Days of our lives: Kenya 2017 elections edition

Though we are not exactly sure what legitimacy they have to ride on, Uhuruto (that’s the coupling of Kenya’s President and Vice President, Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto) are definitely running again and want to keep it so until, at least, 2022. They are also strangely confident about their ability to keep their positions come elections on August 8th, 2017, in spite of the many scandals their government is consistently embroiled in (maybe they got the Russians on their side as well?).

We are still reeling from: the National Youth Service (NYS) scandal that is now said to amount to 1.8 billion Kenya Shillings (US$17 million); the Eurobond scandal of 2014 where the question, really, is whether the money from a commercial loan Kenya borrowed for recurrent and development expenditure was eaten before it arrived in Kenya or after; the endemic cartelization of government tenders that facilitated Uhuru’s sister and cousin’s company to be in receipt of 200 million allocated for health functions; the fraught standard gauge railway process that despite billions spent to “modernize” the railway actually looks like a dinosaur; and the fact that the usually blood sucking World Bank actually warned Kenya about its debt levels.

Unfortunately, this is just brief register of the bold face impunity that we have seen over the last four years, and that has allowed for what John Githongo — the former, frustrated government anticorruption investigator — calls the most corrupt government the country has ever seen.

But worse than all of this, in my view, is that these characters would manipulate the supply of unga (maizemeal), as part of a campaign strategy, and then play the hero by importing maize from Mexico (yes Mexico) that arrived in Kenya via ship in three days. And then amidst scheming what is effectively the systemic starvation of Kenyans the dude makes a dance video asking you to go out and vote for him?

Evidently, empathy was not part of their 2013 campaign pledges – the majority of which remained unfulfilled.

Away from Jubilee, the opposition coalition party now called the National Super Alliance -NASA (yes like the space agency), while having more than enough reason to call the government’s record into question, is also embroiled in its own fraught ethnic and leadership negotiations. Headed by Raila Odinga, the alliance appears to be just a recycling of figures who have been circumnavigating and creating political parties over the last two decades, seemingly with no real commitment to 45 million struggling Kenyans. Not to diminish the political struggles Raila suffered for in the 1980s and 1990s, but it is pretty crazy that if they win NASA will create a government that will have as part of the coalition power sharing agreement a president, vice president, premier cabinet secretary and two deputy prime ministers.

This scene is starting to look like an overburdened African bridal party. At the country-level the soap opera continues. Jubilee cancelled party primaries in all of the 21 counties it was to hold them in. No doubt drawn to the plush benefits attendant to being a politician in Kenya (even the president suggested that they should get a pay cut!), when these primaries were finally held the party had to find space for 6,568 aspirants.

Strangely, NASA had the opposite problem of much fewer aspirants and poor turnout for their primaries.

In Nairobi, one gubernatorial aspirant was detained for destroying ballot boxes and the likely next governor of the city once carted youth to the Hague just to demonstrate against the ICC.

But beyond these banana republic theatrics, as in any soap opera there are always glimmers of hope – unexpected twists. Increasingly young and committed activists are aspiring candidates for various positions, though sadly very few are women. Youth are also coming together in informal and formal ways to collectively chart their roles and desires for the nation. And infamous politicians like Kabogo (who once said that single women cause many “problems” and are unfit for public office) lost at the party primary level.

What’s more, the entrance of the Thirdway Alliance is providing another (better?) option beyond the habitual two-horse election race between Jubilee and NASA. Could it be the obligatory poor but sexy character who wins all in every soap opera?

The elections are a little more than two months away. Hopefully Kenyans on Twitter (KOT) (always quick to call out random white people on CNN who insult Kenya) will move beyond the virtual space and take part in grounded mobilizations to shape a more just and equal nation.

People are tired of the drama, and are hungry, job insecure, live under the threat of police bullets, and likely still pissed off at the doctor’s strike that the government allowed to continue for 100 days.

If this is the soap opera we are living, we hope that the entrance of a new alliance and the increasing and incremental actions to “take back Kenya” will render some unexpected and much needed twists.

Anything would be better than this Jubilee melodrama.

Wangui Kimari

Wangui Kimani is an urban ethnographer based in Nairobi, Kenya.

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