Opinion: Kenya needs statesmanship, not brinkmanship | Africa | DW | 18.10.2017
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Opinion: Kenya needs statesmanship, not brinkmanship

Kenya's current political crisis is a symptom of deeper ethnic divides. Now political leaders must start addressing the country's real problems, writes Jane Nyingi.

Kenya's fresh presidential poll has been thrown into disarray only a week before it was due to be held, after a senior official from the electoral commission resigned early today. In a statement, Roselyne Kwamboka Akombe highlighted some of the reasons why she could not be part of the October 26 repeat polls. 

But what caught my attention in her statement is that she capitalized the word "credible." 

"The commission in its current state can surely not guarantee a CREDIBLE election on 26 October 2017 as it is organized by a divided commission and she doesn't want to be part of that mockery."

She went on to say that what is happening at the moment is a political process that needs a political solution. She argues that a fresh election will not offer any solution because the problems are deeper than many people think. 

 Portrait of Jane Nyingi

DW's Jane Nyingi

Electoral commission chairman Wafula Chebukati has not criticized Akombe's resignation or disagreed with the issues that she pointed out. Instead, at a press conference held today by the electoral body, just hours after it emerged that Akombe had fled the country in fear for her life, he lashed out at political leaders: "I am giving a yellow card to all the political leaders in the country. As the referee, I want to issue a stern warning to the players of this game on all sides that they should stop all attempts to interfere with the process," the chairman said.

Read more: Kenya election commissioner quits ahead of repeat presidential vote

Divided country

But most Kenyans have been left wondering what will happen next. Are we going to see more resignations as the election date nears? Your guess is good as mine. 

All we all know is that we have a divided electoral body and it is very difficult to have a group of referees who cannot agree. As a Kenyan, it seems to me that in the period since the August 8 elections were nullified, this is the most polarized the country has ever been since the 2007/2008 post-election violence. Close to 1,400 people died and 600,000 others were left homeless within three months. 

The county is navigating politically unchartered waters. The Supreme Court ordered new elections to be held within 60 days after opposition leader Raila Odinga sought legal redress. The highest court of the land then nullified the election due to what it termed "irregularities and illegalities" in the voting process. 

Kenyans have been served up politics for breakfast, lunch and dinner, at the expense of several challenges facing the country. For example, there is the problem of food insecurity, where more than 2.6 million are in need of aid. As well, business has ground to a standstill because of the current political situation. The supporters of the main opposition party, National Super Alliance (NASA), have been holding daily protests in the capital, Nairobi, as well as in Mombasa and Kisumu, with demonstrators calling for electoral commission reforms. According to a recently released Human Rights Watch report, 33 people have been killed in the demonstrations so far, including children.

What the rest of the world does not know is that the country has no money, the cost of living has gone up, learning has been disrupted by the change of the school calendar, and the business fraternity is counting huge losses. 

Old battles

Kenya is currently experiencing intergenerational fights between the Odinga and Kenyatta families that go way back. Jomo Kenyatta was the first president of Kenya and Jaramogi Oginga Odinga was his vice president after the country's independence in 1963. The two later parted ways due to their different ideologies: Kenyatta senior was a capitalist, while Odinga senior was a socialist. Kenyatta, as president, emerged as the winner and Odinga senior was forced to lead the opposition for three decades, dying without ever having the opportunity to rule the country. 

Now history is repeating itself. This is the fourth and the last chance for Raila Odinga to become president. It is also the last chance for President Uhuru Kenyatta, as the Kenyan constitution only allows two five-year terms. Sadly, what we have been seeing from both leaders throughout their campaigns is ethnic polarization to ensure they garner enough support.

Kenyatta belongs to the Kikuyu ethnic group, which is the largest in Kenya. Odinga's Luo ethnic group is the fourth-largest in the country. It's been the norm that every political decision is based on ethnic arithmetic. The fact is that Kenya is divided along ethnic lines, and we have not been able to solve this problem even 50 years after achieving independence from Britain.

Odinga has already declared he will not participate in the fresh elections on October 26. President Kenyatta says the date will not be changed. The electoral body has also announced that it's all systems go. 

Read more: Odinga: 'My withdrawal not to blame for confusion'

But what will happen after the elections? We will still have a nation divided along ethnic lines. Going by the number of votes that Kenyatta garnered in the nullified election, he will have 8.2 million people to govern and 6.7 million who voted for Odinga. Try to convince them to believe him when he talks about nation building. 

Both Kenyatta and Odinga must address the current stalemate for the sake of the country. The current political crisis calls for statesmanship, not the brinkmanship that we have been witnessing from the two 'rivals.' 

Kenya might have 45 tribes, but the harsh reality is that the real divide is between the rich and the poor. We all face similar challenges irrespective of our ethnic and political affiliations. So let's be wise.

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