By Farid A.M. Omar
Following the outbreak of violence in the aftermath of the disputed Kenyan elections, the western media was quick to portray electoral politics in Kenya as “tribal” with perennial “ethnic” loyalties, rather than national issues shaping up support for competing political interests.
While politics in the Moi and Kenyatta eras as well as the the first term of Kibaki's reign may have been dictated by ethnic interests, the flawed 2007 elections was historic in that ethnicity took a back stage as the fledging opposition Party, the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) led by Mr. Raila Odinga, carted a new era in Kenyan politics, shunning ethnic divisions and instead, uniting Kenyans under a banner that has confined electoral politics into an issues-based national debate.
Ethnicity has not been a driving factor in this elections although political opportunists are likely to manipulate the ongoing violent unrest to rekindle ethnic tensions and plunge the predominantly peaceful East African nation into further chaos.
It is very unfortunate that specific communities were targeted in the current mayhem and especially in the Rift Valley Province, in which in one grisly incident, 35 innocent people, mostly women and children from the Kikuyu community perished in a Church fire blamed on marauding mobs angered by the outcome of the rigged Presidential polls. Peace loving Kenyans should roundly condemn such acts, refrain from violence and seek a peaceful resolution to the current impasse.
In a dubious move, the Electoral Commission of Kenya(ECK), had at the end of the polls, declared Kibaki the winner over his rival, the opposition's Raila Odinga. As of late, upto five officials of the ECK have broken ranks with their colleaques, declaring that the Presidential polls were fraudulent and marred with serious irregularities. The ODM and some western observers have called for an independent audit of the polls to ensure a fair and transparent culmination to the process.
On the run up to the 2007 elections, Raila's ODM garnered national support that transcends ethnic and regional lines. His party, ODM, has a truly national outlook with multi-ethnic support across the nation. There are even Kikuyus in the ODM and some of them, like Bishop Margaret Wanjiru, is the presumed winner of the Starehe Constituency in Nairobi, having tallied more votes than her rival, PNU's Maina Kamanda, along time area MP.
In its haste to thwart ODM fortunes, the ECK quickly annulled the Starehe results, locking Ms. Wanjiru out of a historic parliamentary victory. The ECK felt that it would have been a huge blow to Kibaki if Wanjiru was officially declared winner on an ODM ticket in a mainly Kikuyu populated part of the City.
In the Kisumu East constituency, voters overwhelmingly elected Mr. Ahmed Shakeel Shabir, a Kenyan of South Asian descent as their new MP, rejecting their own Luo candidates who ran on other party tickets.
The western media is keen on presenting the ethnic line so as to continue to depict Kenyan and African politics in general, as being primarily a “tribal”, or “ethnic-centred” process devoid of issues-based politicking. But Kenyan and other African pundits have rejected such negative media depictions, stating that ethnicity was NOT a driving force in the 2007 Kenya elections.
Raila's ODM for example, draws the majority of its support outside his Luo community. Sensing that the ODM was headed for outright victory in six out of Kenya's eight Provinces, the pro-Kibaki ECK moved fast to doctor the final results in favour of Kibaki. While Kibaki's PNU largely relied on Kikuyu support from the Central Province, the ODM had over the last two years, built itself a national support base across the provinces.
The ODM has widespread support in Nyanza, Western, Rift Valley and Nairobi Provinces among various communities including the Luo, Luhya, Kalenjin, Maasai, Kisii etc while in the Coast and North Eastern Provinces and parts of Eastern Province, the ODM has fielded winning candidates from the Swahili, Taveta, Somali, and Gabra communities in what clearly local analysts regard as a multi-ethnic, trans-regional, national support for Raila.
Also, the ODM has successfully secured bloc voting on demographic basis as the majority of the young people in Kenya as well as women and the Muslim community decisively voted for Raila.
Like his late father, the legendary Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, Raila Odinga is widely acknowledged in Kenyan politics as a nationalist leader rising above “tribal” politics. During the elections campaign, Raila's ODM focussed on such nagging issues as corruption, poverty, unemployment and alarming crime rates. This resonated well with the masses and by election date, there was no stopping the ODM train that was cruising to certain victory.
