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February 18, 2019

Why Uhuru is having a hard time getting that second term


As we head into that phase of our election cycle usually associated with explosive emotions and potential violence, I think I should remind readers of a basic fact of politics, easily overlooked at such times.

And this is that politics – like many social sciences – falls into the category of soft sciences (eg history, political science, etc).

We need to remember that soft sciences are quite a different thing from the hard sciences (eg, biology, chemistry, physics). And that in any soft science there is room for doubt and caution at all times.

For example, one of the laws of physics – the law of gravity – tells us that if you jump from the top of the Kenyatta International Convention Centre, you will hit the ground at such a high speed your body will be crushed to a pulp. And no matter how many people do this, the outcome will always be the same.

But then, one of the ‘facts’ of Kenyan politics, which media analysts like to point out, is that no Kenyan president has yet lost when seeking reelection. And that is true enough. The results of past elections support this view.

However, that does not mean that it is impossible to defeat a Kenyan president seeking reelection, if the election is free and fair. This ‘fact’ need not always apply.

One might even take it further and point out that it is equally true that no Kenyan president seeking reelection has ever won 50 per cent of the votes cast.

Whether we consider retired President Daniel Moi ( 35 per cent in 1992; 40 in 1997 ); or retired President Mwai Kibaki, ( 45 per cent in 2007 ) we find the same thing: They both got well below 50 per cent when seeking reelection.

This could then be used to argue that a Kenyan president can only be reelected if he faces a divided opposition; and that against a united opposition, he is sure to lose.

All this, then, illustrates the fundamental difference between the hard sciences in which the ‘facts’ never really change and the soft sciences in which what at one point seemed ‘a plain fact of life’ can easily turn out to be not so true after all.

Now I explain all this because one of the ‘facts’ of Kenyan politics, repeatedly declared from every rooftop, is that all we really want is ‘development’. Examined closely however, this turns out not to be true.

Like everyone else, I have been reading and watching President Uhuru Kenyatta’s vigorous defence of his tenure at State House, and taking note of his long list of ‘development projects’.

And, allowing for the occasional exaggeration about how many new roads have been built, we must admit that since Uhuru took over, we have seen far more of what we would generally define as ‘development’ – ie, state facilitation of education, health, transport, infrastructure, power, clean water, etc – than has ever been the case before.

And yet we do not see a President overwhelmed by the gratitude of ‘wananchi’ as he travels around the country. On the contrary, he is distinctly on the defensive.

There have even been several instances when the President has abruptly postponed his campaigns in one region or another, because there was the distinct possibility of an unfriendly reception.

So, what is really going on here?

Many Kenyans would, I suspect, attribute it all to tribalism. But I think there is more to it than that. Both the President and Deputy President William Ruto are having to campaign very hard even in their own political backyards, where tribalism would work for them, rather than against them.

I would say that there is an odd twist of psychology at work here:

When most of us speak of ‘development’ we do not really mean that we wish to see new and better roads and well-lit streets from a distance. What we really seek is economic opportunity – something which will place some extra income in our own hands.

And as of this point in time, few of the President’s new ‘development projects’ have actually done that.

In other words, Kenyans may well have seen this development, but they have not really felt it.

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