This week while on a visit up country I took part in one of the “register to vote” campaigns. The experience was a useful eye opener on Kenyan’s changed view on elections. In 2012 when I engaged in a similar exercise there was palpable excitement about the possibilities that the election portended.
On the Presidency, it was clear to many that Raila Odinga stood a good chance of clinching the seat; the traditional ogre brand that he had been allocated by his opponents had largely disappeared after his service in the Grand Coalition. On the opposite side, the late entry of the unimaginable Kenyatta/Ruto alliance had changed the dynamics of the race.
In the Jubilee backyard the reality that the post-election violence (PEV) ghost could finally be laid to rest was exhilarating. The anti-ICC campaign then became an effective uniting theme. The principal party officials, including such youthful and energetic faces as Onyango Oloo and Johnstone Sakaja, improved the Jubilee brand well beyond its backyard.
The year 2012 was also the first time county governments were being established and there was excitement about the new devolved governments possibilities. For the first time we had long conversations on the quality of leaders that deserved the new seats in the counties seeing as these would be the new centres of development.
Fast forward to my discussions with potential voters this week. Many are disappointed and apathetic. The Jubilee duo is now an incumbent; with all the baggage that incumbency carries. While one cannot deny that Jubilee has done significant works particularly in infrastructure and energy, there is always the question of unfulfilled promises.
The PEV and the ICC are long forgotten and there are few uniting themes around which voters can get excited. On the opposition side, the ticket looks fairly predictable and non-enthusing. Each of the potential candidates have held senior positions in past governments and therefore lack the traditional card that opposition parties hold; the capacity to believably promise. The NASA promise of a united opposition can gravitate serious support but again, Kenyans have been disappointed by past promises of opposition unity and are not holding their breath.
On devolution, most Governors have been a let down when assessed against expectations. This despite the reality that if one goes around the country there are significant changes that devolution has brought. Health facilities and infrastructure that never existed pre-devolution are in place in many counties.
Better-paid county government workers and government suppliers have created new demand centres for goods and services, including housing education and leisure. The multiplier effect of these is notable. But there have also been credible complaints of sleaze in many counties coupled with open discrimination and nepotism that have depressed support for devolution. It is therefore not surprising that the enthusiasm for the elections is low. This apathy must not flow into the elections.
Kenyans must understand that this election will significantly define the future of the country. We are just seven years since the passage of a new Constitution and the establishment of new governance and resource allocation centres.
How we strengthen or weaken the new structures in particular the public service, the Judiciary and devolution will determine our future. This will depend on who we elect at the national level but more importantly at the county level. There is no room for despondency; votes count and leadership counts; do not be deceived.
While I have been around long enough to disappointingly accept that our baser instincts will inform our choice of President, I also know that many will vote for Governors and MCAs based on more serious considerations. This important chance to at least define your county leadership is not a chance to be messed with. Chukua na upige kura.