POLITICAL COMPETITION

Curse of the front runner in Kenyan politics

Rivals generally tend to gang up with a view to cutting he/she down.

In Summary

• At the moment those whom I imagine would be most vexed at any dismissal of their presidential candidates’ chances, are the supporters of Dr William Ruto.

• Things have turned out rather differently from what they expected when they lined up to vote in 2017.

There is a certain risk attached to publishing a political “horserace opinion column” in a newspaper.

And this is that if you dare call out in advance the result that you expect to see in the next presidential race, then somewhere in this country, someone who knows you well will be quietly fuming and awaiting the moment when they can assail you with a few choice words.

This “someone” could be one of your old school friends; or a former colleague; or an in-law; or a former neighbour: someone who actually knows you and with whom you have been on friendly terms for some years.

For inside virtually every Kenyan, man or woman, there resides a passionate political animal, with deep political affiliations, who will not stand by idly as you make a mockery of the presidential candidate they are committed to.

Consider the two politicians who have already declared their candidature for the 2022 presidential election: the current Deputy President Dr William Ruto, and the former Vice President Musalia Mudavadi.

Kenyans are utterly unforgiving towards anyone who suggests that their preferred presidential candidate has no chance of winning.

 

If you write an Op-Ed with a headline like 'Mudavadi has no chance of winning'; or alternatively, 'Ruto should simply give up', then prepare to lose old friends, as well as to make new enemies.

For Kenyans are utterly unforgiving towards anyone who suggests that their preferred presidential candidate has no chance of winning.

And this religious faith in the inevitable victory of their chosen one, is something they cling to even though you would think that it is obvious enough that – at this early point in the election cycle – nobody really knows who the next president of Kenya will be.

Indeed, we cannot even be sure if this 'president' will be the usual all-powerful imperial authoritarian; or whether he or she will be some benign symbol of national unity of the kind parliamentary democracies sometimes have.

No less remarkable is that few of those who are at present devoutly committed to one presidential candidate or another, can realistically hope to later get any meaningful benefit from the victory of their candidate.

At the moment those whom I imagine would be most vexed at any dismissal of their presidential candidates’ chances, are the supporters of Dr William Ruto.

Things have turned out rather differently from what they expected when they lined up to vote in 2017. The narrative they bought into promised a seamless transition from President Uhuru Kenyatta to President William Ruto. And yet now, they face a rather different political reality.

Given these circumstances, the only path to victory for the front runner lay in two specific – and very expensive – manoeuvres. First, engineering deep divisions within the opposition to scatter the opposition vote. And, second, supplementing this with a little help from “deep state operatives”:

So, I would like to remind Dr Ruto’s supporters of one of the iron rules of Kenyan politics: that it is usually a curse rather than a blessing to be “the clear front runner” in any presidential race.

The reason for this, is that there are always plenty of other ambitious men and women seeking to be president. And such rivals generally tend to gang up with a view to cutting down the proclaimed front runner. So, what is happening to Dr Ruto was only to be expected, and it has indeed been a regular feature of every Kenyan presidential race.

Consider the presidential elections we have had thus far, and the front runners thereof: President Daniel Moi – front runner in 1992, and 1997 (on the general principle that any serving president must be considered to be the front runner when seeking reelection); Uhuru Kenyatta – front runner in 2002 (at least at the point where he was initially anointed by Moi); President Mwai Kibaki – front runner in 2007; Prime Minister Raila Odinga – front runner in 2013; and Uhuru Kenyatta again – front runner in 2017.

Invariably, these front runners found that their rivals united to try and frustrate their ambitions. Given these circumstances, the only path to victory for the front runner lay in two specific – and very expensive – manoeuvres.

First, engineering deep divisions within the opposition to scatter the opposition vote.

And, second, supplementing this with a little help from “deep state operatives”: well-placed technocrats reportedly capable of conjuring up a few million votes out of thin air – and right under the noses of accredited international election observers – to add to the tally of their favoured presidential candidate.