The Star (Nairobi)

6 December 2012

Kenya: Money Can't Decide Winner of Next Poll

The excitement of the US presidential election is now over, and so we can now proceed to draw a few lessons from it. In particular, we can consider this question: What is it that really moves millions of voters to leave the comfort of their homes, and to go out and cast a vote for this candidate or that?

What really are the ingredients of political victory? A common misconception is that political outcomes are determined by how much money the candidate has, and that the man or woman with more money generally wins.

In fact just about all of us have heard someone say, "If I had enough money...I would run for parliament". Well here are a few passages from a US newspaper offering insights into the financial aspects of the recent US presidential elections:

"...the Boston Globe reports that a fireworks display was already ordered for the victory. Romney and Ryan thought they were going to win, say aides.

"We were optimistic. More than just cautiously optimistic," says one campaign staffer. When Romney lost, "it was like a death in the family."

That meant the biggest-spending conservative groups were trounced. American Crossroads...founded by Karl Rove, spent $104 million in the general election, but none of its candidates won...Sheldon Adelson, the casino mogul, spent $53 million on nine Republican candidates, eight of whom lost."

This report reminds us that money is rarely decisive in presidential elections - as much in the US as here in Kenya. Consider the 2002 general election in which Uhuru Kenyatta of Kanu - personally nominated by former President Daniel arap Moi - ran against Mwai Kibaki of the opposition coalition, NARC.

It was Kibaki who won - and his victory cannot possibly have been a result of his team having the greater sums of money at their disposal, as he was opposed by the Moi-Kenyatta political machine which brought together Kenya's wealthiest families.

So what then is it that was more powerful than the virtually limitless sums that Moi and Uhuru had at their disposal back in 2002? What is it that rendered their vast financial resources futile?

Well, we are often told that "Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come". Although it is generally much easier to make such a statement than to identify in advance, what such an idea might be, there is some truth in this.

The 2002 general election offers a rare case where it was relatively clear what the dominating idea was: this was that, as some expressed it at back then, "the time has come to consign Kanu to the dustbin of history".

Looking back, it is obvious that no amount of money spent on his behalf, would have enabled Uhuru Kenyatta to emerge as the winner of that election.

Now Uhuru is yet again a leading presidential candidate. If we leave aside the question of money, what could we say are the dominating ideas that will influence the outcome this time round?

I would say that there is really just one big idea in the upcoming election: and that it will determine who wins and who loses.

This idea can be encapsulated as follows: Is there, or is there not, an unspoken national consensus that the presidency should in some manner be rotational?

This idea - that the presidency should not appear to be monopolized by any one tribe - was certainly very potent back in 2002.

It is the principal reason why Moi, an acknowledged master of the political game, did not even dream that he could engineer a situation in which he would be succeeded to the presidency by a fellow-Kalenjin.

If such an unspoken consensus still exists, then Uhuru has no chance. No matter how hard he campaigns or how broad a political coalition he forms; and no matter how many blunders his principal rival, the PM Raila Odinga may make; Uhuru cannot hope to beat him.

But if we have actually gone beyond this; if the broad national consensus is, basically, "may the best man win"; then it could as easily be Uhuru who gets sworn in as our next president, as it could be Raila.

For Raila's most potent propaganda weapon is the argument that there is something manifestly unfair - and, indeed, distinctly sinister - in a Kikuyu candidate seeking to succeed a sitting Kikuyu president. But this would count for nothing, if the majority of Kenyan voters do not feel troubled at such a prospect.

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