Kenyatta answers critics, but Raila’s boycott raises interesting questions

Thursday November 2 2017


By Daniel K Kalinaki

As expected, Uhuru Kenyatta was re-elected president of Kenya in a dead-rubber contest boycotted by his main rival and Opposition leader Raila Odinga. There were a few also-runs still on the ballot, but in what was, effectively, a race against himself, president Kenyatta won with a cringe-worthy 98 per cent of the vote.
Kenyatta got just under 7.5 million votes, about 720,000 votes less than he did in the annulled August election, but the number every one was watching was the turnout, which came in at 38.84 per cent.

Almost invariably, fewer people turn up to vote in repeat elections but, be that as it may, the result means that only four in every 10 eligible voters chose Kenyatta to be their president.
Even more interesting is who voted for him.

While Kenya is an ethnically diverse country, most of those who turned out to vote were Kikuyu and Kalenjin voters, whose ‘chiefs’ – Kenyatta and deputy William Ruto respectively – were on the ballot.

Odinga’s Luo followed the call to boycott; there was no voting in Homa Bay and Siaya counties, while voting was widely disrupted in Kisumu and Migori – all of which are counties with majority Luo populations.
Like a patient who goes to a hospital with a wound and returns with tetanus, Kenyans went to the ballot to answer a leadership question and came back with a governance crisis. Put simply, how is a Kikuyu-Kalenjin government expected to legitimately govern (as opposed to rule over) communities that did not vote for it?
A lot of this will, of course, depend on legality and legitimacy.

Unless the election outcome is successfully challenged in court, the Jubilee duo will become legally-elected leaders of the whole of Kenya yet without legitimacy in the eyes of a large number of Kenyans, who did not bother to return to the ballot booth this time.
It will also depend on how far Raila & Co., are willing to test the legitimacy of the government and how ‘native’ they are willing to go in order to mobilise support around their cause.
The ‘win’, as discredited as the exercise was, gives Kenyatta a stick with which to beat critics, but it leaves both Ruto and Raila with interesting conundrums.

Without another election to fight, Kenyatta does not necessarily have to play nice or bend over backwards to rally his base or make friends across the political divide. Ruto, eyes on the next election in 2022, does. He, therefore, has to win the trust of the Kikuyu elite, many of whom still regard him with suspicion, ward off the machinations of the Moi family in his Kalenjin backyard, while trying to build bridges to excluded communities, both as a political insurance policy, and as a means to keep the country united.
Raila, on the other hand, does not have many cards left to play.

Electoral boycotts are like the cyanide pills Cold War spies hid under their tongues in case of capture; powerful threats when intact, fatal once used.
He has called for an economic boycott of companies seen as being close to Jubilee, fresh elections in 90 days, and peaceful protests as the Nasa coalition transforms into a ‘national resistance movement’.
But, as we have seen in Uganda and elsewhere, this kind of civil disobedience becomes hard to sustain once election and political fatigue sets in. It is amazing to see how quickly demands for regular, free and fair elections can quickly turn to demands for regular supplies of fairly-priced Ugali.

This then leaves Raila with a dilemma.

One option is to continue pressing for electoral and political reforms and peaceful protests while keeping Nasa (or NRM) as a progressive national movement, but deal with the fairly reasonable expectation of failure.
Or he can bite the cyanide pill and rally for secession of the Luo Nation and other smaller minority groups that feel excluded. This would unbundle the European colonial entity that is Kenya and reveal it for what it, like most African countries, really is: Diverse groups of peoples held together in administrative frameworks by the coercive instruments of State authority, rather than consensus.
Done correctly, the threat of secession could draw concessions, including more autonomy and power-sharing arrangements. Done hastily, it could tear the country apart.

For all the power he wields over his supporters, Raila has, thus far, bitten his tongue. But with a cyanide pill under his tongue, many will be hoping he does not suddenly develop a gum-chewing habit.

Mr Kalinaki is a journalist and a poor man’s
freedom fighter. [email protected]
Twitter: @Kalinaki.