Familiar election run up in Kenya will keep young voters away

Current Affairs

Familiar election run up in Kenya will keep young voters away

With only months to go before the next general elections, a familiar contest is in the offing. Featuring incumbent Uhuru Kenyatta, probably pitted against perennial rival, Raila Odinga, for Kenyan voters, it will be a case of political déjà vu. Which may be why millions of young voters are staying away. By Frankline Sunday in Nairobi.

In the last election, the key phrase was “tyranny of numbers”, referring to the vote-gathering merger by two leading parties in the contest – The National Alliance (TNA) and the United Republican Party (URP) – that created the Jubilee coalition.

Indicted for crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court – the cases were subsequently terminated – the two coalition leaders, Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto, turned their cases at the ICC into a Western grievance card against their ethnic communities, which they used to consolidate their support bases in their respective Central Kenya and Rift Valley regions.

As a result, Uhuru Kenyatta was declared victor in the first round of the 2013 elections, crossing the 50%-plus-1 threshold. The opposition Coalition for Reform and Democracy (CORD) and civil society groups unsuccessfully contested the results in the country’s first Supreme Court election petition.

For several days the country watched as evidence was presented to the court of inconsistent vote tallies and errors in the use of the country’s brand new multi-million dollar electronic election systems. In the end, the seven-member Supreme Court gave a unanimous verdict upholding Kenyatta’s election victory.

With barely five months to the next election, the phrase currently in vogue in the national discourse is “voter apathy”, coined after the poor turnout witnessed during mass voter-registration exercises in January and February.

The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) had expected to register six million new voters. By the time the registration exercise closed in mid- February, only 2.6 million people had been registered.

That many Kenyan voters are disillusioned with the electoral system is not a new phenomenon. Except for the 24-year extended
interruption that was Daniel arap Moi’s stay in office, Kenya’s politics has been a Mexican soap opera featuring the two premier independence dynasties, the Kenyattas and the Odingas.

Once comrades in the clamour for Kenya’s independence, the two patriarchs, Jomo Kenyatta and Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, fell out in a full-blown ideological quarrel in which the pro-Western Kenyatta consolidated his position by detaining the socialist Oginga, permanently consigning him to opposition politics. Three decades later their sons, Uhuru Muigai and Raila Amollo faced off in the elections of 2002.

Raila Amollo, having inherited his father’s mantle as the hero of opposition politics, successfully united the opposition to prevent Uhuru Muigai from succeeding his political godfather, Daniel arap Moi. The victor in that contest was Emilio Mwai Kibaki, the man credited with giving the infant Muigai the name “Uhuru”.

Raila Amollo, citing betrayal of a pre-election pact, fell out with Emilio Mwai Kibaki, eventually taking him on at the next showdown in 2007, a bitterly disputed contest that led to a bloody feud which eventually produced an uneasy settlement – a power-sharing deal in which Kibaki retained the presidency and Odinga became prime minister. Finally in 2013, Uhuru Kenyatta, the perceived victim of the 2007 peace deal, who according to his supporters had been sacrificed at the ICC, emerged victorious at an electoral showdown that ended in the anti-climactic courtroom drama.


By the convoluted logic of Mexican soaps, a final act is in the offing. About six million Kenyans will be voting for the first time in this year’s general elections. These are young people who grew up immersed in Kenya’s digital revolution. They have little allegiance to dynastic politics.

This is the demographic the IEBC and politicians are targeting and the contemporary “voter apathy” is rather a vote of no confidence in the available options for candidates to the country’s high office.

However, the IEBC has been accused of colluding with the administration to rig August’s election. Thousands of Kenyans have reportedly found other names listed under their identity card numbers.

In addition to this, Ugandan police allegedly arrested the bodyguard of a Kenyan MP in January this year after the two were found recruiting voters in Uganda near the border.

The heat was also on the IEBC when a court annulled the contract for the printing and supply of ballot papers that had been awarded to UAE’s Al Ghurair Printing and Publishing Company.

This has forced the electoral commission back to the drawing board, with a deadline of just under five months to deliver the new ballot papers and a credible election.

One of the administration’s first undertakings upon assuming office was to float a $2 billion sovereign bond, ostensibly to raise capital for
infrastructure projects. Massively oversubscribed, the Eurobond eventually yielded $2.8 billion.

The country’s auditor-general Edward Ouko last year revealed that some money could not be traced despite the Treasury’s insistence that the funds had been allocated to ministries. The auditor-general has extended his investigations into the Eurobond money trail to London, New York and the UAE and is finalising a report. Publishing the report is however proving to be a challenge for the auditor-general. He has already survived plots to remove him from office.

Several scandals have been unearthed in the past four years in the Jubilee administration, notably a procurement scam in the National Youth Service that led to the resignation of the cabinet secretary, and more recently, a scandal in the health ministry where officials are being investigated over reports of looting Ksh 5 billion (US $50 million).

The Jubilee regime’s response to mounting criticism about corruption has often been wanting and served to fuel discontent.

In the meantime, the country’s economy is creaking under the strain of a bulging fiscal deficit. In the last five years, public debt has doubled to Sh3.6 trillion (US $36 billion) and China now owns 56 per cent of this debt.

All this has left Kenyans drained and disillusioned. The country’s opposition has vowed to unite and produce one presidential candidate to challenge President Uhuru Kenyatta’s second bid.

Currently, several political parties including Raila Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement, ex-VP Musalia Mudavadi’s Amani National Congress, ex-VP Stephen Kalonzo Musyoka’s Wiper and ex-Foreign Minister Moses Wetang’ula’s Ford-Kenya are engaged in intense horse-trading to settle on one presidential candidate.

With the high stakes involved and the experience of past coalitions, the deliberations are proving complex and the parties’ self-imposed deadline to reveal a candidate by last month was not met. Many expect former PM Raila Odinga to be the flag-bearer. If so, it
would be Odinga’s fourth attempt at the presidency and repeat the scenario five years ago.

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