Since the 29th December 1992 general election, following the reintroduction of multiparty democracy, Kenya has been caught in a five-year cycle where the electorate either elects or accepts a president-elect, courts him, gets into a relationship with him and together they go through all manner of ups and downs before either breaking up, staying together willingly or forcefully.
I use the analogy of a relationship because the highly volatile and emotive nature of Kenyan politics cannot be repudiated and is rather akin to a romantic affair. I also use the pronoun “him” because Kenya has never elected a female president.
Politics and emotions have a marriage that goes way back, especially for the people of Kenya. Generally speaking, voting or preferring one leader over another based on emotions is considered as being a primitive form of democratic decision-making.
People who vote in this manner are seen as uninformed and easily swayed by non-issues, particularly in contrast to those who purport to only consider issues and political debates between aspirants. The truth is that politics is an emotive subject the world over. In one of his earlier publications George Marcus, professor emeritus in the Department of Political Science at Williams College, says;
It would be hard to identify a single political thinker of note in the Western tradition who did not give emotion substantial attention. Aristotle (1954, 1983), Plato (1974), Hobbes (1968), Descartes (1989 ), and the Scottish enlightenment thinkers, especially Hume (1739 – 1940) and Smith (1959), among many others, all thought it necessary to understand emotion in order to explore human nature and our capacities for politics.
– Marcus, George. (2000). Emotions in politics
The 2022 elections in Kenya were rife with emotions and different passions for or against the two main contenders. The gavel of the Supreme Court fell on the 5th of September and the exercise was finally, in truth, completed, albeit to the chagrin of those who ‘lost’.
Emotions that had run high throughout the electioneering period finally came to a dead end, with a section of the country feeling deliriously happy at an apparent victory and another section coming away feeling deprived and oppressed by the travesty of justice meted out by the Supreme Court.
Kenya has had five presidents; Jomo Kenyatta, Daniel arap Moi, Mwai Kibaki, Uhuru Kenyatta, and the new president, William Ruto.
The amount of history, ethnic implications, systemic marginalization and perceived injustices in the names of our presidents is a true testament to the ethnicity predicament that still plagues the Kenyan nation and many other African countries in the world.
In the eyes of many, the election had the potential to break this unfortunate chain, but the country fell short one more time.
Marginalization 59 years on
Marginalization in Kenya can be classified into three main categories; political, social and economic. The Kenyan constitution is one of the most robust legal documents in the world. The current constitution which was promulgated in 2010 is the result of evolution and transformation in Kenya’s political and governance system.
It envisages a level playing field for the people of Kenya, regardless of geographical placement or ethnic orientation. When devolution was adopted in Kenya, it contemplated a more equitable distribution of resources and ease up on the chokehold that the power of central governance had.
Over time and owing to several constraints including knowledge gaps, policy issues, lack of varying capacities, usual teething problems as well as old, still simmering rivalries that have not been resolved yet, devolution has not worked as it should.
So, instead of being the elixir that cures marginalization problems in the country, devolution may have made more apparent the cracks of marginalization and turned the knob of ethnic nationalism all the way up.
The persistent Luo outcry
Enter the Luo marginalization. Is it a myth? Is it an ignored truth? Or is it just a made-up farce that has gone on so long that it has started to ring true? While there are arguments for and against this concept, it is a discussion that must be had, now, beyond tweets, political cynicism and transient political debates which are had and forgotten.
The Luo are the fourth largest ethnic group in Kenya after the Kikuyu, Luhya and Kalenjin.
Our ethnicity as Africans is a double-edged sword. How an attribute can be so beautiful and so potentially damaging at the same time is astounding. A common sentiment and a stereotype of the Luo tribe is that they are orators, performers and great masters of the spoken word. This has been used to, after a fashion, explain away their grievances most of the time.
The marginalization perception created that the luo is marginalized is not true but is amplified by the charismatic nature of a luo, he sings, writes and speaks about it strongly thereby it appears to be true !”
– Njoroge, George (@georgenjoroge_), 8 November 2017, 4:34 PM. Tweet.
In 2007 and 2017 the country saw a blood-curdling outcry from a section of the country which was, in the end, inaccurately surmised as a rebellion of the Luo community when “their candidate” Raila Odinga cried foul over the results of the election in those years. It was not a sudden reaction to any action but a festering wound that had been waiting to manifest in the ugliest of ways.
