7 December 2012

Kenya: Political Chickens Come Home to Roost


During the US presidential elections a few weeks ago, aging American actors Chuck Norris and Clint Eastwood fell over each other in their profuse support for President Obama's challenger, Mitt Romney.

Now that is what I call like-minded. If Romney could champion the cause of ultra conservative America despite his relatively young age, it meant that his thought process had been conditioned to preserve the old America. No wonder the new America rejected their retrogressive way of life.

This week, Kenya's main political parties acted on their promise by forming alliances with like-minded colleagues. The first marriage of convenience was between Uhuru Kenyatta, William Ruto and Musalia Mudavadi.

They were the kingpins of Kanu who fought against change and reforms 10 years ago under the leadership of Daniel Moi. They saw nothing wrong as Kenyans fought to change the Nyayo regime. Moi had done a good job of schooling them in the old ways.

The political tsunami of 2002 swept them away. It was caused by yet another cluster of like-minded politicians who regrouped under the National Rainbow Coalition to change the Moi regime.

They included radicals like Koigi Wamwere, Kivutha Kibwana, Raila Odinga, Kijana Wamalwa, Anyang' Nyong'o, Martha Karua, Martin Shikuku, Kiraitu Murungi, Gitobu Imanyara and Paul Muite.

The coalition also included conservatives like Moody Awori, Fred Gumo, Mwai Kibaki, Charity Ngilu, George Saitoti, Kalonzo Musyoka and Najib Balala.

They were all bound by their desire to change the 40-year-old regime. They were vindicated at Uhuru Park on December 30, 2002. As we witnessed Tuesday's coalition deal signing ceremonies at Jevanjee Gardens, KICC and the good old Norfolk Hotel, we saw history repeating itself in a scarily familiar manner.

We saw the re-emergence of Kanu under a different name but with all its colours intact. Only Moi the drum major was missing in action. As we watched Raila, Ngilu, Kalonzo, Moses Wetangula and many more ex-Narc members celebrate their deal, we remembered the Unbwogable Narc that roused the people to action in 2002. Missing on stage were Kibaki, the late Wamalwa, Karua and Awori.

There are the two like-minded political parties that want to battle it out for the leadership of Kenya -- one to move us forward, the other to rewind the clock.

The third force is equally intriguing. Composed of just two people -- Peter Kenneth and Raphael Tuju -- theirs is a tall order if either hopes to be president.

However, both share one unbreakable bond -- they were at Starehe Boys School together. Whether they share a common vision for Kenya is debatable.

In this theatre of like-mindedness, competing characters have misread the political strategy and style of Raila who has previously been described as the "enigma of Kenyan politics".

Just like his father, who through sheer determination became Kenya's unrivalled doyen of opposition politics, Raila has over the last 20 years become the master of coalition politics.

He invented it in Kenya under unusual times in 1997 (when he started cooperating with Kanu) and still changes its face from time to time as if he has all leading politicians -- young and old -- under his radar.

Who would ever have imagined that Raila would merge his National Development Party with Moi's Kanu in March 2002? His cooperation and eventual merger saw him rewarded with Cabinet posts for his lieutenants and the Kanu secretary general's post for himself.

Who would have believed that a few months later, in October 2002, he would walk out of the merger taking with him a large chunk of the Kanu luminaries of the day -- JJ Kamotho, George Saitoti, William ole Ntimama, Kalonzo, Gumo, Awori and others?

Observers assumed that since he had disorganised Kanu from within, he would run for president against Moi's political machine. However, he bid his time and rallied his troops to give Kibaki the elusive presidency.

Aware that Kenya was not ready for a Luo presidency, he reflected that his backing of a Kikuyu presidency would prove to Kenyans that the bad blood between the two communities could be cleansed. But soon afterwards, he was sidelined and finally sacked from Kibaki's government.

With a few remaining loyalists from NDP and Kanu renegades, Raila convinced opposition leader Uhuru and his team to join him in driving change through a new constitution.

Others in this new force included Ruto, Kalonzo, Gumo, Kamotho and Shikuku. The government lost the 2005 referendum by a landslide and in a fit of anger, Kibaki sacked all ministers allied to Raila, giving birth to a new party -- ODM.

Two years later, Raila formed another coalition to challenge Kibaki for the presidency. This time round, he formed a loose coalition -- the Pentagon -- with leaders from all the regions of the country.

It is this group that gave Kibaki a run for his money, an election that ended in a stalemate. Raila quickly accepted a mediated settlement to share power with Kibaki.

A common thread in the Raila political narrative is that he is quick to discard friends and embrace old enemies depending on circumstances.

He is a forgiving and reconciliatory strategist who believes that the end justifies the means. It is this little detail that his political opponents have never grasped. That is why his coalition of 14 parties has sent a shockwave throughout the political landscape.

The writer comments of topical issues.

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