REFERENDUM, BY-ELECTIONS

Prepare for year of political theatrics

We’re not even halfway into the first month of 2021 and we are already off to a tumultuous start.

In Summary
  • Politics in Kenya is set to go a notch higher 
  • The BBI referendum quest has already divided the country and it will be critical to see how political players navigate this

The year 2020 was an interesting one across the world after the Covid-19 pandemic disrupted how humans live and conduct their affairs. But in the midst of it all, politics locally and internationally did not take a break.

US President Donald Trump survived impeachment and then lost reelection; the killing of George Floyd resulted in major political protests; elections in Tanzania were marred with claims of rigging; and in Ethiopia, the federal government deployed its military in Tigray. To mention but a few significant events.

We are not even halfway into the first month of 2021 and we are already off to a tumultuous start of the year, with the insurrection in the US by a sitting President. No one would ever have imagined the scenes witnessed last week at the Capitol building in Washington.

The protests led to concerns that US President Donald Trump would use the remaining time in office to cause chaos. While things are likely to cool down in the US with Trump leaving office next week, politics in Kenya is set to go a notch higher.

Other than by-elections that are likely to set the pace for the 2022 elections, we also have the BBI referendum, which will most likely occupy most of the first half of 2021. We can expect all manner of rhetoric on this one, with some using it to build their 2022 base.

The BBI referendum quest has already divided the country and it will be critical to see how political players navigate this, especially given that the handshake was meant to unite the country. All eyes will be on county assemblies next week as they debate the referendum Bill and their actions will dictate future political formations.

In the by-elections, we expect to see more alliances being formed with those that support the handshake on one side and those in the so-called hustler movement on the other.

In fact, allies of Deputy President William Ruto have given the clearest indication yet that they are done with the Jubilee Party. Though they are yet to say they are done, last week they unveiled candidates for various by-elections under the United Democratic Movement.

It is curious that the party has the same colours as the defunct United Republican Party, which belonged to Ruto before the formation of the Jubilee Party ahead of the 2017 election. This shows that his heart is no longer in Jubilee, on whose ticket he and Uhuru were elected into office.

There will also be special focus on the main opposition party ODM and how it changes its operations after its candidate lost to Ruto’s man in Msambweni last year. More losses in the upcoming by-elections would be disastrous for Raila and ODM.

With the 2022 election not so far away, those in office will start focusing on re-election. They will focus their energies on wooing their supporters once more and we expect more localised political alignments.

Depending on how the BBI politics play out at the local level, we may see some of the strongest supporters chicken out or those opposed to it change tune towards the referendum.

There will be shifts and realignments that will see politicians using shock and awe tactics as they prepare to safeguard their seats and search for new ones. Politics is the art of the impossible. As alliances shift, desperation will start to creep in and this will be followed by theatrics.

But Kenyans have a great role in ensuring that they are not misled into electing leaders who will not deliver as we have seen in the past. We must train ourselves to see beyond the games and focus on leaders and leadership that will transform our nation.

Critical processes such as the BBI should be weighed on merit and not through political theatrics aimed at creating concaves for 2022. Politicians should not be allowed to mislead Kenyans on the process, which we all know has immense benefits to Kenya and its future prosperity.