One is forced to wonder what the source of the searing, pent-up anger of the Luo community truly is that they would be willing to wade through phosgene oxime blasts, brave through rubber (and sometimes live) bullets and play catch and throwback using teargas canisters with the police.
What is this visceral political anger each election year which has now moved from outright protests out on the streets to something more latent in the form of civil disobedience, apathy, non-violent resistance and economic boycotts? What will the muzzling of protests using an overly heavy military presence in certain areas eventually culminate in?
A nation’s section cannot forever hold its breath; it must eventually exhale…then what? We find ourselves in a time where the world is being rocked by revolutions and social unrest. Such unrests are detrimental to the economy of any state. It is therefore prudent for democracies like Kenya to have certain discussions before the chickens come home to roost.
It must be remembered that the feeling of being marginalized has brought Kenya to such a stalemate before that sections of the country, who have opined that their voices no longer matter just like their votes do not count, have toyed, rather seriously, with ideas of secession.
Yet even in the face of such serious implications to a sovereign state, key political figures have shunned the amicable approach and chose to use comments such as “good riddance” to communities that are just as Kenyan as any other.
The notion that certain sections of Kenya or certain communities (Luos) are not big contributors to the economy and therefore have no equal stake is a debilitating opinion that must be quashed. Branding a tribe anti-development or poverty-stricken or not business oriented is not the way to assuage rising political dissent.
The Luo nation as it currently stands is a disparaged people, by regimes past and potentially present. The ills of this go back years and the evolution of the same is a whole history book with several chapters. However, if there is one historical mess that the just concluded election had the potential to clean up it is the never-ending hatred between the Luo and Kikuyu tribes of Kenya.
For the first time, the two tribes stood together in earnest (handshake of 9 March 2018) and the future looked promising and peaceful as their leaders worked hand in hand. The August 2022 election also had the now unexploited ability to finally break the streak of the Kikuyu-Kalenjin presidency in the country. Surely a different tribe can be at the helm after 59 years of being independent?
Speaking after a brief hiatus since the Supreme Court ruling, the spirit of Raila Odinga, who enjoys the support of millions of Kenyans, seems to be still alive and strong.
He has come out strongly to speak about the judiciary which seems to have gone rogue in his opinion. Even as the country waits for the detailed full ruling, he promises to keep fighting for truth and justice to the end.
This even after a different petitioner, Okiya Omtatah, levelled claims that one of the supreme court judges threatened him regarding his petition which opposed the win of the incumbent president.
Having an institution such as the judiciary being questioned at all is a clear indication of an absolute loss of trust in the system and its key institutions. Justice must not be pressed for time.
One of the Supreme Court judges faced some vitriol online for seemingly suggesting that since the courts only had 14 days constitutionally to make a ruling, they did not have time to pore over every document submitted.
14 days is ridiculous. We cannot do scrutiny and we cannot do a recount if we wanted to. The framers of the constitution in their wisdom gave us 14 days and it is not enough.- Justice Isaac Lenaola.
– Leo, Mkenya (@MkenyaLeo), 24 August 2022, 12:26 PM. Tweet.
The expense must not be an issue in the sense that since an election has been carried out, another cannot take place if the previous one is ridden with flaws. The opportunity cost is simply too much to take such an approach.
In the quest for justice for the electorate and to ensure that none other than a leader who draws strength from his legitimacy across the board is installed, all avenues must be sought without worry for time or expense.
The flaws in an election whether procedural, technical or those of leadership roles may not be considered so small that they can be brushed aside because therein lies the fodder for continued electoral injustice.
As Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie says in her TED talk The Danger of a Single Story, stories matter, but all too often in our lives we operate from the perspective of hearing and knowing a single story — about a person, a situation, or perhaps a conflict. And that we operate from the perspective of the single story unconsciously.
Kenya must address the political marginalization issue which is slowly gnawing at its cornerstones. The story of the Luo and other tribes in Kenya that feel disenfranchised needs to be addressed and systems put in place to discontinue the same in the future. More sides to the story exist and must be heard. The change must be drastic and decisive.
Perhaps once this is done, elections will stop being a defensive exercise in futility to see which tribe beat the other. The loss of a candidate will stop being the loss of a single region or tribe and we can avert a looming crisis that will hit hard in years to come.
Cover Photo: pexels.com/istock/file