As I watch the unfolding political drama surrounding the just concluded 2013 Elections from here in the US, I realize that Kenya, like America, is becoming a nation divided between “old thinking” and “forward thinking” and not in the way presented by Jubilee’s Uhuru Kenyatta. Mr. Kenyatta, the poster-child for Kenya’s entrenched establishment courtesy of his stock as son of the country’s first president and wealthiest family famously urged Raila Odinga, a key player in Kenya’s fight for reforming the very entrenched interests Uhuru and the Kenyatta family embodies, to step down and let the younger generation i.e. Uhuru and Ruto implement said reforms! It should be noted that Raila’s pedigree is nothing to sneeze at. His father Jaramogi Oginga Odinga was Kenya’s first vice-president, the country’s first true opposition leader and Uhuru’s father’s nemesis!
The “old thinking”/“forward thinking” divide refers to the tried and true politics of “divide-and-conquer” first originated by the British colonialists. The same “divide-and-conquer” meme, also known as tribalism was then perfected by Mzee Jomo Kenyatta during his presidency and re-loaded in its full glory during Daniel Arap Moi’s quarter century reign. I would argue that tribalism as a way to govern was quasi-mothballed by Mwai Kibaki, especially going into his first presidential term in 2002 when the slogan “Kibaki Tosha” was all the rage and a nod towards a broader base of progressive-thinking Kenyans who came together under the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) banner to face Kenya African National Union (KANU) headed by none other than Uhuru Kenyatta, the centerpiece of “old thinking” President Moi’s “Uhuru Project”! Unfortunately, the politics of tribe reared its ugly head again in 2007; this time with fury and vengeance not previously seen in the country as neighbors turned on one another. The post-election violence (PEV) of 2007 was caused when the “old thinking” sought to manipulate the election results in their favor and in so doing, miscalculated the public’s reaction and resolve. Finally, the “old thinking” that sought to divide-and-conquer Kenyans along tribal lines was revved up and executed to near-perfection by Jubilee’s Uhuru/Ruto during the 2013 race!
At the end of the day, democratic politics is about the hard numbers and hats off to Jubilee for realizing that and ruthlessly capitalizing on it but at what price?
At a very tertiary level, I would say that the current socio-political dynamics between the top two political parties of the country of my birth Kenya mirrors the socio-political dynamics between the top two political parties of my adopted country America. I would argue that Coalition Of Reform and Democracy (CORD) is to Kenya’s political landscape what the Democratic Party is to American politics. Similarly, Kenya’s Jubilee Coalition is the equivalent of America’s Grand Old Party (GOP) also known as the Republican Party. CORD’s Raila Odinga may be chronologically older than Jubilee’s Uhuru Kenyatta but the socio-political history and perspectives offered and practiced by the two candidates is completely reversed with the latter not only offering a campaign strategy that mirrored the divide-and-conquer/tribal-based agenda of yesteryears, but rhetoric that sounded eerily like that of his late father Mzee Jomo Kenyatta replete with “warnings to political opponents”, the occasional use of coded language (via use of tribal dialect) at rallies and the myriad “blessings” in church! Conversely, Raila offered a campaign strategy that sought to and succeeded in bringing together a broader cross-section of Kenyans only to be done in by the “tyranny of numbers” and possible skullduggery the “old thinking” has mastered!
Here stateside, the Republican Party successfully run the same “old thinking” playbook against the Democratic Party for several years. Candidates from Richard Nixon in the 1960s to Ronald Reagan in the 1980s and most recently George W. Bush, especially during the GOP Primaries in 2000 flawlessly executed the “Southern Strategy” by exploiting the racist and xenophobic instincts of white Americans in southern states such as Georgia, Texas, Alabama, Mississippi, Kentucky etc. By accentuating the racist and bigoted views white voters had of non-whites, the GOP religiously won these southern states and patched together enough votes in the “battleground states” of Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, Colorado, Minnesota, Ohio, Illinois, Pennsylvania to win the White House 7 times from the late 1960s through the 1980s and again in 2000 and 2004. The potency of racism and bigotry in the political calculus of the southern states is illustrated by a quote attributed to Lyndon Johnson, the Democratic President from 1964-1968. President Johnson famously said that “the Democrats just delivered the South to the Republican party for a long time to come” shortly after signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (CRA) that outlawed discrimination against African-Americans and women, including all forms of segregation. The Act terminated unequal application in regards to voter registration requirements and all forms of racial segregation in schools, in the workplace and by facilities that offered services to the general public. In short, the CRA opened up the socio-political process, previously denied to women and African-Americans!
