Saturday, 9 March 2013

Why the tribe is still king in Kenya’s power politics

Posted  Saturday, March 9  2013 at  18:21

Winston Churchill, the English statesman, once said that “democracy is the worst system of government, except for all the others.”
He also said that “the best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.” Nothing bears the English nobleman’s quips more than the results of Kenya’s March 4 elections.
The electorate has spoken and the verdict is stunning. How, and why, did Jubilee flagbearer Uhuru Kenyatta improbably snag the presidency in the first round?
Were all the polls wrong? Did their “truth-meters” get duped by the voters? Mr Kenyatta’s win wasn’t even within the margin of error of the polls. What went wrong?
The riddle of the election was hidden in plain sight. We have often said that Kenya votes along ethnic lines. To paraphrase, “it’s the tribe, stupid.” No one needs to look further beyond this simple logic.
It’s true there are reasons embedded within the tribe, but it explains everything else. Key political strategists knew that the one who cobbled together the largest number of “tribal votes” would carry the day. Forget the “issues.”
The “issues” were subsumed in the tribe. The two main coalitions understood this cruel logic. But Mr Kenyatta’s strategists outsmarted the others.
He caught Prime Minister Raila Odinga, his key opponent, flat-footed. Let me tell you how he out-flagged Mr Odinga’s Cord.
By necessity, Mr Kenyatta was joined at the hip with his running mate, Mr William Ruto, by the charges of crimes against humanity at The Hague.
He knew that he had only one Siamese twin — Mr Ruto. He believed that he would swim — or sink — with Mr Ruto. At first, it was a strategy driven by desperation.
That’s because a drowning man will clutch at a reed to try and save himself. Misery loves company. Mr Ruto willingly agreed to be Mr Kenyatta’s bride.
This despite the fact that the two are accused at the International Criminal Court (ICC) of masterminding the killing of each other’s folks after the last election. It was an unlikely marriage, but one that would deliver them the keys to State House.
Mr Kenyatta faced a tough choice. He couldn’t have his cake and eat it. To beat Mr Odinga, he needed sure numbers.
The numbers he craved the most were Mr Ruto’s. Why — because they are large, and he believed Mr Ruto commanded every last one of them.
He believed Mr Ruto could deliver the Kalenjin. Then he looked around to pad the numbers without alienating Mr Ruto. He would have liked the Kamba vote, but the price was impossible.
VP Kalonzo Musyoka was unlikely to subordinate himself to Mr Kenyatta. He had refused to do so in 2002, and wouldn’t do it this time round. Mr Musyoka’s entry would only have upset the alliance with Mr Ruto.
That’s why Mr Musyoka ran to Mr Odinga. There was no room for him under Mr Kenyatta’s tent. Besides, Mr Kenyatta believed that Mr Musyoka’s hold on the Kamba vote was tenuous. That’s because Narc leader Charity Ngilu was a thorn in his side. And the Kalenjin vote was slightly more populous than the Kamba.
Then Mr Kenyatta toyed with the idea of the Luhya vote. He knew that UDF’s Musalia Mudavadi was complicated. State House mandarins were believed to favour him over Mr Kenyatta.

The word was that President Mwai Kibaki’s men thought Mr Kenyatta was a risk because of the ICC, and the sensitive issue of one Kikuyu succeeding another at State House.
This explains why Mr Kenyatta first flirted with Justice minister Eugene Wamalwa. The Luhya are a complex bunch and don’t have a single commanding leader.
Neither Mr Mudavadi nor Mr Wamalwa has command of the Luhya vote. Ford-Kenya leader Moses Wetang’ula doesn’t either.
It’s a fractious group. That’s why the Luhya weren’t really a serious cog in Mr Kenyatta’s plans. I believe he wanted to scatter the Luhya to the four winds and keep them out of Mr Odinga’s grasp. He dangled a carrot before Mr Wamalwa and then dropped him.
He then toyed with Mr Mudavadi by promising, and then reneging, on making him the Jubilee flag-bearer. Mr Mudavadi was left hanging, unable to join Mr Odinga.
This is how Mr Kenyatta’s strategy worked to perfection. He had split the Luhya to Mr Odinga’s disadvantage and forced Mr Musyoka to join Mr Odinga.
Neutralising the Luhya was key. Of the two coalitions, Mr Kenyatta’s Jubilee held the upper hand. He had the Kikuyu and the Kalenjin — the largest and the third largest groups — under his wing. Mr Odinga had the Luo and the Kamba — the fourth and fifth largest groups — with him.
Herein lay Mr Kenyatta’s structural advantage. Mr Kenyatta figured he would at least force a run-off with Mr Odinga, or even win it in the first round. But the Luhya remained a wild card. They could have swung the election to Cord.
Mr Kenyatta’s math wouldn’t have worked without voter registration and voter turnout. That’s the only way he gets 50 per cent plus one. I know serious questions have been raised about the integrity and the credibility of the elections.
The key questions are whether the rolls of voters were compromised, and whether the tallying of the votes is incredible.
The courts are open for business, and I am sure Cord will lodge challenges against the IEBC. The only way Jubilee would get a clean win in the first round was by over-registering Cord and turning out every voter.
But Cord would have had to “cooperate” by under-registering, and failing to whip its voters on election day.
Makau Mutua is Dean and SUNY Distinguished Professor at SUNY Buffalo Law School and Chair of KHRC.
Twitter @makaumutua

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