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Friday, November 3, 2017

KENYA, THE TEETHING PAINS OF DEMOCRACY

Recent events in Kenyan have elevated the political scene of our eastern neighbour to the point of high drama.

With barely days to go to the October 26th repeat poll opposition leader Raila Odinga announced he was withdrawing from the presidential race. Legally that would have forced the country’s electoral commission, IEBC to cancel the current process and call for new nominations.

The election that was concluded on August 8th and which saw President Uhuru Kenyatta retain his seat, was thrown out by the Supreme Court in September and a fresh poll between the leading contenders ordered.

But within hours of Odinga’s announcement, the high court in Kenya allowed for other candidates who were in the initial race to get back on the ballot.

And while we were still trying to wrap our heads around what this all meant, a senior elections official Roselyn Akombe, threw in the towel on Wednesday, saying that there was no way a credible election could be delivered under the circumstances.

As if to back her up the  IEBC chief Wafula Chebukati said that while his team was ready to oversee the elections next week, he cast doubt on whether a free and fair election could be held given the pressure from both sides of the political divide.

And all this was happening under a cloud of violent demonstrations, where several people have been killed in the capital, Nairobi and in Kisumu, Odinga’s western Kenya stronghold.

"The Kenyan experience is the saddest thing to watch unfold. Especially as barely a decade ago they descended into a post-election bloodletting that accounted for more than 1,000 lives and saw tens of thousands more displaced from their homes....

Analysts think there may be more casualties if violence erupts again this time. In the last decade despite the massive infrastructure projects and the economic growth the country has enjoyed, the inequalities in the country have only widened. An immediate outcome of this is that there is an army of unemployed youth roaming around with nothing to lose and are easily incited to widespread, indiscriminate and senseless violence.

It is plain for anyone to see that Kenya is going through a painful transition from the big man politics of founding father Jomo Kenyatta and his successor Daniel arap Moi’s time to a more democratic society where power has been devolved away from the center and people are no longer cowed from expressing their views and choosing their allegiances.

The four decade long rivalry between the Kenyatta and Uhuru family’s only serves as useful backdrop for the changing realities in Kenya.

Long standing tribal fissures are coming under strain as a more educated and connected youth take their place in running the affairs of the country. Historical economic contradictions are being challenged as old money based on land and industry, is being challenged by new fortunes being made in services. The old political class is giving way to the new, in a more than messy progression that while it is unlikely to see the country impode on itself, will leave Kenya badly scarred by the time the dust settles.

And a constant thread running through all these changes, and even accelerating them, is the increasing exposure of the everyday Kenyan through internet connectivity to the outside world, raising their expectations of their aspirations, leaders and country.

The history of the world is peppered with examples of the violent conflict between those seeking to maintain the status quo and those looking to overturn it, in response to new realities.

With the benefit of hindsight we wonder why the key players of the time did not see the oncoming upheavals, whose signs were there for everyone to see, and maybe avert disaster?

Easier said than done.

"When you are in the thick of things, multiple variables and actors at play and fighting for survival, the big picture, the long view, even legacy are abstract concepts....


Kenya is staring into the abyss. For theirs and all our sakes we hope level headed minds prevail to pull them back from the edge.

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