Tuesday, April 9, 2013


Kenya’s Supreme Court last week declared Uhuru Kenyatta the winner of the just concluded presidential elections.

Apart from some fracas in the parts of Kisumu, the heartland of the Luo tribe, the decision was accepted with welcome grace by the losers.

In a two horse race Kenyatta made it first past the post, scrapping through with about 8000 in addition to the 50%+1 vote required to avert a run off. Nearly-man Raila Odinga came in second.

"Odinga appealed the result but the Supreme Court was unanimous in its rejection of his plea and for all practical purposes, brought to a close a colourful political career...

It was hard to miss the historical symbolism of the election. Two scions of politically powerful families, contest for the highest office in the land like their fathers -- Jomo Kenyatta and Jaramogi Odinga , before them and the result is determined by Kikuyu-Luo tribal divide that their fathers nurtured and cemented decades ago.

Like everything about real life, the election was not an unqualified success and while Kenya, its neighbours and the world breathed a sigh of relief after its relatively peaceful completion, uncomfortable questions persist.

Tribalism, fifty years after independence continues to be the elephant in the room.

In the aftermath of the Rwanda genocide analysts argued that that kind of tribal bloodbath was unlikely in the ethnically diverse countries like Kenya.

The Kenyan post-election violence caused pause for thought however. The violence while short lived was intense and caught everyone flat footed. The tribal divisions don’t only flare up in the heat and excitement of elections but is evident in everyday life. But that these continue to persist in cosmopolitan Kenya and the region’s most active economy, has many scratching their heads for answers.

Or maybe not.

Kenya may end up being the region’s poster boy for those who say that tribes are perpetuated and sustained by politicians for their own selfish ends and that tribes, left on their own, do not play a major role other than serving as some identity for regulating marriage.

Even more interesting was the dark cloud that was the International Criminal Court (ICC) that was hanging over the whole process.

It has been suggested that the Kenyatta /Ruto camp turned the pending case against them on its head. They sold the indictments against them as foreign aggression and western capitals did not help matters by issuing veilded threats against backing Kenyatta & co. The Odinga camp’s unwillingness to try and seek some advantage in the situation left it easier for the perception of foreign intervention take hold.

But the  media too, ever conscious that one of their kind had also been indicted by the court, reined in their appetite for shoot-from-the-hip reporting  and incendiary commentary – they saved that for heckling foreign press who were gagging for chaos to erupt...

So where does this leave Kenya’s democracy.

The $140m-non-starter vote tallying system while an expensive embarrassment doesn’t bode ill for the country’s democratic process.

As one of my Kenyan friends bragged to me “We have now got over the novelty of changing presidents,” which is definitely a step in the right direction.

The other positive is that the result of the election was challenged in court, the court ruled the way it did and their verdict was accepted. The court case set an important precedent and provided important learning points which only serve to strengthen the process further.

You might have the most beautifully structured institutions but if they are not tested they are not worth the paper they are drawn up on. It’s these tested institutions that will defend the new lines drawn in the sand in the onward march of democracy.

"Democracy comes by evolution and not revolution. Progress is not a straight line profile. A test has been passed – not with flying colours, but the trajectory is still upward and the Kenya and the region can take comfort in that...

Tribalism will also be cause to have Kenyans’ looking nervously over their shoulders but one would like to think the ability for politicians to use it as a rallying point will wane as the country becomes more urbanized, intermarriages take place and the commercial interests supercede them.

Otherwise in the words of soon-to-be former Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki “Kazi iendelee”

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