Like most Kenyans, I was quite taken aback to learn that not a single candidate in last year’s national high school exams – the Kenya Secondary Certificate of Education – scored a grade A in the English language exam.
For my job requires me to occasionally review the work of journalism interns. And some of these kids have a really great command of the language.
For example, they would easily tell you what the word 'hubris' means. While, back when I was a teenager, all those decades ago, I didn’t have the faintest idea what that word meant.
This word – defined loosely as “excessive pride, presumption or arrogance” – has increasingly come to mind, as I have read of President Uhuru Kenyatta pleading with the youth of Central Kenya to come out and register in large numbers so as to ensure his victory in the August election; or of the Deputy President William Ruto being rudely reminded by voters in Narok County that the promises he had made to them of significant infrastructure projects, have largely gone unfulfilled.
And there are many other signs that all is not well in the Jubilee Party. So much so that even though history tells us that no Kenyan president seeking reelection has yet been defeated at the polls, opposition supporters have cause for optimism.
Speaking of history, one of the most consistent historical patterns down the ages is that victory often intoxicates the victors. And that such intoxication often lays the foundation for catastrophic defeat.
What I have in mind here is the Jubilee mantra of the early months of their electoral success in March 2013: over and over again it was declared, often by the president himself, that the earliest that any of their rivals could hope to ascend to the presidency was 2023. For, according to this oft-repeated boast, we could look forward to “10 years of Uhuru Kenyatta, followed by 10 years of William Ruto” in the presidency.
My point here is that previous Kenyan presidents never talked like this. Going back to Uhuru Kenyatta’s father, our founding president Jomo Kenyatta; all the way to our longest-serving President Daniel Moi; and to Uhuru’s predecessor, Mwai Kibaki.
In their moments of victory, they were always reticent and cautious, talking only of the need to unite the country and to move forward with a serious “development agenda”. Moi and Kibaki in particular, did not even make it clear whether or not they intended to run for reelection, until the next elections were actually on the horizon. Certainly neither of them nominated a presidential successor, a full decade in advance.
Anyway, this kind of “excessive pride, presumption or arrogance” is not unique to the president and his deputy.
We only need look at the writings of Miguna Miguna, the Nairobi gubernatorial candidate (mostly remembered as the former Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s key adviser who later fell out with the PM in spectacular fashion) to see that much the same kind of hubris was overwhelmingly present in the prime ministerial inner circle. This was in 2010 or thereabouts,during Raila’s heyday as the PM, when he was – by all measures – Kenya’s most popular politician.
Miguna was to write, after the 2013 General Election:
“...During the constitutional review process – and as I narrate at pages 370-80 of my memoirs, Peeling Back the Mask – Odinga is the one who proposed the current pure presidential system. Odinga shouted at me when I reminded him that a parliamentary system is best suited for a multi-ethnic society with demographic, power and economic imbalances. At the time, he rudely told me that I didn’t appreciate “the benefits of a presidential system” and [referring to a classic parliamentary system I had drafted for consideration] that I couldn’t take all power from “an elected president and give it to an un-elected prime minister.” Then, Odinga’s main focus was the acquisition of undiluted power so that he could use it to make more money and pamper his family, relatives and acolytes..."
And according to Miguna, a frequent assertion among these “relatives and acolytes” was that “Even goats and chicken in villages know that Raila will be Kenya’s fourth president,”