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Kibwana, away from the Twitter crowd show us what you are made of

By Kamotho Waiganjo | July 4th 2020

Dear Professor Kibwana,

Let me start by congratulating you for responding to the quiet but vigorous campaign to throw your hat in the 2022 presidential race. Welcome to the murky world of presidential politics.  

The idealist in me celebrates the possibility of a decent man getting high office. My pragmatic side tells me it’s an impossible errand. That is not to say you do not deserve the office. From the days you taught us constitutional law in university, we have watched your career with admiration. When you convened the Citizens Coalition for Constitutional Change, popularly known as the 4Cs, you gave principled leadership to the reform movement in a manner that we look back to with longing.

In the Kibaki years, whether as minister or senior advisor, you were one of the sober voices in Harambee House concerned about having a value-defined administration. When you were the lead advisor on the PNU side in Naivasha, your appreciation of the ideological, social and political issues impacting the contentious constitutional questions, your commitment to fairness and your focus on the big picture converted the otherwise tense process into teachable fulfilling moments. Because many of the settlements on critical issues were done behind closed doors, history may never properly record your contribution to enabling us get a progressive constitution.

Many of us were surprised when you went into elective politics in 2013. Kenya’s electoral politics is shadowy, twisted and treacherous. You have to swim, and occasionally dine, with sharks. Principles are scorned and largely ignored. But you prevailed, becoming the first governor of your beloved Makueni.

While the theory of transformation is clear and linear, you soon realised that in the real world, not everyone is committed to right. Your contest with the Makueni MCAs will live in the annals of devolution history as a battle between principle and thuggery. You amazed many by your willingness to risk going back to the ballot, if only to ensure a level of sobriety in Makueni.

While the county was not dissolved as you had urged, your post-Nyaoga Commission government was more stable, enabling you to carry out critical developmental agendas and win a second term. 

All that unfortunately is trifle change when compared to the path you have chosen. In the first place, presidential candidature in Kenya is not a contest determining who is best suited for the position. It is a decision determined by harsh realism balancing suitability with ability to win.  

The latter question is determined by ethnic alliance dynamics, the concerns of the deep State, and lots of cash. The first question in Kenya’s political lexicon is who you bring on the table. A candidate without a loyal voter base may be exciting to the Twitterati but will hardly be taken seriously.

Voter bases are largely ethnically defined. While I long for the day we will have moved from this as the base consideration, that is where we will be for a while. So Prof, who do you bring to the table so that you are taken seriously, even by funders who you will absolutely need if you are to make any impact?

Are you going to create a credible coalition that is not ethnic-based? Will they be with you all the way or will they resort to baser royalties as elections approach? Your next consideration is alliance building. I have seen several suggestions for you to seek an equally “developmentally progressive” running mate so your ticket is a “clean” ticket.

The skeptic in me doubts that Kenyans are committed to clean politics, whatever that means. If you wish to garner more votes than the paltry ones received by Koigi, Wangari Maathai and Jim Orengo interalia, you must balance between ideological neatness and realpolitik.

Get a team together that can win you real votes, twitter crowd be damned. Prof, I am worried by this notion that you are coming to deliver Kenya. You must emphasise that you are no saviour. Kenya is a complex jungle that cannot be saved by one man. In any event, I am not sure we are agreed on what we are being saved from. To disabuse us of this notion, start presenting Team Kibwana to us. What’s their policy platform on key issues?

You may want to borrow Anyang Nyong’o’s or Mutahi Kagwe’s copy of the refreshing SDP policy and platform of action when your sister Charity Ngilu ran for office in 1997.

My final thought. I doubt that 2022 is the race you will win. I could be wrong, but I believe that ship has sailed.

But a credible race in 2022 will keep you relevant in the public space and provide useful lessons for future Kibwanaish candidates.

–The writer is an advocate of the High Court of Kenya

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