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Kenya’s prophets and rogues

By Parselelo Kantai in Nairobi
Posted on Friday, 15 April 2011 08:57

With the help of their prophesying spin-doctor Najib Balala, Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto have turned their ICC charges in The Hague into a positive, through a vicious anti-Raila Odinga hate campaign, writes Parselelo Kantai

When Najib Balala, who leads the coastal faction of the Orange Democratic

Movement (ODM) breakaway group, declared at a rally in Nakuru a few days

before the ‘Ocampo Six’ headed off to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague that the leaders ranged across the

raised stage at Afraha Stadium would form the next government, it was one of those

utterances that could have gone either way.

Balala, Kenya’s youngest elected mayor and now a senior cabinet minister in the

coalition government, his hair fashionably, prematurely grey, had breathed the

nascent ODM to life with similar words at a rally in 2006. Since then, he has milked

his clairvoyance for all it’s worth.

Since his prophetic 2006 declaration, he has twice made dud pronouncements,

declaring before last year’ s constitutional referendum that an anti-Raila Odinga

grouping gathered to raise money for evictees from the Mau Forest constituted the

future leadership, and then repeating the claim as yet another anti-Raila formation

needed a dose of public legitimacy.

For five hours on 11 April a convoy triumphantly ferrying William Ruto

and Uhuru Kenyatta, leading political lights of the recently returned Ocampo Six,

snaked through Nairobi’ s Eastlands district. The old colonial African quarter, half a

century later this is still a neglected, dilapidated district bubbling with angry, youthful

politics. As Eastlands fell away and the slow moving convoy became a thrombosis

on Nairobi’s main artery, choking traffic on Uhuru Highway, an even bigger crowd

awaited the returnees at Uhuru Park.

As the politicians restrained themselves from the brand of anti-Raila Odinga invective

that has become their stock in trade, allowing the evangelical preachers to perform

in their stead with telling references to shetani (the devil), it was Balala who was

prophesying again, announcing the formation of a new movement.

While the opinion polls have repeatedly nullified Ruto and Kenyatta’ s claims to a

chunk of public support – a recent Synovate poll showed that 62% of Kenyans are

in favour of the trial in The Hague and an earlier one showed that Odinga was still

the preferred presidential candidate for 30% of Kenyans, way ahead of his rivals –

the crowd at Uhuru Park on Monday was nevertheless impressive. It brought back

memories of rallies there in the heyday of Narc before they won the 2002 election,

and ODM before the disputed 2007 poll.

On those occasions, Odinga was the showstopper, the anti-establishment bugbear with

an almost mystical ability to work the masses. This time around, he was abroad, on

government business.

The Hague indictments, in which both Ruto and Kenyatta are accused of instigating

crimes against humanity in the bloody aftermath of Kenya’s botched 2007

presidential elections, were always going to produce the element of drama in the 2012

election campaigns. But it is the heated nature of the political spin-doctoring that has

been breathtaking.

That individuals accused of perpetrating war crimes, and possibly facing lengthy

sentences in a foreign jail, have now taken political centre stage would, by any

reckoning, be stranger than fiction. That they are drawing crowds and political

support from the establishment is an indication of the stakes involved. That their

focus, which some would say is breathtakingly misdirected, is one individual, is the

bitter legacy of Kenyan post-independence politics.

The country’s politics, which have always pivoted around ethnic competition, have

on several occasions identified an ethnic bugbear, personified it in an individual

and mobilised a campaign of naked hatred. In 1976, the Change the Constitution

movement sought to prevent then vice president Daniel arap Moi from succeeding

Jomo Kenyatta and thus keep power within the hands of the Kiambu Kikuyu elite.

In more recent times, similar campaigns have on different occasions targeted Raila

Odinga. Perpetrated by ethnic supremacists within President Kibaki’s coterie of

politicians and businessmen in the run-up to the 2007 election, the anti-Raila Odinga

campaign culminated in a stolen election, was matched by an equivalent anti-Kikuyu

campaign, and pushed the country to the brink of civil war.

In the current situation, Odinga is a substitute for the fear and uncertainty of a

coalition determined to defy international justice. Unlike in 2007, when the Kikuyu

establishment stood alone at the centre of power, by drawing in William Ruto and

his Kalenjin block of votes, they are a decidedly more formidable grouping. It has

not gone unnoticed that this new formation is primarily composed of the old KANU

youngbloods, the youthful politicians such as Ruto and others who cut their teeth in

the cash-soaked 1992 presidential campaign to retain KANU’s hold on power.

Kenyatta, who in the early days of his political career was regarded as the retired

President’s protégé, has made peace with his erstwhile rival Mwai Kibaki, secured

ethnic legitimacy within his native central province as Kibaki’s successor, and joined

forces with Ruto. He is at the head of a grouping that could very well make a serious

run on the presidency in next year’s elections, The Hague charges notwithstanding.

On closer examination, however, it is clear that behind the change agenda of this

new movement lies the old conservative agenda of the country’s independence ethnic

elite. Most of those who have thrown their lot in with Kenyatta and Ruto were KANU

insiders, men who rose up in the Moi patronage system. More worryingly, in the

constitution referendum campaigns last year, Kenyatta and his supporters morphed

from being lukewarm about the draft constitution to becoming ‘watermelons’ –

supporters of the draft by day, and quietly campaigning against it by night. It is

entirely possible that if they take power next year, they will reveal a similar attitude to

the new constitution.

For Prime Minister Raila Odinga, a robust response is required. But among his

number, there is at the moment a sense of confusion and panic. There is talk that

Odinga has been sorely affected by the latest hate campaign, or perhaps more

significantly by the haemorrhaging within his ODM party. That Najib Balala, once

his pointman at the Coast, has now joined those viciously campaigning against him,

is only another grim example of how fast his political cache is falling. And so the

question is: will this venomous prophecy hold true come 2012?

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