Before the August 8 General Election, Kenyans were enjoying the benefits of multiparty democracy. Before then, the robust campaigns of the two strong political formations — NASA and the Jubilee Party — gave the impression that democracy was coming of age.
But behind this hope, lurked forces of regression. Forces eager to suppress the opposition by buying vulnerable leaders, or fighting the stronger ones to stifle dissent. Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho knows this.
ODM leadership kept the Jubilee government on its toes during its polarising in the first tenure. Cord survived the Jubilee intrigues. It then gave way to NASA, which incorporates ODM, Ford-Kenya, Wiper, Chama Cha Mashinani and the Amani National Congress.
ODM leaders Governor Joho, and his Kilifi counterpart Amason King’i, survived the Jubilee politics of the carrot and the stick. But the opposition also lost gullible MPs, senators, and governors.
Some quit the opposition to ‘work with the Jubilee government to bring development to their people”. But many lived to champion democratic values under the charismatic and resilient leadership of Raila Odinga. ODM kept the candle of democracy aflame in spite of persistent intrigues. The opposition continued to expose the rot in the system. It constantly raised issues of public interest in public fora, courts, the National Assembly and the Senate. The weak fell by the wayside. The willed pushed the democratic agenda, performing the constitutional duty of the opposition. The steely and staying power of one leader, and his team, made this possible. Raila was always there to show the way. He was always there to ensure forces of change grew stronger. Engineered defections did not match Raila’s capacity to mobilise forces of change.
There was always light shown ahead of the nation by the ODM leadership, under Raila’s commanding guidance. He is the icon of democracy. There was always someone speaking to power on matters of public interest. This someone was the nexus of the opposition. This someone had a presidential ambition, and a good chance of getting to State House. His ardent supporters believe he did win, three times over — in the 2007, 2013, and 2017 presidential elections.
Marking Raila’s final run for President —August 8, 2017 —was always going to be a decisive moment for democracy. A bungle of the election would throw the county three decades behind history. A free and fair election would mark a new beginning, and a statement that your vote counts.
The journey to Canaan is on a temporary halt thanks to the Pharaonic influence of agents of the status quo. But clarity on the national dilemma hangs on the outcome of the NASA petition of the presidential election at the Supreme Court. The judgement holds the key to the future of democracy.
Meanwhile, the ‘owners of the state’ are wielding the stick to buy mass conformity. Police brutality against perceived opposition supporters, the intimidated and timid press, and the crackdown on civil society are aimed at reversing democratic gains. Wielders of state power are nostalgic about the Kenya of 1969 to 1990 — the era of conformity.
In 1969, President Jomo Kenyatta banned opposition, and detained its leaders, after the Kisumu clash with his compatriot turned rival Odinga. Tom Mboya, a Cabinet minister of presidential promise, was assassinated in 1969.
Argwengs Kodhek, a lawyer and a Cabinet minister, died in a curious road accident in 1969. The country was mourning. Democracy stalled for 21 years, with Kanu as the Baba na Mama party of the era. The return of Odinga in 1991, through the Forum for the Restoration Democracy rekindled the flame of multiparty politics. Raila has carried the torch of democracy since 1994, when his father died. The post-2017 election scramble to ‘work with the government’ means much more: It is a journey back to the past.
Democracy may stall in this enveloping darkness. Barring the decision of the Supreme Court on the conduct of presidential election, Kenyans could become one large family, living, perhaps, happily ever after, under the celebrant Jubilee Party.