VIOLENT BY-ELECTIONS

Is the handshake firm three years on?

In Summary
  • The constitutional reform proposals fall short of expectations and hardly guarantee peaceful elections, due to be held in 17 months
  • Unchecked inflammatory utterances have been costly and retrogressive
The handshake
HANDSHAKE: The handshake
Image: OZONE

Fear of chaos looms large in volatile and polarised Kenya. Premature Kenyatta succession campaigns have pervaded the political atmosphere, blurring the good intentions in the Building Bridges Initiative constitutional reform.

Acrimonious verbal exchanges over BBI reinforce and confirm the fears written all over the faces of the hopeless and gullible voters in this theatre of the absurd.

Violent scenes in the recent by-elections for local and national political posts between Deputy President William Ruto supporters and President Uhuru Kenyatta allies speak volumes. Belligerent political leaders from across the divide openly participated in skirmishes and chaos never seen in by-elections for years.

Most of the leaders arrested from the political battlefield have since been released. That is the worst that can happen to a violent leader in this country where perpetrators of election-related crimes go scot-free.

Prosecutions for offences take too long to conclude but election crimes hardly end up in court. This is partly due to fear of tribal reprisals and vengeance that inform Kenyan politics and party ideologies. Sentences, if any, are lenient and bail terms are ridiculously low.

In each election year, goons parade for recruitment by candidates as militia gangs to unleash terror and fear on rivals. Survival of the fittest is the most appropriate phrase that defines the noisy campaigns often characterised by insults, slander and libellous remarks.

The foregoing scenario explains why the fairer sex shunned competitive politics for decades. One can be sure that in the absence of safety guarantees, panicky investors and business people often close shop and leave the country to watch the campaigns from a safe distance.

Until and unless the electoral system and process are radically changed, violence, bribery and ethnicity will rear their ugly heads in every election as witnessed in last week's by-elections. Warning shots were fired in these polls.  

Unchecked inflammatory utterances have been costly and retrogressive. They not only mock the mandate of the National Cohesion and Integrity Commission but also undermine the unity brought about by the earth-shaking handshake between political rivals turned buddies, Uhuru and opposition leader Raila Odinga three years ago (March 9, 2018).

The post-election reconciliation gesture, a homegrown idea, calmed the fever pitch political temperature and restored Kenyans' waning confidence in the leadership constitutionally mandated to protect its citizens. The two leaders deliberately formed the BBI with broad terms of reference to follow up on, among others, divisive elections and foster peace in a country on the brink of war.

However one leader, Ruto, was pricked by the gesture. Ruto and his allies have trashed the BBI report in political rallies and at funerals. He believes that the handshake was a ploy to keep him from taking over from Uhuru as president. He is now associated with UDA on whose ticket it has been whispered he might run for president.

The BBI team tasked to find a solution to the recurrent chaos each election year squandered a golden chance to remedy electoral maladies. The constitutional reform proposals fall short of expectations and hardly guarantee peaceful elections, due to be held in 17 months.

Until and unless the electoral system and process are radically changed, violence, bribery and ethnicity will rear their ugly heads in every election as witnessed in last week's by-elections.

Warning shots were fired in these polls.  

Freelance journalist. [email protected]