So Kenya voted on Tuesday, and beyond the winners and losers, we learnt many things, including these 10:
1. Kenya is now truly a two-party/coalition country. After the 1990s when more than two candidates could be significant players in elections, since 2002 two leading parties or alliances presidential candidates have locked out the rest. This is no country for third, fourth, or fifth presidential candidates.
2. Following in the footsteps of Ghana last December, we have learnt yet again that it is possible to have a heated campaign and a close-fought election in Africa without blocking the internet. Most of last year and 2015 hardly, it looked like blocking the internet during an election was becoming the norm on the continent (this is being written before all the votes have been counted, so a caveat is necessary).
3. The houses of Kenyatta and Odinga have an enduring political brand value.
The main combatants, President Uhuru Kenyatta and Nasa flagbearer Raila Odinga, are sons of Kenya’s first independence president, and Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, Kenya’s first Vice-President, and later trenchant and longtime opposition leader, respectively. One has to go to Botswana, where President Ian Khama, is the son of the country’s founding father Sir Seretse Khama.
We encounter the same kind of dynastic durability, unaided by military or authoritarian rule, in the island state of Mauritius.
4. The presidential campaign poster maybe falling out of fashion: One could not help but be struck by how few presidential billboards were up, compared to the feast of 2007 and 2013. It seems that “visual space” has been taken over by governors, MPs, and MCAs.
5. When Kenya sneezes, not all of East Africa catches a cold anymore. In the disruption that followed Kenya’s 2008 post-election violence, the hinterland economies – Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, and even parts of Tanzania – were hit hard. This time, for example, Rwanda said it was not losing sleep over any fallout from the Kenya election because now nearly 80 per cent of its goods pass through the Dar es Salaam port.
6. It’s still a hard political road for women: Someone totted up the number of women who ran in this election. The picture is not pretty. There was no female presidential candidate this time. Nine women ran for county governor in a field of 201 men. Twenty sought to be senator, against 236 men. One hundred and thirty one bid for the National Assembly, against 1,762 men. And for the county assembly (MCA), there were 899 against 10,958 blokes. When the counting is done, women’s prospects will look even dimmer.
7. It might not seem like it, but Kenyan politics is getting to be predictable. It was Uhuru Kenyatta-William Ruto in 2013 and against Uhuru-Ruto vs Raila-Kalonzo in 2017 as the frontrunners.
You can put your money on the big names on the top tickets in 2022 – Ruto will be there, so will Kalonzo.
It’s debatable whether that is a good or bad thing. Some have argued that it is a sign of growing predictability, which is good. Others hold that it is boring, and indicates that a few vested interests and a harmful ethnic logic has taken a grip on Kenyan politics.
8. Kenya’s campaign season is simply too long and is not good for the country. Like the US, Kenya seems to have got into the tradition where the next campaign begins immediately after the last one. Uhuru and Raila were sparring right from 2013, and the only thing that changed in the last few months was the intensity of their campaigns. The problem with this is that long campaigns offer greater opportunities to injure and hurt rivals feelings, and leaves you with no period to bandage political wounds and heal.
9. The most thankless job in Kenya is a top position in the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC). It is possibly how Hell looks like.
10. In still very sexist times, the late 17th and early 18th century English author William Congreve gave us the expression “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned”.
I think the time has come to change it to “Hell has no fury like Kenyans on social media scorned”.
To borrow from the lyrics of American alternative rock band, they will “…suck you up and spit you out.
“You ain’t gonna have a pot to piss in”.