• The coronavirus outbreak may have temporarily brought reggae to a screeching halt, but it has done little to calm the country’s dissatisfaction with its political system.
• Many lay the blame for the country’s dysfunctional politics at the feet of its political parties, which they say are devoid of any ideology.
Prior to the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, Nobody Can Stop Reggae, the song by the late South African musician Lucky Dube, was perhaps the most controversial tune among the Kenyan political class.
The song had been adopted as the anthem for the alliance led by President Uhuru Kenyatta and his erstwhile rival and current BFF, Raila Odinga, which is pushing to overhaul the country’s decade-old Constitution and do away with its US-style presidential system of government.
The coronavirus outbreak may have temporarily brought reggae to a screeching halt, but it has done little to calm the country’s dissatisfaction with its political system.
Many lay the blame for the country’s dysfunctional politics at the feet of its political parties, which they say are devoid of any ideology. Their sole purpose is to serve as electoral vehicles, with little in the way of philosophy to guide either the pursuit of power or the ends for which it is to be used.
The cynicism of our political arrangements is today exemplified by the ongoing self-immolation of the ruling Jubilee Party as President Kenyatta goes to war against his deputy, and until two years ago, presumed heir, William Ruto.
The duo, who in 2013 constructed a winning alliance in the shadow of indictments for crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court, had for half a decade seemed inseparable. They sought to present themselves as the modern, youthful face of Kenyan politics, approachable and technologically savvy.
From the launch of their campaign for the presidency to when they took power, the so-called Digital Duo were keen to dispense with the stuffy old colonial image of power. They wowed Kenyan media with their matching smart-casual outfits (red ties, white shirts, no jackets) when hosting press conferences at State House and revelled in being photographed dining in roadside kiosks and nyama choma joints – which would have been unthinkable under their predecessors.
However, it all turned out to have been a largely empty show from the start. Their digital campaigns were crafted by the now-discredited and defunct Cambridge Analytica and weaponised Kenyans’ online data against them.
They fed from the same trough of ethnic incitement and electoral manipulation even as they pretended to rise above it. Their first three years in office were spent doing little more than expending state resources to fight their prosecutions at The Hague – despite the fact that Kenyatta had termed them “a personal challenge” during the election campaigns.
The ICC eventually threw in the towel after witnesses were suddenly killed or disappeared or recanted their testimonies, and the Kenyan government attempted to discredit it at international fora, including the AU and the UN.
Once done with that, the duo seemed to have little in the way of a vision for their rule. Nearly every project they touched turned out to be an avenue for looting in much the same way their forerunners had done. They splurged on ill-advised vanity infrastructure projects that have left the country saddled with a loss-making, unnecessary railway and staring into a debt abyss.
There is little evidence of a governing ideology beyond self-preservation that one can piece together from their various proposals and initiatives – many of which were born as PR initiatives, then treated as serious policy proposals. Ideological questions such as the proper size and role of government have been cast to the populist winds.
By the 2017 elections, the mask had completely fallen away as they openly engaged in a campaign to steal the election, intimidate the courts once they were found out, and murder and brutalise their opponents. Having secured a second term, they are again going the way of their predecessors, cannibalising their shell of a party. Uhuru has reached out to Raila, a man he had for a decade condemned as an enemy of Kenyans and whom the BBC has described as holding “the record as the Kenyan politician who has changed political allegiances the most times”.
It is clear that their new-found bromance, just as with Ruto’s kicking to the kerb, has nothing to do with how Kenyans will be governed and everything to do with who will rule them.
And that pretty much guarantees that even after the reggae resumes, for most Kenyans the outlook for their lives over the next few years to the 2022 polls and beyond will continue to be as dim as it has been over the last seven.