5 January 2013

Kenya: Memo to Raila Odinga and Uhuru Kenyatta


To: The Right Honourable Prime Minister Raila Amollo Odinga; and Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta:

Let me start by wishing you, albeit a little belatedly, a Happy New Year: Karibu 2013 (welcome to 2013). By the end of this year as you well know, I shall, subject to His Will, be in quiet retirement somewhere near Mweiga in Nyeri.

One of you, it is certainly expected, will be the fourth President of Kenya. It is in this potential capacity that I write to you as well as, respectively, your departing co-principal and boss in the grand coalition government of Kenya.

I write seeking your promise or resolve on some critical matter. But I am not naïve: it was Antonio Gramsci who said, "I'm a pessimist because of intelligence, but an optimist because of will." I am totally disinfected from the contagion of naivety: I know that one's word in Kenyan politics today counts for nothing unless there is a way to have it properly and adequately enforced.

Look at the way, for instance, I retreated from the 2002 Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that I signed with you Raila as part of the agreement that brought us together, ending in our glorious electoral victory.

Look at the way, Raila, you also retreated from your earlier agreement with Simeon Nyachae that was meant to politically wed you together for that same election.

Now also Uhuru, look at the way you have beaten a hasty retreat from that second, unregistered agreement you made on December 4, 2012 with the lamentably naïve Wycliffe Musalia Mudavadi (I no longer wonder here why some call him Weak Leaf but surely, Uhuru my son, to plead coercion by shetani - the devil - or "dark forces" as the force majeure wrecking that deal was priceless!).

The point is: let us dispense with any bleeding-hearted, starry-eyed or rose-tinted appeal to idealism. I am not writing here to appeal to your hearts; just your minds.

It is simply in our best personal and political interests for there to be a functioning, operating Kenya - as a going democratic concern - come March 5, 2013. At a personal level, we all have ourselves and our families to think of in the event of the shenanigans we saw in the aftermath of the 2007 elections.

We are also all investors. We will lose our treasured investments should the nonsense that attended the post-election of 2007 be visited upon Kenya again. Politically, it is about how history will treat us.

I, for one, was loath to be the one under whose watch Kenya almost went belly-up in 2007. After the delivery of a new constitution, it cannot be my legacy that I superintend another episode of post-election mayhem?

Raila, it cannot be that all the security sector propaganda that you are an anarchist, a violence-architect, a political schemer prone to scorched earth tendencies and so on is true?

Uhuru, can you imagine the frown across the impatient brow of the international community, as exemplified by the International Criminal Court (ICC), should your candidature be accompanied by mayhem similar to the post-2007 election violence?

We are hence bound by a patent convergence of interests - it is in our own enlightened self-interest to ensure that Kenya has a free, fair, genuine, credible and violence-free election in 2013. Here are five ways how to: as the prospective leading presidential contenders.

First, please conduct a robust, vibrant but respectful campaign. It is obviously within your rights to portray your opponent in the strongest possible negative light in order to swing votes in your favour.

But please avoid abuse, vituperation or hate speech. Beware the words you speak: as they say, it is wise to do so since you never know when you may in future be forced to eat them.

The sharper, more poisonous or radioactive the words, the sharper, more poisonous or radioactive may be your future a la carte political menu.

Hence, please allow, facilitate and engage in the celebration of diverse political opinions, political parties and other such political formations or persuasions without allowing matters to spiral out of control and become politically unhygienic or unsanitary.

Second, please remember that you are political rivals, not political foes or enemies.

The arena of elections, like sports, is war with rules. Please remember that if our respective camps decimate each other and the country, there will be no one to govern; least of all a country to preside over.

It should be as football matches are today between AFC Leopards and Gor Mahia: shemeji (in-law) derbies. Kenya desperately needs to move on; just as we have migrated from the dark past when these football derbies were characterised and dominated by abuse, insult, baiting, stone-throwing and teargas, the days of dinosaur politics of siasa za kumalizana (zero-sum politics) should be relegated to the libraries of memory and dustbins of history.

Third, please ensure that your respective coalitions undertake and carry out free, fair, genuine, credible and peaceful primaries. This will be a crystal-clear signal to all those who wish to stand using your political platforms as well as all your supporters that Machiavellian, warlord or such other deleterious politics belong to the past that was put to sleep and interred together with the old constitution.

Forth, strictly discipline anyone on your political platforms who engages in intimidation, harassment, violence or hate speech. You must become the guarantors, guardians and prefects of political etiquette and good manners within your respective political campaigns.

Fifth, please maintain firm, candid but respectful relations with the Independent Elections and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), privately and public. As the manager and referee of the electoral contest before us, it is absolutely vital that there is more than a modicum of respect towards the IEBC.

In this regard, it would be wise to ensure that only legitimate formal and informal methods of engagement are used to dialogue, converse and ventilate around the management of the next elections.

Ultimately, only one of you can emerge the winner of the 2013 elections. However, by contributing to a free, fair, credible, genuine and peaceful election, all of Kenya will have won. Now is that not something worth investing in?

Mugambi Kiai is the Kenya Program Manager at the Open Society Initiative for Eastern Africa (OSIEA). The views expressed in this article are entirely his own and do not reflect the views of OSIEA.

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