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December 19, 2018

Kenya is at a crossroads: Compromise, anarchy or authoritarian rule?

Supporters cheer as they wait for Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga of the National Super Alliance (NASA) coalition to be sworn in as the President of the PeopleÕs Assembly at Uhuru Park in Nairobi, Kenya January 30, 2018. /REUTERS
Supporters cheer as they wait for Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga of the National Super Alliance (NASA) coalition to be sworn in as the President of the PeopleÕs Assembly at Uhuru Park in Nairobi, Kenya January 30, 2018. /REUTERS

The year, so far, does not appear to bode well for Kenyans. After what seemed to be taunts from both sides of the political divide, the chips are now down after the “swearing-in” of NASA’s Raila Odinga as the People’s President on Tuesday in Uhuru Park.

The country had been tense and excited in almost equal measures. It had started off in planning as the penultimate in the political chess game of Kenya, yet, when the curtains were down, many mainstream media commentators billed it as an anticlimax.

Earlier on November 28 last year, Uhuru Kenyatta was sworn in by Registrar of teh Supreme Court Anne Amadi in the presence of Chief Justice David Maraga for his second and final term as President of the Republic of Kenya. Lost to observers are the implications of the two events on the future of our country. Kenya is today staring starkly at the grim possibility of losing its nation-statehood.

A nation-state is described as a community of citizens sharing a geographical boundary as a country, historical heritage as cultural practices, and the state as expressed in a legitimate government. Citizens agree to surrender their sovereign will to the government that they freely establish, and thus recorgnise to be the guarantor of their security and provider of basic social common services.

Therefore, every citizen goes to bed comfortable and safe. That is not the picture that Kenyans would readily paint for you today across the country. Instead there is widespread gloom, fear and despondency. Nobody seems to know with clarity what tomorrow may bring forth. The uncertainty is rapidly giving way to hopelessness. The country is steadily and surely progressing towards a crisis of gigantic proportions!

The NASA brigade may have placated their egos and assuaged the restlessness of their supporters for now, but it is feared they may be demanding more soon. They have also hardened their resolve to confront their opponents in the quest for electoral justice and hopefully invalidate the authority of the Jubilee government.

However, this bold move appears to have jolted the core leadership of NASA in equal measure. It is now common knowledge that the other three principals could not bear the heat at the last minute considering the apparent legal implications of such a move and thus succumbed to government pressure and withdrew from the event.

In the run-up to the repeat presidential election, the last-in principal, Isaac Rutto, had also left and rejoined Jubilee. Effectively, therefore, Raila Odinga finished the race alone and was the last man standing in the heat of the kitchen.

It is unlikely the NASA Summit will be reconstituted and, in any case, in its original pre-election form and content as it was in 2007, when Uhuru and Kalonzo Musyoka melted out of ODM in fear of Raila dominance, history seems to have repeated itself. Raila reaped from the fallout by retaining some Kanu and Kalonzo allies, notably William Ruto and Charity Ngilu respectively. That is the more likely scenario since it is improbable any of the departing principals will carry along any ODM leader with them.

It is noteworthy that this single last-minute act of the NASA co-principals has weakened the coalition but strengthened Raila’s to push for electoral justice and constitutional review to reform the governance structure. It has also provided him with an opportunity to review the capability and reform credentials of his lieutenants and craft his own succession from a new perspective.

Should the co-principals maintain their absence from the NASA stable, they have a daunting task of establishing a new outfit from which to launch their 2022 State House bid. More challenging would be settling on a candidate from amongst themselves in the absence of the elder Raila to mediate. However, they have the advantage of time on their side.

For Jubilee, it may be game shot. Raila was abandoned at his hour of need by his erstwhile allies and self-sworn in hurriedly in a jua kali fashion and disappeared into oblivion. It would now be time to consolidate their hold on the state and government apparatus to prepare for the unstoppable Ruto presidency in 2022. Without the ever-nagging Raila, it may now be much easier to deliver on the campaign pledges and secure Uhuru’s legacy.

The international community appears to have lost faith in the opposition and will henceforth listen more to the government, thereby assuring development support. However, the devil is in the details.

A vanquished Raila presents the challenge of internal rivalry within Jubilee. Without an external enemy, the unity of purpose may not be absolutely necessary and the party risks internal hemorrhage and cannibalism. It may be time to review the decisions so far made for 2022 in light of lack of serious competition from the opposition ranks.

President Uhuru may have to contend with increased internal challenges to his leadership, and his response may lead some members of his team to jump ship and join the opposition.

Since NASA MPs do not seem keen on checking the government in the House, Jubilee MPs may turn against their leadership in Parliament, thus undermining the leadership of Uhuru. On the other hand, Jubilee may be surprised to discover they have to deal with a resurgent, more fearless and rejuvenated Raila, who has nothing to lose.

