Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Only Sane Choice

So far the serious putative presidential contenders in next year's general elections are Prime Minister Raila Odinga (ODM), Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka (ODM-K), Uhuru Kenyatta (KANU, PNU Alliance), Internal Security Minister George Saitoti (PNU, PNU Alliance), Water Minister Charity Ngilu (NARC), Assistant Minister Peter Kenneth (PNU), former Justice Minister Martha Karua (NARC-K), former Higher Education Minister William Ruto (ODM, UDM), Foreign Affairs Minister Moses Wetangula (New Ford-K), the Rev Mutava Musyimi (PNU), former Rarieda MP Raphael Tuju and Safina's Paul Muite, the former MP for Kikuyu. Suffice to say that other than the Prime Minister, William Ruto, Uhuru Kenyatta and Martha Karua, the rest of the field is as inspiring as a bag of rocks.

The Justice Minister, Mutula Kilonzo, has successfully introduced in the National Assembly a Bill to amend the Constitution of Kenya, barely two years after it was ratified in August 2010 seeking, among other objectives, to move the date of the general elections from August to December. At the same time, the Political Parties Act has come into operation, compelling all registered political parties in Kenya to comply with its provisions or be struck of the Register of Political Parties. However, before this can take place, some Members of Parliament, convinced that the current Registrar is a partisan stooge of Mount Kenya-based politicians, have called for her replacement and the appointment of a new Registrar in line with the qualifications and requirements of the new Act and the new Constitution. 

Moreover, the Members of Parliament, in their wisdom, made certain amendments to the Elections Bill before it became law to permit the formation of pre- and post-election alliances among political parties, some say with selfish ends, including the desire to ensure that one man, the Prime Minister, was denied the opportunity to ascend the presidency, or if he did, the majority his party would surely command in the National Assembly, the Senate and the County Assemblies of the new 47 Counties. Seen in the context of the formation of loose alliances among the Prime Minister's most ardent foes such as the G7, the G7 Alliance and the PNU Alliance, this interpretation of the amendments to the Elections Bill seems to carry a grain of accuracy.

Meanwhile, the ICC Pretrial Chamber II's verdict over the confirmation of charges against two presidential contenders, William Ruto and Uhuru Kenyatta, is hanging fire over their fates. The Attorney-General has already made intimations to the effect that the verdict may (or may not ) influence the chances of the two men from being on the ballot in 2012 as the ICC is a 'non-political' actor in the affair and is only interested in the matters placed before it. He seems to ignore what amounts to a gag order by the court against the two curtailing what they can and cannot say in public regarding their cases in front of the court, including much of the political hay they may have made out of their circumstances and the role they believe the Prime Minister played in their indictments.

It is Kalonzo Musyoka, however, who seems to be getting the short end of the stick of late. A recent re-branding of ODM-K, replacing the orange-and-a-half logo with an umbrella and adopting WIPER as the party's slogan, does not seem to have transformed the fortune's of the bastard child of the 2005 Orange Movement many blame for the defeat of Raila Odinga at the 2007 general elections. His erstwhile allies also seem to have gone out of their way to isolate him within the G7 and the G7 Alliance, and his dalliance with the PNU Alliance does not seem to have received enthusiastic support from with the Alliance or indeed, from his own party. 

Regardless of the V-P's spokesman's assertions that his position was negotiated between PNU and ODM-K, the refusal of the President to endorse Mr Musyoka as his successor must surely rankle and diminishes his claim to the Presidency next year. Surely too must the unseemly spat between the V-P and the Minister for Medical Services over the former's decision to intervene in the affairs of the Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital, though Prof Peter Anyang' Nyong'o did not react as viscerally when Mr Ruto visited the hospital with several politicians in tow and made the same demands that Mr Musyoka apparently was determined to resolve. It seems that the V-P's intervention was intended as a finger in the eye of the Prime Minister's allies, demonstrating who is the undisputed national leader at the expense of the PM.

