The Star (Nairobi)

2 March 2013

Kenya: March 4 Aftermaths . . .

Al Jazeera's Peter Greste, reporting from a polling station in Kisumu, says despite an "incredibly slow" ballot process, voters in Kenya's ... ( Resource: Patience Despite 'Incredibly Slow' Process in Kenya Polls

opinion

An inconclusive result in Monday's general election will certify Kenya as a country divided right down the middle. Such a divide is not necessarily a bad thing and many nations have thrived and prospered under precisely such conditions, the United States of America being one.

The opinion pollsters have assured us it will be a close race and they have never been wrong since the restoration of political pluralism in Kenya 22 years ago.

There are those who will analyse the situation and call a close Kenyan presidential poll a fiasco and merely a postponement of unfinished business and its compacting into an even more potentially explosive electoral event Kenyans have no experience of - the rerun.

Many analysts will be nervous about whatever lies ahead in a peculiarly Kenyan rerun. The investment and diplomatic sectors will be among the most nervous. The regional capitals of Kampala, Kigali, Bujumbura and Dar es Salaam are also watching keenly.

The worst of Kenya

Most nervous of all will, of course, be Kenyans themselves, millions of whom have been traumatised over the past 21 years by an electoral culture that periodically transforms an ID card and a voter's card into death warrants and eviction notices when it doesn't open them to maiming and mass rape.

It is an electoral culture that turns neighbours into murderous zombies, men and women who have never slaughtered anything but livestock and poultry suddenly and without any practice becoming killing machines, pitilessly slaying fellow human beings.

And the most frightening thing about it all is that no lawful consequences follow these periodic outbreaks of trance-like and zombie-like atrocities; Kenyan jails are full, but not of perpetrators of political violence and mayhem, categories of crime which Kenyans seem to regard as promptly forgivable.

That is the worst of Kenya.

The best of Kenya can be very good indeed, for instance the two referendums, five years apart, on the new constitution which produced complete and decisive results within 24 hours of the voting.

The only other presidential transition general election, the 2002 event that ushered in Mwai Kibaki and retired Daniel arap Moi, was also notable for being the most eminently peaceful of the multiparty era, before, during and after the vote.

Self-centred political class

The nominations and coalition formation experiences of mid-December 2012 to mid-January 2013 exposed a political class obsessed with incumbency and paying scant attention to democratic niceties and norms, despite the existence of the new constitution.

The political class cleaved to cronyism, nepotism, forgery, and all manner of intrigues that characterised the preliminaries in such a manner as to indicate that they have learned little from the deadly errors of the past.

The rerun is the real flashpoint

Because it has attracted such serious regional and international scrutiny for so many months now, and because the incumbent is not a contender, the first round of the election will in all likelihood go without a hitch, perhaps even as smoothly as the two national referenda on the constitution in 2005 and 2010.

It is the rerun that will be the event most fraught with the baggage of the past, badly frayed nerves and sky-high tensions. And all indications are that it will degenerate into a do-or-die affair.

And one thing is for sure: the outcome of the rerun will not be a close call - one side will be buried into five long years of opposition by the avalanche victory of the other side.

Return of the opposition

The 10th general election's presidential poll and its flawed and deadly aftermath, followed by international mediation and the formation of the grand coalition government, buried the opposition for a five-year period.

Whether the 11th general election presidential contest results in a first-round victory or goes into a rerun the opposition will return to Kenyan politics.

Under the new constitution it is really no bad thing to be in opposition. What's more, the return of devolution too has its compensations for a political class that is so beloved of incumbency.

The aftermath of the March 4 polls will also probably be the most massively litigious period following a general election in Kenya. The stakes of the 11th general election presidential contests have never been higher.

The main contenders - Prime Minister Raila Odinga and Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta - are the sons respectively of the first Vice President and the first President of Kenya, the Jaramogi Oginga Odinga and Jomo Kenyatta.

Their rivalry at the head of two massive vote bloc formations, the Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (Cord) and the Jubilee Coalition, comes in the 50th year of Independence.

There are many iconic factors and resonances at play in an Odinga versus Kenyatta contest for power just now. The peculiar thing is that although the office the sons are vying for has lost many of its imperial powers and devolved government will introduce many more centres of power than any of the first three presidents across the first 49 years of Independence ever contended with, it remains the most coveted political and power prize in the country.

The fourth president will still be the embodiment of national unity, Head of State and Government and retain the command-in-chief of the Defence Forces. Economic and monetary policy will also still flow from the top.

Kenyans have been promised a much smaller and primarily technocratic Cabinet than the outgoing unwieldy grand coalition council of ministers, many of whom head ministries that would be little more than mere departments if it were not for the marriage of expedience that was the National Accord agreement which created it.

However, chants of regional balance (code for a tribal carving up of the national cake) are bound to be attendant upon the formation of the new constitution's first Cabinet.

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