Poll marks transition to a bona fide liberal democracy

Are intellectuals overrated? One might be tempted to write off this question as sheer polemics or fireside prattles of academic low-achievers.

Indeed, no one gives a hoot about the listing at the top of overrated or fake academics in the blogosphere of such intellectual luminaries as Noam Chomsky, Edward Said or Frantz Fanon.

However, beyond mesmerising appellations, affiliations to revered academic citadels, mind-boggling air-miles and hubris galore, the bizarre rowdiness and disruptiveness response by sections of intellectuals in the academy and civil society to Kenya’s August 8, 2017 election invites a closer scrutiny of the worth of an intellectual.

A case in point of an intellectual behaving badly — and evidently overrated intellectual — is the Harvard-trained Kenyan-American legal scholar and soi-disant intellectual gatekeeper, Makau Mutua, better known for his fads and whims than his incisive intellectual acumen.

“The sins of 2013 have been compounded”, Mutua gushed out in response to the declaration of the winner of the 2017 contest. “That’s why, as a matter of conscience, I can’t — and won’t — recognise Uhuru Kenyatta as President”.


Another overrated public intellectual is the Oxford-trained public intellectual, head of Raila Odinga’s think- tank and Saturday Nation columnist, David Mwangi Ndii, best known for his “Kenya will burn” threat, which he has recently repeated.

“Let me quote myself: If Uhuru Kenyatta is declared winner in another sham election, this country will burn,” he tweeted last Sunday.

Be that as it may, the “genocide” thesis by Dr Ndii and his ilk is a vile ploy to defeat democracy and push the country to the brink of lawlessness.

One must fault the National Commission on Integration and Cohesion (NCIC) for failure to rein in such incitement.

Beyond the Kenyan boundaries, the 2017 election has also attracted a few academic tourists, hippies and treasure-hunters, now making frightful forays into the Kenyan studies.

One of them is Aziz Rana, a Professor of Law at Cornell University, known for his mordant media articles. In his seemingly first-ever article on Kenya titled “Kenya’s new election authoritarianism” (Boston Review, August 17, 2017), Rana makes the slipshod claim that “instead of marking the transition to liberal democracy, elections now [2017] legitimate authoritarian regimes”.


Lest I fall victim to a typical sin emblematic of many Kenyan intellectuals of the penchant for ad hominem attack the character of the person rather than rebutting the substance of the argument itself, let me repeat President Barack Obama’s quote: “Ignorance is not a virtue.” Much so for intellectuals, paid to read and think!

 The August 8 election catapults Kenya to the league of countries with bona fide liberal democracies.

Even then, in Kenya, as everywhere else, democracy — which Winston Churchill once described as “the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time” — is never perfect; it remains work in progress.

Oddly enough, strong nations are forged on the anvil of civil wars. This is true of the American Civil War (1861-1865) or the Nigerian Civil War, commonly known as the Biafran War (1967 – 1970).

Similarly, modern Kenya was forged on the anvil of its 2007-2008 “civil war.”

The country’s hosanna entry into the league of the world liberal democracies reflects hard lessons learned from the conflict and the gains of what has been globally applauded as “Kenya’s silent revolution” in peace time.


Between 2008 and 2017, the country has overhauled and replaced the old colonially-inspired authoritarian constitution with one of the world’s most liberal charter; reformed or/and created institutions such as the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) to manage future elections and a new Supreme Court to settle presidential election disputes.

Successive governments have invested every dime in modernising election management systems, resulting in one of the world’s most technological, albeit, inadvertently, perhaps the most expensive elections per capita in the world.

As the EU Observer Mission rightly advised, Kenya must consciously and decidedly reverse the trend of over-reliance on technology as a solution to broken trust among its power elite.

Kenyatta won the 2013 and 2017 presidential elections fair and square. These elections have been more peaceful, credible, freer and fairer, although not without their hitches and glitches. Kenya has justly become Africa’s “shining city on the Hill”.

Let me be clear: Victory has logic to it. Had Raila Odinga been declared the winner of the 2013 presidential election in the light of Kenyatta’s overwhelming victory, Kenya would perhaps have burned. 

At best, “President Raila Odinga” would have been forced to share power — which Kenya’s 2010 presidential system does not envisage — to save his presidency. At worst, as a result of shutdowns by a Jubilee-dominated National Assembly, his government would have eventually collapsed.


But Kenyatta has not been blinded by his “triumph of numbers” in 2013. As such, 2017 was not about the “tyranny of numbers, but the “tyranny of diversity” to widen his legitimacy across the length and breadth of the country and internationally, heal and unite a young nation-of-nations divided along multiple sectarian fault lines and build a legacy of an inclusive society.

Elections follow the logic of war. Kenyatta adopted a strategy that defended his “territory”, went on a charm offensive to win hearts, minds and votes in swing areas while bombarding the “enemy territory.”

The “war plan” has paid off. Kenyatta expanded his margin of victory from 838,887 votes in 2013 to an emphatic 1,440,956 votes in 2017, and his overall percentage from 50.50 pc to 54.27 pc. 

Even as Odinga disputes the presidential election at the top, Kenyatta evidently won from below. He won a majority vote share in 26 counties out of 47 counties and his Jubilee party and its affiliates swept the board in all six elections, gaining untrammelled control of the National Assembly and Senate as well as the informal, but influential, Conference of Governors.

Whatever the outcome of the Supreme Court, the odds are seriously stuck against Odinga. Out-numbered and out-gunned in Parliament and Senate, he cannot govern. Intellectuals must have the honesty to recognise this.

 Prof Kagwanja is a former Government Adviser and currently heads the Africa Policy Institute

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