Succession talk will define our politics for the next five years. This premature preoccupation by the political leadership is all about planning, positioning and the presidency. Starkly absent in the equation are conversations about building the nation; contribution, construction and cooperation. Being five years before the next poll, this ‘succession obsession’ is an obvious case of putting ‘the cart before the horse.’ Speaking of farm animals, if this, our country, were a massive farmland whose leadership was rotational; next season’s harvest would be jeopardised by this presidency mania.
I say this for three reasons. The first is that farmer-in-chief, Uhuru Kenyatta is fixated on getting the work done, and deliberately ignoring the political noise. This on one hand is good, because he should remain focused and not just ‘talk politics.’ But on the other hand, he should ‘do politics’. Presently, Kenyatta’s focus is on the ‘Big Four.’ In keeping with our farm analogy, he wants to increase productivity by ‘mechanising operations,’ taking care of farm welfare in housing, health and food security. But it is counter-productive for a farmer to invest heavily on the estate and ignore security of the projects.
Kenyatta must, in addition to his ventures, arrest the attempts by the ‘crows’ that seek to peck away and sabotage his achievements. He must appoint scarecrows and liberally apply harsh aerial pesticide without warning. Like Baba Moi, he must straddle the roles of ‘Farmer Number One’ and ‘Professor of Politics’ at the same time.
The second reason borrows from a paraphrase of an old maxim, ‘too many farmers spoil the crop.’ There are multiple contenders lined up in the farm’s periphery - permanently plotting hostile takeovers. In fact, there is a self-declared parallel farm manager, Raila Odinga.
Because of this pre-occupation, there is no space for political engagement outside of leadership wrangles. In the noise, the roles that the opposition and government should undertake are drowned as focus is firmly fixed on 2022. This is the ‘succession obsession’ over drive that stunts progress.
The most obvious ‘chief farmer in waiting’ is William Ruto. Unlike Kenyatta, Ruto is straddling the development and political spaces. As Kenyatta mechanises farm production, Ruto plans on how processing will be done, how he will upgrade packaging from rudimentary ‘gunias’ (sacks) when he takes over. The other contenders, Musalia Mudavadi, Kalonzo Musyoka and Moses Wetang’ula, gave up their ‘jembes’ with the failure of the ‘NASA travelling circus.’ The NASA ‘Farmers Cooperative’ is on the verge of collapse simply because it was put together as a vehicle to take over government. In other words, it was created with the intention of taking over the farm, without planning what it will do with it thereafter. Because of this chaotic uncertainty that is NASA, Mudavadi, Kalonzo and Wetang’ula now want to hitch their wagons to Ruto, and ride on his political capital as co-principal farmers in 2022. The third and most critical reason, is the flawed system in which the farm operates.
Because there is only room for the farmer and the deputy farmer, there are people on the estate feeling disenfranchised. Because of this, there are those on the farm who feel like squatters and farm hands, while others who are ‘better than them’ are actual owners or settlers. This, to borrow from George Orwell’s Animal Farm, puts the estate in the perilous ‘Farmer Jones’ situation. This will pose a challenge to Ruto’s succession, unless he seeks to build multi-ethnic coalitions. Future farmer Ruto is in a catch-22-situation. If an expansion of the executive does not happen - the selection of a running mate will be the end of him. A Kikuyu running mate will be rejected by the rest of the country, and a non-Kikuyu running mate will take a big voting block away from him. But then again, I am venturing into the succession slippery slope.
Finally, the question is this: Will we in the end squander arable land just because of our ‘succession obsession’ or can we redeem ourselves and secure a future full of bumper harvests?
- The writer is a PhD candidate in Political Economy at SMC University and a research fellow at Fort Hall School of Government. [email protected]