8 November 2012

Kenya: Raila Can Still Beat Uhuru-Ruto Pact


If you have been following the just-concluded US presidential elections closely, you will know that although the two rival candidates, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, were very much alike in various key respects, they also did represent two completely divergent views as to how their country should evolve over the next four years.

On such central issues as taxation, immigration policy reform, public health policy and a few other such, they were actually committed to widely divergent priorities.

Broadly speaking, Romney's views were right-wing, and Obama's views were centrist - though many said that Romney only pretended to believe such right-wing dogma in order to appease his extreme-right supporters.

So, whereas at a visceral level this election was just a competition for high office between two very ambitious men, at the moral and intellectual level it was a clash of ideas; and the results told us something about where the majority of ordinary Americans stand on some of the burning issues in their politics.

Turning to Kenya, we all know that policy counts for next to nothing when it comes to our presidential elections, and that the only thing that matters is to come up with a cunningly crafted "majority" composed of the larger coalition of "big tribes".

But, in the recent flow of events, a more significant narrative has emerged, particularly as concerns the proposed political pact between Uhuru Kenyatta's TNA political party, and William Ruto's URP.

By all accounts, what Ruto and Uhuru seek to do, is to unite the Kalenjin and Kikuyu voting blocs into one giant political alliance.

And if they succeed, this will be an alliance which their principal rival, the PM Raila Odinga, will not be able to easily overcome. But here too, there is more at stake than just the ambitions of these influential leaders.

Back in 2008, there was such a level of hostility and bitterness between these two communities, that hardly anybody would have predicted that in just four and a half years, the Kikuyu and the Kalenjin would be preparing to form a unitary political voting machine.

It appeared at that time to be clear enough that the Kalenjin - no matter appeals might be made by their leaders, or what enticements might be offered - would not agree to play second fiddle to the Kikuyu in a political alliance.

By the same token, it seemed perfectly obvious that any political leader from Central Kenya, who attempted to bring the Kalenjin into a political pact with the Kikuyu, would be instantly rejected by the voters of the Mt Kenya region: just the mere mention of "Kiambaa Church" would have put an end to that proposed political partnership.

But that was then. Now it seems very likely that we will indeed have a powerful Kikuyu-Kalenjin political alliance, brokered into existence by William Ruto and Uhuru Kenyatta.

It serves to remind us that in politics, what at one point in time seems to be clearly "impossible" will be later revealed as not only viable, but even inevitable.

This proposed political union, should however, not trouble those supporters of the PM Raila Odinga, who might be tempted to fear that the TNA/URP political pact would put an end to their candidate's presidential ambitions.

First, the two tribal communities combined, would not add up to an overwhelming majority of the total votes to be cast in the 2013 election.

On the contrary, even if you include the greater "GEMA community" and all the "Kalenjin sub-tribes", they would only add up to about 35% of Kenyan voters.

This would leave Raila with plenty of room to maneuver. And if he is not able to get most of the remaining 65% of voters behind him to secure victory with a final tally of over 50%, then it will mean that his great reputation as a political master strategist has all along been a hollow myth.

But going beyond the purely strategic level, and focusing on the moral dimension of politics, if indeed this political pact does work, then it will be a sign that perhaps the much-maligned Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission did not labour in vain, and that we are well on our way to the "national healing" that the TJRC was created to promote.

It is a truly remarkable thing, this willingness of Kenyan leaders - and specifically those very leaders judged by the ICC Chief Prosecutor as bearing the greatest responsibility for the post-election violence - to work towards finding common ground; and to forgive and forget.

The writer comments on topical issues

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