On the other hand, most Kenyans would agree that Kibaki per se is not the problem but the clique of corrupt politicians within his inner circle. Ordinary Kenyans blame Kibaki's cronies on the endemic corruption that has paralyzed the country over the last five years. In the past, Kibaki was often regarded as the “gentleman” of Kenyan politics for his ability to delegate power and work closely with other leaders.
But his regime was held hostage by his close associates, erstwhile dubbed “The Mount Kenya Mafia” implicated in massive corruption during Kibaki's first tenure of office. This political mafia takes its name from the Mount Kenya region in the Central Province where Kibaki's henchmen hail from. It consists of powerful cabinet ministers in the Kibaki government as well as corporate titans with close ties to the state.
During the 2002 Kenya elections, it was Raila Odinga who handed the Presidency to Kibaki on a silver platter after he made the famous declaration “Kibaki Tosha” loosely translated from Kiswahili as meaning “Kibaki all the way”. Raila, a rising opposition leader at the time, sacrificed his own presidential ambitions infavour of Kibaki, so as to unite the opposition under the banner of National Rainbow Coalition (Narc-Kenya) that swept to power, ending Kanu's 40 years of reign in power.
But Raila and others later fell out with the President after his refusal to deliver a people-driven new constitution for Kenya as well as failure to honour the memorandum of understanding (MOU), a gentleman's agreement that required Kibaki to step down after one term to allow for Raila to run as the Narc-Kenya 2007 Presidential candidate. Odinga and his close allies also left the Kibaki government after the revelations of massive corruption in high places.
In the just concluded elections, Kibaki's PNU party relied on old guard politicians to mobilize support for the President. These include Mr. Simeon Nyachae who served as a cabinet minister in successive governments, tasked with the plan to deliever the Kisii vote, while other cabinet ministers; Mukhisia Kituyi, Musikari Kombo and Vice-President Muudi Awori were expected to deliver the Luhya vote.
Former President Daniel Arap Moi and his former right hand man, Nicholas Biwott, considered the real power behind Moi' long 24 year reign, and Kibakis's cabinet minister Kipruto Arap Kirwa, turfed the Rift Valley to rally Kalenjin support for Kibaki on the Presidential ticket while maintining allegiance to Kanu on the Parliamentary ticket. In the Eastern Province, Ukambani chieftains —turned PNU candidates, Mr Mutua Katuku (Water Development minister and Prof Kivutha Kibwana (Lands minister), were entrusted with selling Kibaki's campaign in parts of this province.
But Kenyans overwhelmingly rejected these ethnic overtures and instead, pusnished these bearers of the ethnic torch, voting out Vice-President Awori, Nyachae, Kituyi, Kombo, Tuju, Kirwa, Katuku and Kibwana who were among the 20 cabinet ministers who lost their seats during the elections.
Moi's ethnic card resulted in the total destruction of the Moi dynasty in the Rift Valley Province as his three sons, Gideon, Raymond and Jonathan all lost in the Parliamentary polls in Baringo and Eldama Ravine.
Overall, the 2007 elections was one that saw the majority of voters shunning ethnic politics by punishing divisive politicians and rewarding politicians who forged a united national front under the ODM Parliamentary and Presidential tickets.
More importantly, the 2007 elections ushered in a new wave of women politicians, most of them running on ODM ticket, some of whom defeated a powerful slates of male candidates in a number of constituencies. Also, small parties never used to winning even single seats in parliament, had a field day as they bagged in a total of 21 seats, some of them at the expense of Kibaki's PNU.
By colluding with the Kibaki government, the ECK led Kenyans down by rigging the elections in favour of the incumbent, hence curtailing a certain democratic precedent for Kenya. But through mass rejection of Kibaki's “re-election,” ODM supporters and leaders alike are determined to reclaim their hard fought democratic triumph by placing popular pressure on President Kibaki to step down. The million man protest at Uhuru Park on Thursday, represents the beginning of a new struggle to reshape Kenyan politics and set the East African nation on the path to democratic consolidation.