True handover of political power will happen after 2022 elections

President Uhuru Kenyatta (right) with his deputy William Ruto during the Jubilee Party National delegates where he was endorsed as the Presidential Candidate for the August 2017 General Elections at the Bomas of Kenya, Nairobi.

Kenya has experienced several successions with the passing of the torch: from Kenyatta I to Moi; Moi to Kibaki and from Kibaki to Kenyatta II. In a sense the nation has had moments of transition in the past but only of limited variety.

When the founding President, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, died in office in 1978, some viewed it as a transition. Indeed it was. The group of leaders that surrounded President Kenyatta, and who then formed the inner circle of his advisory team, found themselves in the cold as a new crop under President Daniel Moi emerged.

But as soon as he settled in office, President Moi announced that he was going to fuata nyayo, meaning there was going to be continuity rather than ideological transition. While Moi did some things differently he did not see himself as a transition leader. Then came the ascendance of President Mwai Kibaki to power in 2002. Kibaki was hoisted to power on the back of a populist wave. He carried the hopes of every region and his initial government had wide national representation. It was indeed going to be a transition from the more hands on ways of his predecessor to a democratised one. But he wasted it.

As fate would have it, Kibaki’s presidency appeared doomed from the start. First, it was the accident that confined him to a hospital bed for some time. Once he got to State House he became comparatively, unlike his campaign, less inclusive. While Kibaki’s was a new administration, from a generational perspective, there was not much change from the independence generation.

Kibaki had been enticed from Makerere University where he was then teaching economics by, among others, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga whose son Raila Odinga in 2002 led the Kibaki campaign. Some of the names that had started to rise up in the Moi era formed the bulk of the Kibaki team. The Kibaki administration earned its place in Kenya’s history.

The one time minister for Finance led an unprecedented period of economic growth. The nation had one of its best periods in freedom of expression and the 2010 Constitution was promulgated under his watch. But the country came so close to the precipice with the bungled 2007 elections and nearly ended up with a civil war.

When Kibaki passed the torch in 2013 to the Uhuru Kenyatta-William Ruto duo, many hailed it as Kenya’s political transition. At independence in 1963, the younger Kenyatta was a toddler and Ruto was yet to be born. They grew up without the encumbrance of colonial experience. Indeed, that their campaign sloganeered around the notion of digitality was telling.

In power, it is still too early to judge, but they may turn out not to be truly representative of transition, rather representing ideological continuity. Some are arguing that there is little difference between the style of President Moi and that of team Uhuru-Ruto. It may be too early to judge, and if the duo wins the 2017 elections, there is still five years.

There are however indications that the next elections in 2022 will truly mark the transition into a new generation and a new type of leadership. The indications are in the current nomination exercise that is just being concluded. In areas where the nominations have been concluded, one of the biggest surprises is with the new crop of leaders emerging.

Take the example of Nyeri – most familiar names have been swept aside with the exception of Kanini Kega. Look at Nakuru County, a new crop of leaders will emerge at the county and Senate level. The face of leadership that will emerge in Mombasa is equally different. It is out of the crop of these leaders who are emerging that the leadership of 2022 will be found. Given the nature of our politics, we do not know what political parties will be in play in 2022.

None of the major political party players today were there in 2013. NASA was only founded the other day. Jubilee is new. The others don’t matter much. Be it as it may though, the crop that is going to emerge in the next elections will not be encumbered by the past. They will be a generation or two after independence and hopefully with a new thinking.

If Jubilee Party wins this year and William Ruto wins 2022, he will have a slew of new kitchen Cabinet in which he will be the oldest and who will bring new ideas to the table. That then will be when the new Kenya of the digital era will have emerged. We therefore do well to keenly watch the individuals emerging from this year’s elections.

Prof Obonyo is the Dean of the School of Communication, Language and Performing Arts at Daystar University.