How Raila May Lock Uhuru Into Just One Term


FOR the past two decades that Kenya has enjoyed genuinely competitive politics, all considerations of how to win a presidential election have revolved around five tribal groups.

This is a refreshing departure from the old days of the imperial Presidency, the one-party state, and only one set of presidential candidacy documents, guarded like the deepest state secret and retained entirely by the Presidency.

The Big Five vote bloc ethnic groups are, first and foremost, the Gema community (consisting of the Gikuyu, the Embu and the Meru tribes); then the Luhyia; the Kalenjin; the Luo; and the Akamba.

From a careful computation of how these five tribes were likely to vote, you could come to a pretty clear idea of how many votes each candidate would get.

Fear of Kikuyu-Luo domination 50 years ago

One of the ironies of Kenyan politics is that at independence, the Kikuyus and the Luos – who back then worked very closely together in all things political – were considered to be “the two big tribes”. And the other tribes, considering themselves to be “small tribes”, likely to be dominated by the Kikuyu-Luo monolith, did their best to prevent the political ascendency of these two “big tribes”.

Among other factors, this included pleading with the White settler community and the British colonial government not to put all power in Kikuyu-Luo hands as the sun set on the British Empire.

Now, of course, while the ‘Gema community’ remains by far the biggest vote bloc, it is generally assumed that the voting power of the other three tribes that really matter in politics is not, per bloc, that different, and indeed they are interchangeable as potential sources of political support.

So, broadly speaking, a Kikuyu Presidential candidate needs at least two of these groups on his side, to secure victory. Or, as appeared to be the case in 2013, just one of them, provided this Kikuyu candidate picks up votes here and there from some of the very small tribes, and also has his own supporters registered to vote, up to the very last 18-year-old just out of school.

Well, in Kenyan Presidential poll politics, the same formula rarely works twice. And there have been loud declarations from the opposition Cord alliance to the effect that they will not be caught napping a second time. To the extent that it is argued they lost the last election at the voter registration exercise stage, long before Election Day proper, they base their calculations on three factors:

First, that insofar as there has been no real shift in political allegiances since the 2013 elections, it is they who actually have the greater numbers if all their supporters register to the very last teenager, and then actually turn out and vote.

Second, that by 2017, they will have registered all these voters, no matter what.

And third, that when you have the Akamba, the Luo, the Luhyia, the Kisii and the Coast in one political alliance, and with all potential voters registered, it hardly matters who the ruling Jubilee coalition may have on its side.

The next ‘tyranny of numbers’ – facts and figures

Kenya’s population can be roughly broken down as follows: Kikuyu 22 per cent, Luhya 14, Kalenjin 13, Luo 12, Kamba 11, Kisii seven, Meru 6, other African tribes 14 and non-African one per cent.

Now the interesting part of all this is that, of those ‘other African communities’ which make up 14 per cent of our population, roughly 10 per cent of these people are to be found at the Coast, with only 4 per cent in total accounting for the Embu, Maasai, Samburu, Somali, and so on.

Previously the Coast did not vote as a bloc in Presidential elections. But in 2013, the Coast voters all came out for Cord’s Raila Odinga. So, again, given Cord’s operational assumptions (that is that the two key vote blocs will remain intact; and all who can vote will be registered on both sides) we find that Cord goes into the 2017 election with about 54 per cent of the total vote locked up (Luhya, Luo, Kamba, Kisii and Coast). And Jubilee with a guarantee of only 41 per cent, or thereabouts, to start off with (Kikuyu, Meru, Kalenjin, and Embu); and a swing vote of maybe five per cent).

Of course, the Cord alliance has Jubilee to thank for this. When the Jubilee partisans keep boasting about how they intend to have the Presidency locked up for the next 20 years, alternating between Kikuyu and Kalenjin Presidents, how can they reasonably expect that there will be any major defections to their side?

The Jubilee partisans are being incredibly naïve with their ‘tyranny of numbers’ triumphalism, which was in all likelihood just a one-off, one pony trick fast one that was 100 per cent dependent on the element of surprise.

Why it’s prudent to keep Presidential dreams alive everywhere

The real trick about continuing to win the Presidency is not to make more than half of the electorate give up hope of ever seeing their preferred candidate rise to the top in their lifetimes. When you tell a 40-year-old non-Mt Kenya and non-Rift Valley voter that Jubilee has laid unassailable plans to win four successive Presidential elections, you are effectively telling them they will never see a President or Deputy President from their regions.

The rest of the country will not just wilt and melt away, giving up on Kikuyu-Kalenjin hegemony. They will counter-strategise. And their counter-strategy will almost certainly include a periodic nod and a wink at the Kalenjin, urging the Valley to become the vote bloc that shut out the Mountain, and promising them political heaven on earth in return.

Raila will almost certainly seek to use Jubilee’s own tyranny of numbers to lock President Kenyatta into just one term at State House. The opposition has the numbers, it only lacks the passion and the discipline to make them count.

The President and Deputy President have all the advantages of incumbency and then some. But they have two serious drawbacks – they have absolutely lost the element of surprise, and they will have a track record in power, the first term, to be judged against.

Coming Soon: The mother of all counter-Kikuyu campaigns

Raila will launch his biggest counter-Kikuyu-factor challenge yet (although he would be the first to deny that it is in fact an anti-Kikuyu strategy). For one thing, he will willy-nilly lump the Mwai Kibaki Presidency of 2002-2013 with Uhuru’s first term of 2013-17 and dramatically construe a 15-year-long Kikuyu “seamless” occupancy of State House. And then he will seek to call time up on it.

A lot of potent factors will be thrown together, spiced and stirred vigorously for the 2017 campaign. The ingredients are highly volatile and include elements of victim and grievance politics, grudge and pure jealousy, ethnic rivalry and hate, as well as historical injustices and long-range entitlement.

The 2017 Presidential election campaign promises to be the Mother of All Electoral Battles in the multiparty era in Kenya.


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