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February 18, 2019

People fury is NASA's traction

NASA principals Raila Odinga and Mu8salia Mudavadi have a chat during NASA rally at Mama Ngina grounds  in Mombasa county. Photo / JOHN CHESOLI
NASA principals Raila Odinga and Mu8salia Mudavadi have a chat during NASA rally at Mama Ngina grounds in Mombasa county. Photo / JOHN CHESOLI

We have entered the New Year still locked in the epic struggle for political ascendancy which began in 2017.

And depending on whom you ask, you will learn that it is either the opposition leaders or, alternatively, the leadership of the governing Jubilee Party who are “holding the country back”.

Jubilee supporters are much easier to understand. To them, the facts are that first, the Supreme Court ordered a repeat of the presidential election (and it is the presidential election, of course, which is at the heart of all this trouble). The opposition chose to boycott it. And so, President Uhuru Kenyatta won a second term, for which he has since been duly sworn in, in broad daylight, and in the Chief Justice (a man who cannot be said to be a blind partisan of the Jubilee government). Surely, that must settle this matter once and for all.

Out of this, there arises in Jubilee supporters, a sense of being under siege, and a conviction that the opposition supporters are political extremists, who believe elections are only valid if their preferred candidate wins.

But of course, the opposition, NASA, could not possibly disagree more. And they have a more complex case to offer.

In their view, the 2017 election was historic in that for the first time, the cat was let out of the bag. This ‘cat’ is that the winner of any Kenyan presidential election is usually preselected by the ruling political establishment.

Why, the NASA brigades ask, would anyone be so stupid as to participate in a second presidential election, which was being carried out within the same framework as the earlier election the Supreme Court in its famous decision, defined as riddled with “irregularities and illegalities”?

Now for connoisseurs of Kenyan politics, the near-futility of running against a serving Kenyan President has long been axiomatic. Consider the 1992 elections, which incumbent Daniel Moi won by a mere 36 per cent of the total votes cast. Second to him was Kenneth Matiba with about 26 per cent and third was Mwai Kibaki with roughly 20 per cent. Given that Matiba and Kibaki were rival political titans from the same electoral zone, Central Kenya, you would think that given there were other candidates to take up the votes garnered by the fourth candidate in that race, Jaramogi Odinga who got 17 per cent — all that Kibaki had to do was to “inherit” the bulk of Matiba’s support, and he would be home and dry with some 45 per cent or so of the vote in 1997.

What happened instead is that Moi won again, moving up to 40 per cent of all votes cast, while Kibaki was second with 30 per cent. Looking at these figures, with the benefit of two decades of hindsight, do you really think that Moi beat Kibaki in a free and fair election?

So for some of us, the kind of shenanigans that were revealed during the hearings at the Supreme Court were nothing new.

What was new — and possibly the reason why post-election reconciliation is proving to be so difficult — is that after the Supreme Court verdict this time round, what had once been the hidden mechanics of presidential reelection in Kenya, have now become obvious to everyone. So for the NASA supporters, the repeat presidential election of October 26 was a meaningless exercise. They keep returning to the fact that their hero, former Prime Minister Raila Odinga “had his victory stolen” after the August 8 election. And arising from this is the fervour for his “swearing in” in a new office defined as “The People’s President”.

This grassroots fury unleashed by the Supreme Court decision and the revelations that preceded it are what has given so much traction to the NASA campaign of delegitimisation against the Jubilee government. It has bred a sense of collective victimhood, which the President will find it very difficult to appease.

Indeed, in the absence of such fury in NASA-leaning areas, by now the opposition supporters would long have grown as weary of this unending “election season” as the Jubilee supporters plainly are.

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