Ethiopia's decision to postpone its August 2020 elections indefinitely has raised political temperatures in the country, as both the government and opposition parties accuse each other of attempting a power grab.
Kenya’s prophets and rogues
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
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
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?