Mr Kenyatta too seems to have troubles of his own. The low-level insurgency led by Gideon Moi and Nick Salat to oust him as the Chairman of KANU seems no closer to conclusion, such that even his involvement in the PNU Alliance has now compelled his allies to register a new party they are calling UDF to offer Mr Kenyatta a secure vehicle for the 2012 elections. His handling of the Budget fiasco in June and the deterioration in the fortunes of the shilling in September also seem to have cast doubt that he is a safe pair of hands in the handling of the nation's finances. It has also been suggested that there are forces allied to Mr Kenyatta that will cash in on the state of the shilling, shoring up funds for use in the general election on behalf of Mr Kenyatta. The plight of working class Kenyans, apparently, is no concern of theirs. As with Mr Musyoka, the President's refusal to endorse Mr Kenyatta as his successor, despite his apparent popularity in Central Kenya and the fact that he is the son of Kenya's founding President will hurt him politically too. So too will the differences between him and NARC-K's Martha Karua and PNU's Peter Kenneth in the hunt for votes in Central Kenya.

Martha Karua seems to have entered into the campaign groove rather early, opening offices in as many Counties as she can over the past several months while also campaigning vigorously for NARC-K's candidates in various by-elections, though securing victory in only two, Makadara and Juja; she has since fallen out spectacularly with Gideon Mbuvi of Makadara, going so far as to expel him from the party for his 'gross insubordination' demonstrated by his support for non-NARC-K candidates in the by-elections since his election. Her relationship with Juja's William Kabogo is also on the rocks and she has since suspended him from the party for the same offences as Gideon Mbuvi. Hr determination to cut a swathe in national politics is admirable, but she brings to the presidential contest baggage that may doom her chances. Until her spectacular falling out with Mwai Kibaki that led to her resignation as Justice Minister, she was one of his staunchest supporters. Few will forget her spirited defense of his victory after the 2007 general elections and few will forgive her for it.

William Ruto's rapture with Raila Odinga is all but complete. He has now cast his lot with the outlaws of the ODM, leading a chunk of ODM's North Rift MPs to the UDM boat. So far Raila Odinga has not called for their expulsion from the party, but it is a matter of time before William Ruto's and his allies' incessant provocations lead the PM to demand their expulsion. His intemperate public utterances against the PM also seem to suggest that his interest in the Presidency has nothing to do with the public good but some perceived betrayal by Raila Odinga that he seems coy of publicising. Despite his acquittal by an anti-corruption court of claims that he profited illegally from the illegal sale of government land from one government agency to another, few are persuaded that the sources of Mr Ruto's apparent enormous wealth are legitimate. Whether Kenyans will consider this in the heat of the 2012 campaign remains to be seen. Whether too UDM will control a sizable proportion of the National Assembly remains to be seen.

Many events will shape the 2012 general elections including the success or failure of Mutula Kilonzo's amendment Bill, the verdict of the ICC Pretrial Chamber II, the continued rise in the cost of living, the continued high rate of unemployment among the youth, the continued demolitions of homes in land purporting to belong to the government and its agencies, the war against al Shabaab, and appointments to various commissions and independent offices. 

All these and more have the potential to poison the atmosphere as Kenyans head into the election year and how the presidential contenders manage the events will be a testament to how far Kenya has come since the dark days of 2007 and 2008. If they decide to paint the events as the fault of one or more of them, and apportion blame for the plight of many Kenyans, then the campaigns will be riddled with much ethnic vitriol. The effect may be to guarantee that the elections are neither free nor fair, nor free from violence and bloodshed. If, on the other hand, they decide to rise above the pettiness of their relationships and instead fashion the debates around the desire to find solutions to national problems, they may finally push Kenyans from a system that has ill-served them for a generation and instead inject a dose of hope in the air that may have far happier returns in the aftermath of the 2012 elections. We shall pray and hope that they choose the latter, but we must also stay vigilant and ensure that they actually choose the latter. It is the only sane choice.

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