In 2008, a “forward thinking” presidential candidate, one Barack Hussein Obama, building on his famous keynote “One America” speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention in Boston, called out the cynicism and division embodied in the “Southern Strategy” for what it was: A racist, xenophobic and crass political tactic that played to the negative stereotypes Americans had of one another. By challenging Americans to look beyond race, gender, cultural and economic differences, then-Senator Obama swept to victory, first in the 2008 Democratic Party primaries against Hillary R. Clinton – until then the prohibitive favorite and establishment pick with privileged upbringing. Obama than walloped an “old thinking” son-of-privilege Vietnam Vet and GOP candidate Sen. John McCain in the presidential race. In 2012 he defeated yet another “old thinking” and son-of-privilege Mitt Romney. The Republican Party is currently going through some soul-searching as it asks the question: What went wrong , especially in the 2012 Presidential Election when it was cocksure that the faltering US economy and the oftentimes racist and xenophobic tone of its campaign/candidates would send the Kenyan-born Muslim and Wuod K’Ogelo” from the White House back to – K’Ogelo?
The long and short of President Obama’s candidacy and victories is this: He cobbled together disparate groups – women, minorities (Blacks, Latinos, Asians), young and old educated ergo open-minded Whites – previously marginalized, demonized, caricatured and/or taken for granted into a Democratic Party whose main message was simple but universal:
We are in this together.
The polling numbers from Kenya’s 2013 Elections between Jubilee and CORD tell a story that mirrors the divide between America’s two main political parties: GOP and Democratic Party. The numbers, taken from IEBC’s website and analyzed in a previous post on this site, reveal the following:
1. Kenya’s 2013 vote map looks like America’s 2012 vote map albeit along tribal/regional lines with Mandera in Kenya’s north-east mimicking Alaska in America’s north-west as a Jubilee enclave in the CORD dominated Eastern/Coastal region of Kenya, to wit, Jubilee’s appeal among voters was concentrated in the central region of the country. CORD’s appeal was more spread out – http://geocurrents.info/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/Kenya-2013-Election-Map.png.
2. Jubilee got almost 60% of its votes from one region – Central. CORD got just over 50% of its votes from four regions – Eastern, Nairobi, Nyanza and Western.
3. Of the 291 constituencies that voted, 157 (54%) voted for CORD vs. 134 (46%) for Jubilee. Note: The 291 includes votes from the Diaspora who voted 52.5% vs. 41% in favor of CORD.
4. CORD won eight of the ten most populous cities/towns in the country (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kenya), by a margin of 2,079,331 (59.6%) vs. 1,408,961 (40.4%). The figures include figures from the constituencies proximal to the city/town. Trans Nzoia figures were used for Kitale.
a. Nairobi, arguably the most “diverse” population center voted in favor of CORD: 691,156 (49.4%) vs. 659,490 (47.2%).
b. Mombasa County, another “diverse” population center voted 70.5% vs. 24.1% in favor of CORD.
These foregoing figures tell a compelling story about Kenya and Kenyans. They also tell a story about the two campaigns. One campaign ran a race based on pure unadulterated tribal arithmetic; the Kenyan version of the “Southern Strategy”. Jubilee knew that with the two most populous tribes in the country – Kikuyu and Kalenjin – forming its core constituents, they had the numbers just as the Republican Party of yesteryears knew it did because the most populous (white demographic) formed its core constituent. Jubilee played that hand to the hilt, throwing in demonization of the very (ICC) process its vice-presidential candidate, Mr. Ruto, voiced full-throated support of for good measure! Politics is indeed the art of the possible; it is also a contact sport! The Uhuru/Ruto rallies took on a John McCain/Sarah Palin or Mitt Romney/Paul Ryan vibe as the two crimes-against-humanity suspects successfully characterized the charges facing them as charges brought on by “them”, by “foreigners” including Raila Odinga against “us” i.e. the Kikuyu and Kalenjin communities even though the summons from the International Criminal Court (ICC) clearly and succinctly identified each suspect by name: Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta and William Kipchirchir Samoei Ruto not by tribe or community! Think Sarah Palin blaming Obama for endangering America by “palling around with terrorists” or John Sununu attributing the moribund US economy to Obama’s “laziness” and the fact that he does not know how to “be an American”.
CORD on the other hand sought to make their failed 2013 campaign a choice between the entrenched establishment and the progressives in the country who want power and resources distributed equally throughout the country – devolution. As illustrated by the numbers, the CORD coalition, like the “forward thinking” Obama/Biden ticket of 2012 sought and garnered support across communities large and small. Unlike the Romney/Ryan rallies whose images consisted of faces that all looked alike, the Obama/Biden ticket was a collage of Americans; indeed colorful and beautiful!
At the end though, democratic politics is about the number of votes received and Jubilee received enough votes to be declared the victor, this time. As was the case with Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and Bush pere et fils, the “Southern Strategy” worked for the GOP in the short term. The strategy also alienated the patchwork of groups that form the American quilt: Women, minorities (Blacks, Latinos, Asians), young and old educated ergo open-minded Whites thereby setting the stage for Obama’s victories in 2008 and 2012. The racially-tinged tone of the GOP message finally caught up with the party and has put it on life-support unless it can re-brand itself into a “forward thinking” and inclusive party able to share power WITH all groups!
The clock is ticking for Kenya’s Republican Party – Jubilee.
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