POLITICAL CONTEST

Uhuru, Raila have never lost a referendum

Who has the greater track record in winning this kind of political contest?

In Summary
  • Then there is the fact that Kenya has had two constitutional referendums thus far
  • In the 2005 referendum, Uhuru and Raila were on the same side and successfully campaigned to have the proposed constitutional changes rejected

Our late president, Daniel Moi, remained something of an enigma right up to the end of his life.

For he was a man who in over 40 years of active politics, never once lost an election. He always won, whenever he ran for office, starting in pre-Independence days when he was elected a member of the Legislative Council in 1955, to his final victory in the presidential race of 1997. Thereafter he retired on a generous state pension, the likes of which his many enemies would never have imagined he would live to enjoy.

What was his secret?

There have been many speculations as to how he pulled this off. For he was not a historic “father of the nation” as his predecessor Jomo Kenyatta had been, nor yet a gifted technocrat as his successor Mwai Kibaki.

The most astute accounts that I have read credit him with three qualities which any politician would find useful.

First, he was very patient, and could put up with all manner of setbacks and frustrations without losing sight of his ultimate goal.

Second, he had a way of encouraging his opponents to underestimate him.

And finally, he was utterly ruthless, when acting to neutralise his political enemies. Indeed, he employed a level of ruthlessness which would be unthinkable in current Kenyan politics.

This led to the odd situation in which it was impossible to write about Moi during his presidency, without appearing to praise this classic ‘African Big Man’ unduly, if you focused purely on his track record of election victories. For impressive as this electoral track record may have been, there is also the moral dimension to political leadership – matters of good governance, human rights, the rule of law, etc – and on that front, Moi failed miserably.

This dichotomy is easily resolved if we agree with a view put forward by the British historian AJP Taylor, in an essay on the mid-20th century Russian dictator Josef Stalin – a man compared to whom, Moi was a saint.

Then in 2010, again the two were on the same side, which carried the day all the way to the promulgation of the 2010 Constitution.

In his view, which I have already quoted at least once in a previous column, AJP Taylor argued that politicians should be judged purely on their political skills and their ability to achieve their political goals, and not on their personal morality.

Why do I mention all this?

Well primarily because I believe it is a distraction to consider – in terms of purity of motive, as so many of us are currently doing – the proposed referendum campaigns now underway.

On one side are President Uhuru Kenyatta and the former Prime Minister Raila Odinga (supported by an impressive cast of other A-list political leaders). On the other is the Deputy President Dr William Ruto.

And barely a day passes but there is some media commentator declaring that all these political leaders are in it for themselves, and not really concerned with the welfare of the average Kenyan.

This may well be so, but I think the really important question here is, ‘Who do you think will win?’ Which might be expanded to include ‘Who has the greater track record in winning this kind of political contest?’

And here we find that there is plenty of bad news for the Deputy President.

Uhuru was a long-time political protégé of Moi. As such, he surely must have learnt some tricks from the old man. So, if he sometimes seems to have trouble mobilising his political base, can we be sure that he is not merely encouraging his opponents to underestimate him? That he is not applying Moi-like patience?

Then there is the fact that Kenya has had two constitutional referendums thus far. In the 2005 referendum, Uhuru and Raila were on the same side and successfully campaigned to have the proposed constitutional changes rejected.

Then in 2010, again the two were on the same side, which carried the day all the way to the promulgation of the 2010 Constitution.

So, Dr Ruto, who in 2010 opposed the new proposed constitution and wound up on the losing side, is up against two leading politicians who have never yet lost a constitutional referendum campaign.

That should give him pause for thought.