In December 2002, then Presidential candidate Uhuru Kenyatta found himself in the most unenviable position of having to read a concession speech after a painful electoral loss to NARC’s Mwai Kibaki.
And predictably in August 2017, Uhuru could find himself in de javu land having to read a second concession speech that would also be historical, making him Kenya’s first one term President.
Despite all the advantages of incumbency, a growing economy still being bogged down by high unemployment and shrinking purchasing power for consumers, the road to 2017 hisses with sporadic rage, anxiety and angry voters trapped in inexplicable anguish.
Despite the completion of the first phase of Jubilee’s $13bn signature project – the standard gauge rail and the last mile electricity connectivity that has seen citizens in the remotest part of Kenya connected to the national grid, Uhuru Kenyatta could be facing a hostile crowd of unimpressed voters.
And they are angry at many things. Unfulfilled elections promises, a stagnant economy and rising prices of food and fuel. Angry farmers feel they are not getting value for their cash crops and the deal breaker for many voters is the astonishing rising levels of theft of public funds.
What this scenario needs is a union of ethnic blocks - read NASA - and an insurgent candidate to inspire a crowd baying loudly “anyone but Jubilee”. A swirling mist of corruption accusations has cast an eerie pall over the Jubilee administration achievements.
Corruption has not only grown exponentially under the Jubilee administrations, but the public is growing discontent at the President’s inability to stem the tide and deal a powerful blow to rising groups of powerful cartels that have grown around the neck of the administration, much like a lion sinking its teeth into the neck of its prey after a vicious chase.
Nothing illustrates this growing power of cartels and polished kleptocrats than the agonizing pain that Mrs. Parin Kurji, her husband Nazmudin and her children had to go through on Sunday December 4th 2016 when 30 thugs armed with machetes, clubs and all manner of crude weapons descended on their Sunday morning serenity and destroyed their house that had stood since 1972.
The image of their crestfallen son, sitting on the rubble of their demolished house looking shaken is a reminder that the war on corruption has already been lost. And their house was demolished despite calling Police several times, visiting the National Land Commission (NLC) to prove ownership of their property whose lease had expired and under which several crooks had forged and obtained a new lease despite the family having preemptive rights to renew the lease.
The Nairobi County Government eventually confirmed the Kurji’s were the correct owners but by then the damage had been done. Too little too late.
But even worse, while addressing the State House summit on corruption, Uhuru effectively threw his arms in the air and confessed his utter frustrations. He had done all he could to fight corruption despite the battle being far from won, he thundered. The head of state declared his frustration in front of television cameras hissing: ”What else do you want me to do, set up a firing squad at Uhuru park?” It was an aberration.
The powerless public was effectively on their own and the President who rode on a promise to fight corruption among other promises had become a hostage of the same. How ironic.
The growing level of impunity and the daily headlines about billions lost and being weaved from the treasury, the national and county Governments and siphoned into the accounts and pockets of faceless firms and individuals has coalesced the public into anger and disappointment. And the mounting rage could be creating Kenya’s own basket of deplorables for the Jubilee administration.
Even Deputy President, William Ruto, who has several public accusations of corruption from grabbing primary school land to the loss of millions in a jet leasing scandal has not been spared. Ruto has become the accused jackal, a suspected accomplice in disrespectful acts in the eyes of the public.
It gets even worse for the JP, launched with a fanfare of trumpets and opulence in a nation mired in poverty that may signal just how out of touch the ruling coalition is with the ordinary mwananchi. Even Uhuru’s squeaky clean image may not be enough to assuage the rage of voters and salvage a sinking Jubilee boat.
Even worse, the President had no qualms visiting Kirinyaga County recently and shaking hands with former Cabinet Secretary Anne Waiguru now a “cat walking” candidate for the post of Governor. Wonders never cease.
Corruption morphes into many failures. It allows impunity to thrive and emboldens thieves, cartels and even ordinary citizens to believe they are above the law. Many grow up believing there is no law. Witness the hundreds who block roads and stone motorists protesting all manner of issues and shouting haki yetu while infringing on other citizens rights to peace and security.
Kenya’s descent into a lawless nation has been mid-wifed by an ambitious constitution enacted in 2010 that many actually believed would be the panacea to ethnicity, corruption and mediocrity in public service. It took the US 200 years to build a more perfect union. Kenya was in a hurry to get there with only 50 years of Uhuru and very little national cohesion to show for it.
