Presidential elections are due in six African countries next year, namely Angola, Djibouti, Kenya, Mali, Somaliland and Sudan. While in some countries elections have tended to be robust affairs – to put it mildly – it is the Kenyan poll, to be held on August 9, that gives me the greatest sense of trepidation.
My uneasiness is not without foundation, if developments in Kenya’s body politic in the past one-and-half decades are anything to go by. As some would recall, the elections held in 2007 were marred by violence that claimed 1 200 lives prior to and after voting day, with an estimated 600 000 people displaced from their homes. The disturbances exploited existing tensions between the ethnic affiliations of two of the electoral protagonists – Uhuru Kenyatta’s Kikuyu group and William Ruto’s Kalenjin group. The two men would serve together from 2012, with Kenyatta as President and Ruto his number two. Both men’s roles in the 2007 mayhem resulted in their indictment at the International Criminal Court, although the cases against them were subsequently withdrawn for insufficient evidence.
The 2012 elections – which the Kenyatta-Ruto combination won – proceeded sans the level of violence witnessed in 2007. Ditto the 2017 edition, but the results were successfully challenged in court on the grounds that voting had been tainted by irregularities. Kenyatta, however, won the rerun too, giving his alliance with Ruto another five-year mandate.
Kenyatta will not be eligible for re-election next year, having been President for the maximum of two terms permitted by the Kenyan Constitution. But it became apparent some time back that Kenyatta would not support Ruto’s bid for the top job in 2022, so the latter has been in campaign mode ever since. He has been pushing what he calls the Hustler Nation narrative. Essentially, he is framing next year’s elections as a contest between ‘hustlers’ – the millions of especially young Kenyans who are struggling to make ends meet in an economy that is growing at a snail’s pace – and dynasties, a reference to wealthy families, including those that have dominated the country’s politics and economy since the early years of independence in the 1960s. Kenyatta and his new ally and erstwhile rival for the Presidency, Raila Odinga, fit this description perfectly. Both belong to the East African country’s political aristocracy, with Kenyatta’s father having been the founding President and Odinga’s the first Vice President.
I have said it before: the Hustler narrative, which is essentially a class contest, could turn out to be a dangerous game. Indeed, history is replete with examples of violence that was triggered by worsening friction between classes in a society. As someone once pointed out, the Rwandan genocide, in which about one-million mostly ethnic Tutsis perished at the hands of their Hutu compatriots, was not solely an ethnic conflict. The Tutsis, those who are familiar with the history of the Great Lakes region tell us, were favoured by colonial administrations at the expense of the Hutus and so enjoyed a superior status. This must have rankled the Hutus.
Enter Edgar Lungu. The former Zambian President, who was routed in elections in August, has been appointed leader of the African Union (AU) team that will be observing the Kenyan elections next year. Here is a man with no democratic credentials to write home about leading an election observer team! We all know how he unsuccessfully attempted to switch off social media networks so that the opposition, which his government denied access to State-owned media, could not mobilise for the election. The AU has made much of the fact that he conceded defeat without a fuss. The fellow did not have a choice. Given his record, he doesn’t deserve the honour of heading up an election observer mission.