In 2017 Kenya Could Go The Nigeria Way

Kericho Senator Aaron Cheruiyot with DP William Ruto during a past campaign. /FILE
Kericho Senator Aaron Cheruiyot with DP William Ruto during a past campaign. /FILE

The absence of any fluidity in political alignments is a very unusual and worrying phenomenon. It suggests permanent political alliances and deep rivalries.

For a while there, it seemed as though the rigid political cleavages of the previous few years were about to be broken, and a major political realignment was underway.

Political pundits speculated that the "South Rift" was about to break away from the Deputy President William Ruto; and that the Coast was well on its way to discarding ODM and its party leader, the former Prime Minister, Raila Odinga, in a desperate move to "join the government" and be part of the Jubilee alliance.

But it was not to be. In the end, the old lines which were set by the bitterly contested 2013 elections, remained in place. William Ruto still rules the Rift Valley, and can well be expected to continue doing so. And the voters at the coast - despite a reportedly unprecedented outpouring of cash into the by-election - remain firmly in ODM.

And this is a worrying scenario indeed.

Our politics have always been tribal, but the regional alliances have been very fluid in-between general elections and referenda.

At Independence, the Luo and the Kikuyu were dreaded by the other communities to the extent of wishing the outgoing British colonists might remain in charge a bit longer. The Kikuyu and Luo were then the largest communities and were led by two towering political personalities – Jomo Kenyatta and Jaramogi Odinga, respectively.

Thus we had in the first post-British Cabinet, in 1963, which comprised only 15 members, the following Luos – Jaramogi, Argwings Kodhek, Tom Mboya and Achieng’ Oneko.

First Cabinet was a majority Kikuyu-Luo affair

Central Kenya had an even bigger representation – Kenyatta, Charles Njonjo, Njoroge Mungai, James Gichuru, Mbiyu Koinange and Julius Kiano.

The rest of the country had to make do with only five Cabinet slots in the first Independence administration of 1963-69!

And when the Mountain and the Lake fell out in the period 1965 to 1965 (beginning with Pio Gama Pinto’s assassination in February 1965 and ending with Tom Mboya’s in July 1969) there was no problem whatever in recruiting others to work with the Mountain. Indeed, if anything, the Cabinet acquired an even more national aspect.

Jomo Kenyatta had no difficulty shuffling his Cabinets so that they acquired an increasingly Face-of-Kenya aspect (he presided over only two across a 14-year period). And much the same applied to Daniel arap Moi, who served a marathon five terms across 24 years.

Moi was a supreme juggler of Cabinet and other top State positions, his basic strategy being to keep Luos and the Kikuyus apart so that they did not unite against him.

To the very end he retained only Kikuyus as VPs, except in his final three months in power when he had a Kikuyu presidential candidate of his own making and choosing (then Local Government minister Uhuru Kenyatta) and he installed Musalia Mudavadi to replace George Saitoti.

Moi and the Odingas across four decades

As for the Luo, Moi kept reaching out to them but something always backfired and it never went the way he wanted.

For instance, when Moi calculated early in his State House tenure that it was high time to bring Jaramogi back into the establishment fold, and the then Bondo MP, John Hezekiah Ougo, was persuaded to step aside for the old man, Raila’s father let the cat out of the bag by disclosing that the president had approached him and practically begged him to return. This was a breach of presidential confidentiality protocol that was unforgivable under super-secretive and micromanaging Moi.

But even more egregious was Jaramogi’s remark to the effect that he had accepted Moi’s overtures because the new president was not a land grabber, unlike his predecessor, Jomo.

This unprecedentedly frank critique of the founding president raised so much hell that Moi promptly abandoned the Jaramogi political rehabilitation project.

The next time Moi sought to bring the Odinga factor in from the cold was 20 years later – and this time he was dealing with Raila and his National Development Party. The year was 2002 and Moi came up with the strategy of merging Kanu with Raila’s NDP.

But even this backfired and Raila instead led a headlong exodus from Kanu just a jump ahead of the 2002 General Election.

Despite all this, Moi still retained support in considerable pockets of Northeastern, Western and Eastern and in the rural Coast and Rift Valley.

Even more recently, when Kibaki may have got in riding on a landslide victory in 2002, he still had more votes outside Central Kenya and his VP, Kalonzo Musyoka, appointed at the height of the PEV, brought in limited but much-needed numbers when it came to forming the Grand Coalition regime.

So, historically, after the fray of the campaign and the decisions of Election Day itself, there have been well-defined vote blocs when it came to who appoints who and who goes where.

The political divide that won’t go away

But think back to March 4 2013 (Election Day) and April 4 2013 (Inauguration Day). The country was very deeply divided into just two formations – Jubilee and Cord – allowing for such rare exceptions as Maasailand. Cord had a rock-solid hold on Kisii, Kamba, Luo and Coast.

One illustration of this point occurred in mid-July of 2013 at the Gusii Stadium, when Fred Matiang’i, himself a Kisii and the then ICT Cabinet Secretary, was publicly humiliated by a large crowd of mourners during a funeral service for 15 victims of a school bus accident.

Matiang’i and other Kisii worthies, including Prof Sam Ongeri, were rebuffed by the surging crowd when the CS attempted to read a message and present a donation of Sh700,000 from President Kenyatta to the bereaved families.

Political analysts were quick to opine that the Kisii crowd’s rejection of President Kenyatta’s message and cash had nothing to do with Prof Ongeri or CS Matiang’i – it was a coded message to the Jubilee regime, then barely two-and-a-half months in office.

Look at the present, barely 17 months to the next General Election: Based on what I have heard from speaking to friends countrywide, there has virtually been no movement on the 2013 political divide whatever, the appointment of two ODM MPs to the Cabinet (Interior’s Joseph Nkaissery and Mining’s Dan Kazungu) notwithstanding.

Cord remains solidly Cord. Jubilee remains Jubilee.

This is unprecedented in Kenyan political history, even after the 2007 General Election and the PEV.

Previously the animosities of the campaign and Election Day were set aside after every polling cycle and the defection game was all the rage as there was no law or protocol against it. Even the PEV did not prevent the Kikuyu and the Kalenjin from uniting just in time for the subsequent General Election and capturing State House.

However, if the battle lines for 2017 remain as they were for 2013, the political animosities will become cast in stone and acquire a Nigerian quality. In Nigerian presidential politics, there is a North-South, Christian-Muslim divide and rotational presidency.

If this analysis is correct, the next round of constitution-making in Kenya could very well include, for the very first time, a groundswell of agitation for a rotational presidency or, at the very least, for the presidency not residing in one or even a couple of regions for more than two consecutive terms.