Uhuru and Ruto rode on a bloody platform of the post election violence in which 1,100 Kenyans died and over 600,000 were displaced or traumatized by three weeks of a senseless orgy of violence over the disputed 2007 Presidential elections. Hypnotized voters bought the idea of an unholy alliance between the Kikuyus and the Kalenjins –both former foes in the disputed elections. The union saw a euphoric wave in uneasy Central and Rift Valley – the vortex of 2008 violence - that allowed the rhapsodized Jubilee team to squeak to the finishing line.
Uhuru and Ruto had an opportunity to ride on this crestwave after elections and ignite a movement that would imbue nationalism and love for country above ethnic chauvinism. But after winning elections and later being acquitted by the ICC, the Jubilee administration has never made a concerted effort to vanquish ethnicity and champion one united Kenya.
The opposition has smelt blood. And they are circling the wagons looking for a counterstrike that will deal one deadly blow to the Jubilee Government and sent it packing into the horizons. The parameters for victory for the opposition are all there; grand corruption, ethnic divisions and broken election promises by the ruling elite.
The macabre handling of the Kenyan athletes and theft during the Rio Olympics seemed so inept, that if the Jubilee administration had been tasked with planning explorer Vasco da Gama’s voyage to India, the Portuguese explorer would probably have ended up in the brutally cold Arctic Circle.
What’s more, the echoes of Eurobond only make things worse. The anguish of unemployed youth could be loud enough to bury the achievements of Jubilee in electricity connections, a stable economy and major reforms in the education sector. The issue of theft could form the lattices of Jubilees own story of self destruction.
Uhuru’s problem with fighting corruption has been leaving the big arrow in the quiver. The list of shame tabled so dramatically in parliament in 2015 has turned out to be nothing more than a charade and the removal of EACC commissioners and appointment of new ones was nothing more than stylized Kabuki theater or simply put, rearranging the deck chairs on the titanic. What the country so desperately needs is a ship Captain who will effectively look out for the icebergs.
The algorithm for fighting corruption is simple. Put the thieves in jail. Period.
Yet, neither is the opposition clean and has been complicit to some of the accusations of public theft. Several county Governments under the control of the opposition are under scrutiny for outright misuse and loss of billions of shillings. However, if the disparaged opposition can somehow skip a demagogue with a penchant for criticizing everything the Jubilee administration does – real or imagined - and a watermelon who operates like a rudderless wind mill with no rigidity of purpose, they might be lucky.
Then there is the candidate carrying accusations of theft regarding the purchase of a foreign embassy besides getting a regular beating from his wife. If the opposition could just find the perfect candidate to unify the country and fight corruption, they could be on to something really special.
Cord’s challenge may be Raila Odinga’s loose tongue, an abrasive nature and his acid typed response to Jubilee that only serves to summon the fears of its supporters to the polling stations. Shouting matches between Cord and Jubilee on national issues often morph into a vicious verbal fight that leaves stupefied voters wondering who will focus on their interests.
By some stroke of miracle, if the much maligned opposition can leap over the many travails, put their ego and pride aside and find an insurgent candidate who can galvanize angry Kenyans and a divided nation then the soporific Jubilee administration could find political analysts writing its obituary months before the general elections.
The anger in the countryside and in urban areas is so real about the state of national affairs and corruption that only Jubilee in its peacock style of operating imagines it cannot lose an election.
But the indolent administration continues to stroll around the country, oblivious to the public outrage and promising it will defeat whatever super alliance is formed. Nothing illustrates the apathy and voter disillusionment than what confronts Uhuru Kenyatta in his own backyard of Central Province.
This region voted to a man to put their son of the soil into State House and their expectations were enormous. The coffee industry has been in disarray despite rising international prices that do not benefit the farmer on the ground. Tea has faced logistical challenges and milk, which ironically the President’s own family has interests, remains at sub par performance fours years after Jubilee came to power.
Farmers in Rift valley feel shortchanged by the low prices offered for maize for example. But that’s a story for another day. Disillusioned voters in both provinces have become part of the tapestry of Kenya’s voter pain and apathy. It is the discontent and murmurs in Central Province especially that Uhuru should be worried about and a two day whistle stop trip to Nyeri and Murang’a – more like parachute politics - will not wipe away the tears and assuage voters who are still waiting for many elections promises that remain exactly that – promises.
