Party Chiefs Still Dictate Who Wins
Just slightly over six months from now, many of the men and women we now see standing up during the televised parliamentary debates, to make a statement on this or that, will be looking for a new job. The main reason for this, of course, is that the Kenyan voter is no respecter of elected leaders, and routinely send them back to the well-deserved obscurity from whence they originally emerged.
But there is more to this than just the voter’s taste for seeing men and women in high places, tossed down into the dust. The fact is that most MPs do not approach their term in parliament as though it were a job they intend to keep for many years. In general, the reaction of many MPs upon gaining that much-coveted seat, is to let out a sigh of relief.
Letting out such a sigh is usually the equivalent of the declaration “mission accomplished” - and it is in this that they sow the seeds of their own defeat. In most professions, people understand very well that receiving a major promotion is but the signal that you now have to put in even greater effort.
The university lecturer who is appointed a professor, is usually well aware that unless he publishes new research papers regularly in peer-reviewed academic journals, and thus gets invitations to key conferences for his academic specialisation, he will languish in mediocrity despite his impressive title.
An even better example would be Kenya’s world-beating long-distance runners, who apparently plan a full year ahead, which races they will take part in, and which ones they will leave out of their schedule - bearing in mind that their aim is not just to win Olympic glory for themselves and their nations, but even more, to rake in millions of dollars before they are displaced from their eminent rankings, by younger athletes.
Now with these examples in mind, ask yourself this question: Do we really see MPs, right from the day they are elected, acting as though they fully appreciate that they hold a very precarious position? Do they plan five years ahead for the next General Election? In my view, this is seldom the case. Far from acting as though they are constantly aware of the precariousness of their position, most MPs let out that mighty sigh of relief, and set out to have a good time.
And in general, they never lack for opportunity to indulge themselves: various interest groups are always lobbying our MPs for this reason or that, and offering "seminars" at an exclusive coastal beach resort or at a cozy lodge by some scenic lake. Key embassies arrange for them trips abroad, on luxuriously provisioned “study tours”. And within their own constituencies, they are minor royalty - the local rainmaker who can decree a school here and a clinic there, and - lo and behold - there will indeed be a school or a clinic.
None of this is likely to encourage a cautious and reflective frame of mind, such as you will find in many successful people in other professions. Now turning to recent events, regular readers of this column will be aware of my theory that there are really only two ways to get into parliament: you must either conduct a diligent grassroots campaign, and build up a massive following at the grassroots; or you must somehow make yourself one of the favoured darlings of the regional political overlords, and gain their blessings as a shortcut to winning the party nomination for whichever party is expected to produce the “political wave” in that region.
This second option is in many ways the easier path to parliament; and so any politician prominent enough to be judged to have a regional following, never lacks for sycophantic adulation from those hoping to receive his or her blessings. Particularly since in highly divisive elections, the key voting blocks tend to unite behind whoever they consider as the regional “flag bearer” making it easier to win if you are that flagbearer’s loyal supporter, than if you have spent many months in the heat and dust of grassroots campaigning.
Judging from what we have just seen in the recent by-elections of Ndhiwa and Kangema, where the candidate favoured by the party chiefs had no difficulty cruising to victory - first in the party nominations, and then in the actual election - we could say two things: First that "wave" voting is alive and well in Kenya. And second, that we are heading for a truly divisive election.