Since 1902

Are we relying on ethnic bases and political autocracy in polls?

By Koki Muli - May 1st 2022
 A Nasa supporter jumps from a bus after riot police fired teargas canisters to disperse them on January 30, 2018. [File, Standard]

The reintroduction of multi-party competition in December 1991 heralded a new brand of democracy anchored in the opposition’s collective desire to dislodge the Kenya African National Union (Kanu) from power and on ethnic numeric prowess.

These political parties were initially urban-based although enjoying near-fanatical support from the ethnic communities of their leaders. Kanu being the independence political party, had along its long political hold on Kenyan politics vanquished Opposition politics since 1969, with Kenya having become a dejure one-party State in 1982.

Therefore, the repeal of Section 2A in 1991 to allow many political parties to compete in general elections, initially galvanised the Opposition political parties together with the sole purpose of removing Kanu from power. However, individual ambitions, not philosophy/values saw the disintegration of Opposition parties into separate small parties aligned to various opposition leaders, each taking a piece of the major opposition party, Forum for Restoration of Democracy (FORD); FORD-Kenya, FORD-Asili, and in later years, FORD-people as others such as the Democratic Party and other smaller parties remained under the same leadership for a long time.

Kanu won against a disunited opposition in 1992 with less votes than those garnered by the combined opposition. Following the 1992 general elections, there were many defections back to Kanu as the multi-party euphoria dissipated and ethnic kingpins failure to unite under viable and formidable opposition political parties; so Kanu was able to perform better in 1997.

The proliferation of political parties with strong regional and ethnic bases of their leaders and small pockets of national presence, have become the arena in which competitive politics are conducted. Kanu was truly the only national party with country-wide following and support until 2002 following the retirement of its patron and leader.

The merger of Kanu and National Democratic Party (NDP) in early in 2002 seemed to seal Raila’s potential presidency as it appeared like President Moi was going to name him as the Kanu candidate to succeed him in the 2002 general elections. However, tables turned against Raila when President Moi named Uhuru Kenyatta as his successor.

His decision to endorse Uhuru led to the exit from Kanu of Raila, former Vice President George Saitoti, Kalonzo Musyoka, the late William Ole Ntimama and others. They joined Kibaki, Charity Ngilu and others in the Opposition, galvanizing their ethnic based political parties and forming the National Alliance Rainbow Coalition (NARC). In 2002, the Opposition united under NARC against Kanu and the late President Moi’s preferred successor, Uhuru and won with the late President Kibaki at the helm. This is perhaps the only General Election in which majority of ethnic-based Opposition political parties came together with one agenda and objective and won.

Kanu leaders used to tell us that, “Kanu ni chama cha mama na baba na Kina wenyewe.” This did not seem to matter very much then. However, all political parties in Kenya have their owners with total control over them, which appears to give them licence for arbitrariness and bondage. What is worrying is the incredible reliance on ethnic bases and basis for determining to whom nomination certificates should be given.

In the last few days we have witnessed various political parties issuing direct nomination certificates to candidates in electoral areas where competition exist. While this may be justified, it could lead to an insidious brand of politics, which may undermine democracy.

Furthermore, we are seeing populous ethnic communities demanding and receiving undue advantage over smaller ethnic communities, translating democracy into the game of numbers alone and not on the basis of fair representation and free expression of people’s will.

On a personal note; I’m absolutely privileged to mourn President Kibaki; he was an amazing teacher and mentor to all of us. I was greatly privileged and honoured to have served his government.

President Kibaki truly valued and appreciated meritocracy, experience and credentials; may his soul rest in eternal peace and glory and may Almighty God comfort his family.

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