovativeness and trust are critical elements of success now and Jubilee appears to be running low on both. They could still catch up.