Elections 2017

Examine presidential hopefuls thoroughly

President Uhuru Kenyatta, ODM leader Raila Odinga, ANC leader Musalia Mudavadi, National Assembly Majority Leader Aden Duale and his Senate counterpart Kipchumba Murkomen during the Madaraka Day celebration at Narok Stadium. [Standard]

‘You will know them by their fruits’; Matthew 7:16

President Uhuru Kenyatta appears to be in an unenviable position. Damned if he honours his pledge to reciprocate deputy president William Ruto’s support in the 2022 elections; damned if he turns his back on the DP and backs another for the country’s top job.

In between are elements from the pro-DP Tangatanga group and his detractors tagged Kieleweke; at war with each other. At stake are the rewards of the present constitutional dispensation. Touted as one of the most progressive documents on the continent, the Constitution was the delivery vehicle of the elusive fruits of independence. It now risks being nothing more than a lemon.

As head of the nation, the buck stops with the president. Having inherited an economy that was at near double-digit growth, his administration has presided over, arguably, the worst seasons in the nation’s history. Ethnic divisions are rife and corruption is now elevated to an art form.

In fact, most mega projects under his administration are tainted by allegations of rent-seeking by those deemed to be close to him. Optimism is at an all-time low and Kenyans are already looking out for the next leader, accepting as fait accompli that their dreams may not yield fruit in the Jubilee administration.

Because it has become impossible to shift national discourse from succession politics, it behoves the nation to analyse the characters of those deemed to be front-runners in the 2022 polls. Of interest should be their political histories and their contributions to nation-building. As Spanish-American philosopher George Santayana once said, “A people who do not know their history are fated to repeat it.”

Long stints

Although Raila Amolo Odinga has yet to expressly declare his candidature, he is a vintage politician and therefore deserving of first mention. Like wine made from the finest grapes, he has matured and gotten better with time.

Carrying an entire nation’s angst in the difficult 1980s, he endured long stints of detention without trial. He eventually took part in the “second liberation,” the return to multi-party politics and is now considered the leader of opposition politics. Mr Odinga always seems to remain relevant by what many would consider sleight of hand. But the vagaries of old age appear to have caught up with him. One wonders whether he will be up to the energy-sapping task of president or what will happen when he runs out of rabbits to pull out of his magic hat.

Dr Ruto is the self-proclaimed “hustler” who pulled himself up by his bootstraps. Rising from anonymity to occupy the second most powerful office in the country, the DP is an indefatigable campaigner and charmer per excellence. He has shown percipience in encouraging farmers to diversify from traditional staples like maize and to focus instead, on the export of fruits that Kenya has a natural advantage of.

New constitution

Mangoes, avocadoes and pineapples are tropical fruits that abound in Kenya and yet are considered expensive and exotic in countries overseas. The DP’s Achilles heel is the allegations of improbity. Further, he is nouveau riche and not part of the established old order and thus, would not help old money to perpetuate itself. Whether he surmounts these to make president is a matter that the electorate, particularly outside his traditional Kalenjin bastion, will have to grapple with.

Kalonzo Musyoka, one time Vice President and now Opposition stalwart has been in politics for years. Considered by some to be feckless, he has always remained ambivalent on issues. For instance, during a referendum to usher in a new constitution, he prevaricated on whether to vote “yes” or “no” represented by the colours red and green respectively. This earned him the moniker water-melon, green on the outside and red on the inside, a tag that now threatens to be his defining legacy.

Musalia Mudavadi, by dint of self-definition, is “a pair of safe hands.” He is a “prince”, a scion of the old order who would, as some would say, protect the interests of the moneyed elite. His soft-spoken reticence appears to lack thunder, a distinct disadvantage in the rough and tumble of Kenyan politics.

There is still time for dark horses to emerge; candidates who are removed from the current fray of divisive politics and who don’t carry the baggage of incumbency. Names like Dr. Mukhisa Kituyi and Professor Kivutha Kibwana have been mentioned, people who previously bore good fruits in past designations. These could be the new flavour of the season, able to redeem Kenya from what is certain to be the grapes of wrath.

Mr Khafafa is Vice Chairman, Kenya-Turkey Business Council