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This is why 2022 polls should not be postponed, Mr Atwoli

By Leonard Khafafa | July 21st 2021
Central Organisation of Trade Unions (COTU) Secretary General Francis Atwoli during an interview at his office in Nakuru on June 18, 2021. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

A little-known road in Nairobi’s Kileleshwa has been the staging ground of a battle.

The contention is between those who wish the thoroughfare to be renamed Francis Atwoli Road and those who seek to retain its old moniker. The signage that bears the name has been sprayed over, pulled down and burnt by arsonists. Each time it has been defaced, local authorities have moved with celerity to restore it. In a country fissured by highly divisive politics, this battle of wills is not without significance. It represents a clash between the old conservative order and the new, ostensibly progressive one, that the vandals belong to.

Francis Atwoli, Central Organisation of Trade Unions boss, characteristically talks with a lot of sound and fury. But unlike Shakespeare’s character in Macbeth, this is never an idiot’s tale. And certainly, there is always great significance in his utterances, cleverly nuanced to convey his thoughts and those of his powerful friends in high places. For instance, Atwoli has in the past spoken with conviction about Deputy President William Ruto not being part of next year’s presidential elections. Events aimed at frustrating the DP have subsequently betrayed the sleight of hand of the Cotu boss’s backers.

Which is why Atwoli’s left-field thinking cannot be ignored. It should be interrogated for what it really is; a statement of intent by a section of the political elite. Not for the first time, Atwoli has called for postponement of next year’s national elections. In a newspaper op-ed recently, he has said, among other things, that because of “the possibility of a repeat of 2007/2008 violence, Kenya is not prepared for an election.” He also cited the IEBC, the body charged with conducting elections, as being unprepared.

But Atwoli’s is a dicey proposition. Seen in the light of the Jubilee administration’s poor performance, it may not augur well with citizens. Not when they hold it responsible for their current state of economic privation. Not in an atmosphere where the predations of the ruling elite have flourished, making them rich at the expense of the indigent. Certainly not when regular, scheduled elections are the blow-valve that provide the cathartic release of pent-up angst.

There are signs of the times that Atwoli, and those he represents, will need to get out of their echo chamber to discern. The first is the events currently unfolding in the Republic of South Africa. Unprecedented riots have broken out in the country, precipitated by the huge inequality gap between the rich and the poor, stagnation in the standard of living of most of its citizens and endemic corruption within the ranks of the ruling elite. The same situation obtains in Kenya with potential for the same consequences.

Second, UDA's win against the Jubilee Party in the president’s backyard is significant. It points to a disconnect between the ruling elite and the electorate. Further, it signifies an increasing disenchantment with ethnic fealties that do not necessarily translate to money in the pockets of citizens. For reasons too numerous to elucidate in this column, citizens of the president’s ethnic extraction, under the Jubilee administration, have fared far worse than any other ethnic block in Kenya. Thus, the tribal calculus may not be much of a factor in the elections if they are held next year.

Third, the perception that the Building Bridges Initiative-propelled referendum, if it happens, is for purposes of dislodging the DP from pole position in the next presidential elections. But there are already signs that the unity of all other candidates against Ruto is a chimera. Everybody wants to be president but no one is willing to play second fiddle. Barring any binding agreement, especially one enforced by the Constitution as the BBI intends, the DP has a chance of winning the presidency.

Last, citizen push-back against obdurate officialdom must be reckoned with. It will take more than a fresh coat of paint on defaced signage to contain a restive population.

Mr Khafafa is a public policy analyst

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