What Uhuru can Learn From Nigeria
Based on the comments we read in the media, we can make two generalizations about how Kenyans view Nigerians. And these are that while Kenyans have a profound respect for Nigerians in matters touching on arts and culture (Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and even ‘Nollywood’) when it comes to the management of the Nigerian economy and the conduct Nigerian politics, Kenyans have nothing but contempt for the way in which Nigerians manage their affairs.
When confessing that Kenyan politics is ruled by tribalism and corruption; and that the Kenyan economic growth is held back by mismanagement; Kenyans will often end this admission by saying, “But at least we are not as bad as Nigerians.”
There is however one aspect of politics in which it seems to me that we can learn from the Nigerians. This is a political tradition arising from an admission that the struggle for the Nigerian presidency has the potential for tearing the nation apart . And this tradition is manifested in an unwritten agreement, adhered to with remarkable fidelity, which demands that the presidency does not go to the same region of the country over two successive administrations.
In short, if the Nigerian incumbent is a Northerner, then he can only be succeeded by a Southerner. And vice versa. This may not seem to be a matter of great significance at first glance. And indeed democracy purists would argue that it is fundamentally undemocratic that there should be any such understanding that a president from one region cannot be succeeded by an incoming president from that very region.
But those who know Nigerian politics argue that it is precisely this certainty that neither the mostly Christian South, nor the mostly Muslim North of that country will have one of their own as president beyond two presidential terms, which holds the country together. Now Kenya has no such tradition. But nonetheless, it seems to me that the common wisdom; the general desires of the ordinary Kenyan; what we might call the Kenyan political 'zeitgeist'; demands something of that kind.
There is no legal barrier to a president from Central Kenya handing over the instruments of power to an incoming president from that same region. But there is more to this than constitutional provisions. Understanding politics is as much about asking the right questions, as it is about finding answers to questions. And, in this case, the question would be not so much "Is this legal?" but rather, “Is this what the country really wants?”
Will voters willingly queue to usher into office another Kikuyu president to succeed President Mwai Kibaki? Are we, as a nation, indifferent to the issue of where a presidential candidate comes from? Or are we a great deal like the Nigerians: profoundly convinced that the presidency will invariably tend to favour the region that the president comes from, and thus determined that each region should (one way or another) have a turn in having one of their own in the top seat?
This really is the key question that the DPM Uhuru Kenyatta’s strategists have to contend with. If we leave aside for the moment, matters pertaining to The Hague, you have to admit that Uhuru has many strong cards to play in this presidential election campaign. All the essentials are in place.
First, he has a near-fanatical regional-base support. Second, he has been a presidential candidate before, and knows firsthand what is involved. These two alone put him automatically in the top ranks of presidential candidates.
Finally, he has virtually limitless financial resources at his disposal: not just the fabulous wealth of his own family, but even more the many tycoons and others from Central Province who are committed to seeing the presidency remain in the hands of “The House of Mumbi”. But a presidential political campaign is largely an exercise in mass psychology. And success or failure will often depend largely on how you shape the perceptions of those who are not your core supporters.
And while I would be the first to admit that the mega-launch of 'The National Alliance' as Uhuru’s political vehicle for the presidency was an impressive sight; a masterpiece of planning and organization; when viewed in terms of actual vote-gathering, it was little more than a colourful sideshow. The real problem facing Uhuru is one of how to convince enough Kenyans that there is really nothing wrong with one Kikuyu succeeding another as president of the republic.