Despite his failings, many of the same voters will go the polls and vote Jubilee, even if they have to hold their noses. Whether the numbers replicate 2013 in terms of turnout remain to be seen.
Then there is the youth vote that carried Jubilee into State house. The NYS scandal, the theft of funds in the Presidents own pet project created from money saved avoiding an election run off – the youth enterprise fund - and the pervasive culture of tenderpreneurs have all served to eclipse, tarnish and break the hearts of millions of unemployed youth who bought into a dream that has fizzled along Kenya’s boulevard of broken dreams.
When music artist Bahati played Uhuru during the JP launch at Kasarani, serenading the First Lady and then tricked Uhuru to stand allowing him to seat on the Presidential chair, he may inadvently have exposed Uhuru – who was dancing and clapping away as Bahati –just for a seconds enjoyed the warm of the Presidential seat.
It brought out Uhuru as a trusting individual trapped in a powerful seat that brings him grief and unhappiness.
The scion of privilege would rather be hanging out with a music group or eating nyama choma in the most unexpected of places like Kenyatta market –a life that he misses and cherishes- than solving complex and annoying national issues. Could it be that Uhuru is a reluctant President who found out just how difficult the job was and could not care less if he becomes Kenya’s first one term President?
The Jubilee Government boasted how it would grow the economy into double digits, plant a computer and later tablet into the laps of every child going to school and give the farmers value for money for their cash crops. Looking back, they have set the bar really low for themselves four years into Government and Jubilee’s long list of unfulfilled election promises lie across the parquet like autumn leaves.
The day of reckoning approaches and Uhuruto are still groping in the dark to find solutions to the most basic of problems and believing that loads of cash and launching huge projects that drive Kenya deeper into debt and eventually into the laps of the Chinese – will win them re-elections. Good luck.
Part of Uhuru’s major weakness is his short temper and quickness to make rash judgments without gathering all the facts. The most enlightened of leader will investigate, interrogate and talk – even to his enemies and then point out the solution he feels will be effective. Uhuru’s quick temper saw him malign, humiliate and admonish in public the Government’s Auditor General, the Attorney General and the Director of Public Prosecutions in the full glare of television cameras instead of accepting responsibility that his Government had failed and been slain by the demon of corruption.
Passing the buck wins you very few friends. But there is more. Uhuru has completely been surrounded by his buddies and friends who are happy to tell him only what he regales to hear – a pat on the back and what an excellent job you are doing Sir. Anything to the contrary is viewed as instant disloyalty. Within the inner circles of the Government machinery that is tightly controlled, UK rarely surrounds himself with contrarians or listens to the opposing view which can broaden his outlook on national issues. Criticism about Uhuru’s own performance is always too distilled for his taste.
Uhuru could borrow a leaf from the famous lawyer Max Ehrmann poem Desiderata whose lines include:
”Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant, they too have their story. Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit.”
Loyalty to the Jubilee Government has no reward as former Lands CS Charity Ngilu found out while wrestling land cartels in Ardhi house and then being unceremoniously charged in court with “obstructing” an EACC investigation while land thieves carted away parcels of land and have never seen the inside of a courtroom – let alone jail time. The charade over the list of shame that ended up being nothing more than a choreographed soap opera that saw the disbandment of EACC is fodder for an aspiring screenwriter eager to script another thriller about corruption. But the script would find very few excited producers in Hollywood.
Clearly, authentic and national leadership is in short supply in Kenya. Uhuru has allowed himself to be boxed into a vicious prizefight in the country’s political soufflé pitting forty tribes versus two, at least in Raila Odinga’s dangerous strategy of politics. An issue oriented campaign in 2017 seems a far cry.
Like a 10,000 meter race, the bell is ringing as the athletes take the final lap towards the finishing line. Jubilee will need a miracle and the gift of a disjointed opposition to get to the finishing line first.
But the jubilee machine continues to roll out across the land in red branded four wheel vehicles, a coterie of celebrities, roaring helicopters and lavish parties extolling imagined accomplishments and dreams to a an angry public that cant wait for the soap opera to end.
For his part, Uhuru will need to summon fresh acts from his rapidly diminishing popularity and bag of repertoire of political acts to save his own Presidency.
And when the brouhaha has died down, Uhuruto may realize that public discontent on corruption and broken promises was their waterloo. It will be akin to the Titanic, returning to view the iceberg.
By Sayila Liganga