Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Beware the man bearing gifts.

There is something awkward about the rivals of Raila Odinga 'strengthening' their parties even when they are persuaded that they will be forming 'coalitions' and 'alliances' to stop him from ascending to the presidency. Stephen Kalonzo Musyoka has engineered a re-branding exercise for the Orange Democratic Movement Party of Kenya (ODM-K), bestowing upon it with the most unimaginative symbol (umbrella) and a name synonymous with betrayal (Wiper Democratic Movement). So too has Uhuru Kenyatta, retaining KANU as the acronym, but giving the party a new name (Kenya Alliance of National Unity). William Ruto is still trying to 're-launch' UDM, even though Linah Jebii Kilimo is its only Member of Parliament. Prof George Saitoti has put his money where his mouth is, launching a recruitment drive for the PNU (though the recruitment seems to be taking place only in his Maasai-land backyard). What unites these men (and it is only men) is their desire to ensure that Raila Odinga does not become Kenya's fourth president.

The 'party-strengthening' exercises are not designed to create strong, viable parties, merely bargaining chips when it comes down to choosing one man amongst them to challenge Raila Odinga at the ballot box. To my mind, therefore, these men are not really interested in the democratisation of the country, or indeed, their parties, but in ensuring that one of their own is the next occupant of State House. They have gone on record as being interested in the deepening and broadening of democracy in Kenya but their actions point to something less egalitarian; they are interested only in acquiring and retaining ultimate power at the expense of one man, and quite possibly, the rest of Kenya. Why then, should Kenyans repose their faith in these men?

Kenya is in a fragile state. The politicians' assurances that the scars of the 2007/2008 violence have been healed are too much to take, especially when one remembers the hundreds of families still living in make-shift camps, all but forgotten by their government.The state of the economy, many has alluded, is fragile because there are 'cartels' that intend to make a killing before the next elections. No personage less than the Secretary-General of the Central Organisation of Trade Unions alleged that these cartels were responsible for the persistent high prices of energy and the mysterious fluctuation in the dollar-shilling exchange rate. The demolitions and evictions taking place at the behest of the government have not made things easier for hundreds of families, creating an atmosphere of resentment and fear that may be exploited by politicians with an axe to grind. During the demolitions and evictions, the Members for Embakasi and Kathiani were quick to point an accusing finger at the Prime Minister and ODM. Ferdinand Waititu, the Embakasi MP, even purported to table documents in the National Assembly showing the Prime Minister's hand in the demolitions. In this context, it is not unreasonable to expect that the political environment will be fragile, to say the least. Violence, not so far below the surface, is still likely to erupt. Given the long memories Kenyans harbour of ills committed against them, this is not a possibility that should be ignored.

The Constitution of Kenya, which was sold to Kenyans as a panacea for all their ills, carries a great weight of expectation. In it Kenyans are under the illusion that the next government will go out of its way to ensure that all Kenyans are treated equally, that their rights will be respected and that the democratic gains made over the past decade will be enhanced. It is important to temper these expectations with an acknowledgment that our history is replete with missed opportunities and betrayals. If we are to make the advancement that we have been promised, and that the Constitution promises, it is imperative to remember that these will only be achieved by holding the men and women we elect to Parliament to account. When we fail to do so, we will be disappointed and betrayed and we may find ourselves at the mercy of a government that neither cares for our priorities nor protects our rights. It is for this reason that we must question the reasons for the new wave of party re-branding taking place nationwide. We must question whether we can trust the promises being made by these men, remembering that some of them sat pretty when thousands of Kenyans were lied to, arrested and detained without trial, had their taxes misappropriated and stolen, and betrayed at every turn.

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