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22. November 2017 · Comments Off on POLITICS – KENYA STYLE · Categories: General · Tags: , ,

Politics is my favourite spectator sport.  I watch it with the same passion as others are entertained by football, hockey, baseball or whatever.  Since the beginning of September, I have had a ringside seat here in Kenya, as the country struggled with the selection of their president.  In Kenya, the President is the head of state, who is directly elected by the people. A president can serve a maximum of two five year terms.

On August 8, the people went to the polls and re-elected President Uruhu Kenyatta for a second term.  Almost immediately, his opponent Raila Odinga declared that the election had been “rigged”, and he launched a court case wherein he alleged that certain “irregularities and illegalities” had occurred during the election, which according to him was not conducted in keeping with the constitution.  On September 1, the Supreme Court of Kenya agreed, and in an unprecedented move declared the August 8 election to be “null and void”, and ordered a new election to be held within 60 days.

This new election was at first scheduled for October 16, and then postponed to October 26.  About 10 days before the election, Mr. Odinga pulled out of the election, and urged his followers to boycott the election.   One day before the election, Kenyans were not at all sure that they would be going to the polls.  There was a challenge in court that it should be postponed yet again on the grounds that insufficient preparations had been made, no fresh nominations had been held etc. etc.  The Supreme Court was to hear the application the day prior to the election, but they could not, because oddly, the court failed to form a quorum: only two of the six justices showed up.  The election went ahead the next day with a voter turn out of about 35%. President Kenyatta was re-elected by an overwhelming majority.

Once again, almost immediately, there were legal challenges to the validity of the election. Once again, the Supreme Court had to decide whether to uphold the election results, or to send the people to the polls for the third time.  This past Monday, November 20 they rendered their decision. This time they unanimously dismissed the challenges and declared the election results to be valid.  The President is to be sworn in for his second term on November 28, the day that I return to Canada.

Sadly, that is not the end of the story.  Opponent Odinga has stated publically that he and his followers do not recognize the President. Sound familiar?  “He’s not MY president”. Just like after Donald Trump’s election, there are demonstrations.  Only these have been violent – already two people are dead.  The defeated candidate said that he will announce next week what his next steps will be.

Of course it is impossible not to look at this through the lens of our own Canadian politics.  There are some parallels, and some sharp differences.  One parallel was stated best by the taxi driver who takes me into town and back about once a week.  He said that not only are Kenyans tired of all this electioneering, but “the people no longer believe anything that a politician says”.  Certainly that is true of many Canadians, but for very different reasons.  In Canada we are cynical about anything that politicians say because they promise us one thing while they are campaigning for office, but once in office they become intoxicated with power and ignore what they promised, and sometimes do exactly the opposite.  Here in Kenya, in many cases both sides promised exactly the same thing, and many fear that these promised will be forgotten, no matter who is in power.

In the multi-party system that we have in Canada, we are used to seeing each party put forward a platform of policies that they hope will appeal to the voters.  The reality is that voters tend decide their vote on the popularity of the party leader, and sometimes whom we vote for is determined by how much we hate another leader whom we want to throw out.

But here in Africa, and in Kenya particularly, there is a factor that is not so prevalent in Canada, and that is TRIBALISM.  Tribal politics plays a huge role.  Like the “blood is thicker than water” concept, it overrules policy, reason, and many other things.  President Kenyatta and his opponent are from very different tribes, and each tribe feels that they are better served if “their” candidate is in power.  Moreover, the fathers of both of these men were also politicians, and arch-rivals at that.  (President Kenyatta’s father was Kenya’s first President and the airport in Nairobi is named after him).

But tribalism is not the only problem.  Another one is corruption, which apparently is a way of life here. I heard it said in chapel one day that “Kenya is 80% Christian (nominally) but 90% corrupt.  I don’t know how fair that is, but I do know that corruption is present in all segments of society, including law enforcement.   A big bone of contention in the last two elections is the so-called IEBC (The “Independent Election and Boundaries Commission”) which is the Kenyan equivalent of our Elections Canada body that is responsible for carrying out, and reporting the results of the election in accordance with the country’s laws and constitution.  This body (the IEBC) has come under fire for all kinds of offenses relating to the way election materials and ballots were handled, results supposedly manipulated and many more alleged offenses.  How far that corruption really extends – the opposition claims it extends to the judiciary – is very hard to tell. Not that our Canadian elections have been 100% free of that – think “Robo-calls”.

But one thing that is very different from Canada in Kenyan elections, is the violence and bloodshed. It is one thing to express one’s views, political or otherwise.  But it is another thing to maim, vandalize, and kill because someone else thinks differently. In the 2007 presidential election, shown here in pictures, more than 1,100 people were killed after the election, and another 600,000 forced from their homes. In the 2013 election the violence began already in 2012 with 447 lives claimed in inter-communal clashes, and another 118,000 people were displaced.

the numbers are not yet in.  There have again been casualties and deaths, since before August, and it continued throughout the repeat election.  People were prevented from voting by bonfires and other obstructions blocking the way to many polling places.  Let us hope and pray that this type of electioneering does not find its way into other democratic countries.  A hallmark of democracy is that everyone has the right to his or her own opinion, and everyone has the right to peacefully express that opinion.  If you resort to violence to make your point, then your point gets lost in the process, and violence becomes the message. God help us if that is ever accepted as legitimate.

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