Political philosopher Karl Marx in referring to French Emperor Napoleon I and his nephew Louis Napoleon, quipped that “History repeats itself, the first as tragedy, then as farce.” In surveying the situation in Kenya today, we can day the country has descended into a political farce.
But Marx, the old communist might as well have been a prophet foreseeing the political mess that a divided Kenya has turned into.
Every objective person will recall the tragedy that was the disputed 2007 General Election, and the devastating aftermath in which over 1000 were killed and whole populations displaced.
The divisions sown then among Kenyans appeared to have healed in time for the 2013 General Elections, when Uhuru Kenyatta won the presidency and came out victorious in the subsequent petition filed by his opponent, Raila Odinga.
The mantra repeated ad nauseum by Uhuru and his running mate, now Deputy President, William Ruto, was “accept and move on”. Raila and his usually volatile following across the country behaved themselves impeccably in the wake of the 2013 Supreme Court ruling, despite the feeling that the court overreached itself in so hastily dismissing the petition on little more than technicalities.
Many have since then expressed dismay that the bench failed to consider the evidence at the time, playing straight into the hands of Uhuru and his fan-base.
Almost five years on, though, and the tragic history of 2007-2008 seems ready to repeat itself. It certainly has brought out an astonishingly farcical side to Kenya that many of us didn’t quite realise existed.
Blame must go to both sides, Jubilee and NASA, because in this- as in many other Kenyan issues, tunnel vision is very much in evidence everywhere, and everyone only sees and hears what they want to.
First, the Jubilee side.
Following the ruling handed out by the Supreme Court nullifying the re-election of Uhuru, Jubilee apparatchiks reacted with muted horror at first. A mere two or so hours after the ruling, the president , looking the worse for wear, rather unwisely set about on a series of rallies in Nairobi’s seedier suburbs.
He harangued the judges of the Supreme Court, calling them wakora (crooks) and declaring that he had been robbed of his victory “by five or six people”, referring to the number of judges that heard the petition. This was both Intemperate and unwise, because Uhuru was not just another candidate in the election, he is also the sitting president, as he reminded the country at that rally, and whatever the president says carries with it the considerable weight of his office.
With that cue duly delivered, Uhuru’s acolytes were not long in picking up the cause. They have been led, ignominiously, by the deputy president. Barely two weeks ago, Ruto accused the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) of “holding night meetings with Raila”.
He claimed, in a live TV interview, that the IEBC was meeting secretly with the opposition to plan election offences. This was a staggering statement, one which Ruto failed to back up. The senselessness of the statement was soon to be exposed, however.
Raila Odinga and his NASA alliance, seizing upon the Supreme Court ruling, declared that the IEBC was not fit for purpose and needed to be disbanded. This was a reckless demand, given the timelines mandated by the Supreme Court for the presidential election, and Raila soon quietly backtracked.
The demand to have IEBC disbanded was quietly walked back, and the NASA team turned their wrath on the man they perceive as most culpable for the bungled election: CEO of the IEBC Ezra Chiloba.
Raila wants Chiloba and a few other IEBC nabobs fired, and new officials appointed in their place to run the election re-run. The demand, while onerous, is not without logic: if Chiloba presided over a bungled election last time, and deliberately misled the public on the integrity of the electoral process that he so incompetently oversaw, how can we have faith in him to run the new election properly?
Indeed, were it not for the Kenyan tradition of impunity in the public service, should he not have resigned in disgrace following the court ruling?
The demand to have Chiloba fired has resulted in yet more farcical reactions from Jubilee. Deputy President William Ruto, who just two weeks ago accused the IEBC of holding secret meetings and supporting the opposition, has suddenly made an about-turn and is now the IEBC’s defender-in-chief.
In a series of tweets, Ruto defended the IEBC against Raila’s demands for Chiloba to be sacked. “The IEBC is an independent body protected by the constitution”, he thundered. He went on to chide Raila for “threatening the IEBC”. This would be funny but for one thing: was it not the same Ruto attacking the same IEBC barely a fortnight ago? What has changed?
Now, exit the main actors, enter their crazed followers.
When the Supreme Court nullified the presidential election, Kisumu and other regional NASA bases erupted into song and dance. Miffed Kikuyus and Kalenjins – Uhuru and Ruto’s main tribal bastions – watched on with a mixture of anger and disappointment as throngs of Raila fans wept with joy in Nyanza and Western regions.
You’d have been forgiven for thinking free omena and chicken stew were raining from the heavens. But this outpouring of emotion has taken a new, more sinister angle.
Over the past few days, “protesters” have blocked roads in parts of Nakuru and Nairobi, and there have been allegations of tribal screening at those impromptu roadblocks. These protesters – Jubilee supporters, allegedly – have been accused of harassing motorists who “look” like they “might be” NASA supporters. Police, usually so proactive when protests are expected in Nyanza, were nowhere to be seen.
This is how civil wars begin. When the Chief Justice calls a press conference to complain that his fellow judges are being intimidated by state forces, when mobs rule the streets and are free to burn and loot because they support the government, the country is on the verge of serious conflict.
It’s easy to look the other way, Mr President, but the buck stops with you.
The writer is an IT professional and PhD Candidate in New Zealand.