For once, Kenya’s stone throwers and tyre burners were the heroes
The parties, according to most observers, showed so much ineptitude, commentators wondered whether the lot were able to run a country. As the saying goes, after watching the primaries fiasco, one would not have hired a Kenyan party official to be his dogcatcher.
By Friday, the Kenyan shilling hit a seven-month low against the US dollar, passing Sh87 at one point. A Reuters story on the bruised shilling quoted Eric Musau, a research analyst at Standard Investment Bank, saying that among other things, investors were also unnerved after logistical confusion during the primaries.
As the mess continued, and suspicion mounted that party big wigs were trying to play tricks and impose their preferred candidates, the masses became militant. In some parts of the country, they took to burning tyres, hurling stone, blocking roads, and fighting running battles with Police.
Yet, if Africa has taught us anything over the decades, it is that not all wonderful presents come wrapped in beautiful packaging.
First, many people forgot that Martha Karua’s Narc-Kenya had held an orderly poll much earlier. We didn’t hear about them because there were no knives and guns drawn.
A comment on the Daily Nation website alleged that amidst the drama, one of the parties actually did complete 79 per cent of its nominations on Thursday; the point being that the harsh verdict that was being handed out to the parties, were based on a minority of primaries where things went wrong.
Seems strange, but without prejudice and the contempt we have for politicians, if we were dry-eyed rationalists, we would have had no choice but to give the parties a passing grade on the conduct of the primaries! Seriously, yes.
But there was something else. At a nearby polling station in my neighbourhood, the people were there, very vigilant, well past midnight on both Thursday and Friday. The queues were longer, passions run higher, and the people kept watch longer than in the December 2007 election and the August 2010 constitution referendum vote!
Kenya might have held Africa’s most chaotic primaries, but they were also its most engaged. There was more passion at the primaries than in many African elections.
During the primaries, there were many scornful remarks on social media, about the Kenyan middle classes who were following the proceedings on Twitter from the comfort of their office, and the “real people” (some called them the “riff raff”) who were out there braving the sun and cold to determine the next crop of leaders.
I would argue that the “riff raff” in this case, were the heroes. But I wouldn’t rush to diss the middle class because they were engaging in a new form of soft politics — conversational democracy.
Then, there was a second storyline — a rebellion against the autocracy of the party elders.
These rebels were fighting a new kind of battle in Kenya; for democracy in the parties. After a chain of nominations of “flag bearers” that were nothing short of coronations after the politicians cut backroom deals, it was actually refreshing to see people blocking roads with burning tyres because they were opposing attempts by the party Establishment to handpick candidates for them or to steal the vote for their favourites.
It was violent, yes, and the militants vandalised private property thus breaking the law, but we should not throw out the baby with the dirty bath water here.
The young chaps who throw stones in defence of a fair vote do more to advance democracy than those who fold their arms, go home, and cry helplessly about how Kenya is doomed, and how there are malevolent forces roaming the republic. The rebels won half a victory this time, it seems, but it was better than nothing.
The Kenya nomination chaos was widely reported in regional and international news. I suspect that in a few places in Africa, some voters took note. Somewhere in Africa elections are approaching, and voters who are fed up with their sham party primaries, are stockpiling stones and tyres. Who knows, maybe in the madness of last week, someone in Kenya let out the dogs of African democracy?
By CHARLES ONYANGO-OBBO