Granted that fortunes may have changed for the dominant political players for better or worse, depending on where one stands, Kenyans still have the right to demand leadership from them. Both sides of the political divide seem to have crossed the Rubicon in their quest for the control of state power and its attendant institutional structures. Kenyans have fervently urged and gladly cheered their respective leaders on the path of brinkmanship and the country is on the shore of a political abyss.

Sooner rather than later, the chickens will come to roost and every Kenyan will bear their fair share of the consequences, only varying in degrees based on individual circumstances. The sure outcome, however, is that history will not be lenient in its judgement of the current political leadership when their legacies will be put on assessment. O

ur political leaders have fiddled and fidgeted with our stability and democracy on several occasions in our history. On all these attempts, the tenacity of the citizens has prevailed, we have picked up ourselves and reclaimed the glory of our nation. It is not wise to look at a gift horse in the mouth. Today, Kenya is tempting fate and the consequences are horrendous to imagine. But our political leaders still have the option and the opportunity to halt and redeem our nation-state.

As things stand, NASA and Jubilee have three options to offer Kenyans. The first is compromise. They need to climb down from their respective ivory towers and listen to the pulse of the nation and hear the sound of the river as it were. This would entail giving dialogue a chance so that tensions may thaw and anxiety be calmed. They need to address whatever grievances, real or imagined, that have driven a sharp wedge between them and confront the demon of ethnic exclusion that is tearing this nation apart.

This will restore peace and enhance tranquillity, which will in turn establish an environment conducive for national cohesion and equitable distribution of resources. It will, therefore, be possible to undertake the national development agenda in unity and with much gusto to ensure prosperity.

The stability of the state would be restored, the pride of the citizens renewed and the nationalist values will find a lasting place in the hearts of compatriots. This option currently appears as the most difficult, yet it remains the best option for the country on one hand and for the leaders on the other hand. It is only difficult because the majority of Kenyan leaders in all spheres have shamelessly fallen into the temptation of tribal balkanization and sunk so low in the miasma of ignominy. The responsibility falls squarely on Raila and Uhuru’s shoulders.

The second option is taking the country into anarchy. As has been witnessed over the period, Kenya is now divided into two. What is not known is the proportion of division, with some claiming equal halves while others dispute the validity of such claim to schism.

President Uhuru enjoys the trappings of state power by virtue of having assumed office as by law provided, yet thousands of Kenyans still thronged Uhuru Park to witness Raila’s oathing. At another level, some 15 county assemblies have passed resolutions to establish the People’s Assemblies because they do not recorgnise the October 26 repeat election and its results.

Attorney General Githu Muigai has challenged this process in court. These events clearly demonstrate the country is on a slippery path, and unless a middle ground is found and unity of purpose developed, the slide into anarchy is easy and assured.

The turn Kenya is making into this path has been trodden by other states and it may be useful to avoid their mistakes, which resulted largely from being strong headed.

They feared to heed wise counsel and, instead, chose to listen to themselves and at best to their court jesters. Anarchy will lead to chaos, which will lead to economic decline that will affect the mighty and the lowly in almost equal measure. Violence will be entrenched as the preferred means of settling disputes — political or otherwise — and this will inevitably lead to collapse of the social services infrastructure. Healthcare, water, food and electricity supply will be inaccessible and the toll on the citizens, especially children and women, will be heavy.

The state will be decimated and the Hobbesian law of the jungle will rule, where life will be brutish, short and nasty. There are sections of DRC where criminal gangs rule as if they are a separate state and these as the consequences of the assassination of Patrice Lumumba. Burundi has suffered the same fate and closer home Somalia has a government based in Mogadishu but has no control over the rest of the country. Either NASA or Jubilee or both can take Kenya on this unfortunate path.

The flipside of anarchy as another option is authoritarianism. This will be an option to the ruling elite out of fear and lack of leadership confidence. Leaders react differently to different challenges. Depending on how the government interprets the current crisis, their reaction may range from magnanimity to autocracy. If they choose the former, then a compromise will be developed out of the impasse. And if they should prefer to employ autocratic tendencies, then authoritarian rule will be established.

Authoritarian rule is despotic in nature and tends to overtly abrogate the Constitution by ignoring the provisions that protect citizens against the excesses of the government. There would be gross abuse of human rights and nepotism would be the raison d’etre for partaking of the fruits of liberation.

Leaders would be rewarded for sycophancy to the supreme leader and not on the basis of objective advice and patriotism. Regions and citizens considered renegade would be discriminated against and denied access to state services even though they continue to pay taxes as the other citizens do. This would create inequalities among citizens and lead to hopelessness. Eventually, the country will experience general underdevelopment and instability, resulting in the collapse of the government because the system is unsustainable in the long run.

However difficult the current circumstances may be, Kenyans have a choice to make out of the options and the choice they make have far-reaching and long lasting consequences.


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