From the brink: How Kenya reasserted its nationhood
Posted Thursday, March 14 2013 at 02:00
Last week Kenyans retreated into their tribal conclaves, an electoral college of sorts, to elect their leaders.
In 1987, Kenya hosted the All Africa Games at a new stadium in Kasarani. These games could have been the high point of the Moi era. In that period, Kenya made progress, paying off residual claims owed to her neighbours Uganda and Tanzania from the defunct East African Community compensation fund (Uganda’s share was mostly stolen and EAC pension fraud claims show up in the news all the time).
Kenya Airways began the steady rise to a global carrier while Uganda, eventually Tanzania, ran their national carriers aground. The Nyayo car project was launched about the same time the reassembly of completely knocked down kits (CKDs), the forerunner of motor vehicle assembly to much fanfare.
Kenya’s splashy progress made it seem to tower over her neighbours. Kenya’s model looked like another nation that joined the world stage at the time - South Korea. South Korea’s 1988 Olympic splash announced the arrival of Korea on the world stage. Daniel arap Moi, the primary schoolteacher, did not have the benefit of a university education but had the benefit of an entrenched bureaucracy behind him. His Vice President, Mwai Kibaki, was a safe pair of hands who had been around since independence and authored the famous Sessional Paper No. 10 of 1965. He had survived the 1982 coup attempt and gotten rid of Charles Mugane Njonjo, a larger-than-life figure who had dominated post-succession politics after Jomo Kenyatta’s death in 1978.
Kenya’s economic model has always vastly differed from that of its neighbours. Julius Nyerere fostered institutional delays and communalism. The Tanzanian economy did not have the resources to rapidly develop and did not have the capacity to trap its vast mineral wealth. In such settings, politics is more important than economics and getting it right is a priority. Uganda was an agriculturally self-sufficient economy torn between its feudal past, war weariness and an ambitious new leadership eager to put the country back on its feet.
Kenya is a capitalist economy. Production resources are owned by a diffident bourgeoisie whose invitation to the table was either a Western education or value as a political bootlicker. For this reason its capitalist class grew faster. Kenya hosted a British army training ground. All major firms were headquartered in Nairobi and the first stock exchange was in Nairobi. Capitalism generates a lot of profit at the top but can be a source of entrenched misery at the bottom.
This misery has remained a Kenyan problem ever since, thus informing its politics. Even where the State has yielded-- today education is free and the Kenyan economy has made vast strides since the re-introduction of multipartism in 1992, especially after 2002 by minimising donor-driven distortions in the economy-- the underclass remains a mystery. In reality, there are three Kenyas; The cream at the top. The middle class who, unlike her neighbours, include a relatively more diverse group, technocrats, civil servants, farmers, businesspeople and other sorts of entrepreneurs.
Decision 2013 is a watershed in Kenyan politics. First, it accomplished generational transformation. The baton moved from the pre-independence leadership, skipped one generation to offspring of the post-independence era. In the end, the children of Normandy, the Second World War and the struggles to remove Moi and reintroduce multipartism were overwhelmed by a strange amalgam of forces.
While the first segment of the elite (both Uhuru, 52 and his rival Raila Odinga, 68) belong to the same privileged class beneficiaries of the spoils of political power as heirs and later in their own right as actors are older and still seem in awe of instruments of Western power. Odinga partly got his plate cleaned for playing to the gallery and also partly for being at the game for so long. The second segment of the elite, are younger, more exposed and seem less awed by this power. They are more likely to look at foreigners as equals. While Odinga, a petroleum engineer studied in East Germany, Uhuru attended an Ivy League cousin- Amherst. The West seems to have missed this.
Both candidates were seasoned players. Odinga, the master tactician sought to rally the urban elite, his Luo backyard that has voted for him since his first foray into national politics. The Kikuyu were split in 2002 in an election that brought Kibaki to power over rival Uhuru. Tribalism or in more polished language, identity politics, is simply a means to an end. Last week Kenyans retreated into their tribal conclaves, an electoral college of sorts, to elect their leaders. Uhuru’s conclave, burnished by his deputy William Ruto ,came up nearly 800,000 votes ahead.
Like fiercely competitive sports, Kenyans are no shrinking violet on the field; each candidate freely waged their campaigns. Odinga, after the publication of two blistering books by Miguna Miguna, limped on damaged, especially by news that the ICC process was discredited by an obsession to get even with foes of the West.
Mr Ssemogerere, an attorney and social entrepreneur, practices law in New York. email@example.com