The Kenyan story is one that is still being written. And while we are getting closer to the Election Day, there has never been more reason to write it well. This is especially true with the presence of the European Union Delegation to Kenya. On the 8th of August and the days that follow, Kenyans will be adding another chapter worth review.
The EU delegation is a welcome addition to the process, giving us a certainty that international bodies support the growth of our country. According to their website they represent the EU in Kenya. ‘They monitor the political, economic and commercial situation in the country and the region; they oversee the various forms of cooperation between the EU and Kenya, and they provide information about the EU’s relations with Kenya.’ On top of these is their peace keeping initiative in the country that welcomes fellow Kenyans to be a part of. They deployed the European Union Election Observation Mission on the 27th of June. It is a 30 member team that headed out to 13 locations around the country for long-term monitoring of the election process.
Around the same time they met with President Uhuru Kenyatta at State House where he assured them that the election was going to be free and fair. He further confirmed that an election is part of the constitutional rights of Kenyan citizens and is meant to be protected by the government. Needless to say, as a country, Kenya is sitting on a pretty modern constitution adequately geared to the preservation and protection of citizen rights. But that is not to say that enough is being done. Even with the presence of the delegation, it does not ensure peace without the efforts of all Kenyans. Our new chapter is in our hands; as they were also not so long ago.
Elections in Kenya have always had an air of tension, with the previous 2013 election being no different. The Commonwealth Observe Group released a study on Kenyan general elections on 4th March 2013, in their section Political Background, which helps understand why. It points to the 2013 election as the tenth general election Kenyans have faced since independence. And with such a good number of elections under our belt, why is there still such uncertainty? Most historians prefer to start at the beginning and that is the reason why this study is very valuable.
The summary points to the fact that, of all our elections, very few of them have truly been Kenyan. The very first election was held in May of 1963, under British rule, to choose a leader who would usher us into independence. The Kenya African National Union led by Jomo Kenyatta won making him the very first president. What followed is a push of an election from 1968 to 1969. It was held on a single-party basis because the Kenya People Union, formed in 1966, had been banned. Without delving into myths and hidden histories, this period of Kenyan election-count took away all power from the people and instead aligned it with the ruling powers. Kenya became a de facto one-party state. Jomo Kenyatta was then re-elected, unopposed, for 1969 and 1974. He died in office in 1978 and was succeeded by Daniel Arap Moi who was named president after an unopposed 1979 election.
This was followed by yet another period of elections when the people had no say. Kenya was declared a de jure one party state by the National Assembly in 1982. Therefore Daniel Arap Moi ran unopposed in the 1983 and 1988 general elections. Calculated it shows clearly that six of the ten general elections committed under Kenyan experience, have not been in the hands of Kenyans. Whether or not the ruling power was preferred by the country, like many other countries across Africa and other parts of the world, Kenya was not an outright democracy. After this period, local and international pressures sought to change things. In 1991 KANU held a special conference where they agreed to introduce a multi-party political system. And like a breaking dam it began a second period in Kenyan election history.
In the 1992 general election, a total of 8 legally registered political parties run for office. Before the 1997 election, 16 new parties were formed bringing the total in the country to 27. It highlighted, either subtly or overtly, a greater division in the country either based on tribal ties or political ambition. This led Kenya into a period when these divisions cemented grievances and tension that would have otherwise been averted. Both elections saw Daniel Arap Moi re-elected but with a slight decline in parliamentary power. And the tensions once again denied Kenyans a true freedom of an unbiased voting process. This led then to the 2002 election that led the start of the third and current period of elections in Kenya.
There was a certain air in the country during the 2002 election. It was a hopeful celebration of fleeting unity as two parties joined hands on a 50-50 basis and a country rallied behind this hope. Mwai Kibaki led the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) and aligned with Raila Odinga who led National Alliance Party of Kenya and the Liberal Democratic Party of Kenya. They ran against Uhuru Kenyatta of KANU. It heralded the first ever peaceful, fair and dramatic landslide election of Kenyan history with Mwai Kibaki becoming president. The unity’s fleeting nature was emphasised during the 2005 political referendum. But it began what it intended to begin and saw a period of mergers, unions and emotional displays that rooted themselves in the power of earlier tensions. It robbed Kenyans of possible political understanding and forced all future decisions to be based on community, perceived unity and political standings.
The next elections were then greatly disputed on familiar lines of corruption. Mwai Kibaki won on a narrow margin of 46% in 2007 with a newly created political party called the Party of National Unity (PNU). He won against Raila Odinga’s 44% under the Orange Democratic Movement. This then led to the 2008 post-election violence in January that has been the lowest point of the country’s history. The Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) gave a comprehensive tally on the effects of such violence on the people, published in 2009. In the very first paragraph of the article it says,
“The fighting resulted in 1,133 casualties, at least 350,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs), approximately 2,000 refugees, significant, but unknown, numbers of sexual violence victims, and the destruction of 117,216 private properties and 491 government-owned properties including offices, vehicles, health centres and schools.”
This brings us to the tenth election that arrived after the New Constitution Referendum was approved by a two-thirds parliamentary majority in 2010. The 2013 election, while not completely free or fair, witnessed no major violence as was originally feared. The expected mergers and unions and the uncertain climate helped keep extreme violence at bay but it did not give Kenyans exactly what they deserve. It saw the election of Uhuru Kenyatta as president and saw the end of the Grand Coalition government making our new period undefined.
All these past elections have brought us to today, on the eve of the 11th Kenyan general election on 8th August 2017. It is safe to assume that the true Kenyan voice is yet to be heard or fully realised. All past ten elections have been under the control of anyone but the citizenship. British rule, one-party state, political divisions and politically fuelled unions have robbed the country of its democratic right and political understanding. However, that is not the case now and on this coming election. Kenyans finally have an opportunity to re-invent their country. Although familiar political faces are still the majority, many people are starting to realise the importance of building a nation over preserving old bonds and grievances. Kenyans are starting to see that their country is on the edge of either a better tomorrow or a breakdown. With no jobs, little income, poor food security, poor security and loss of local business power, Kenya is finally in need of a new mindset. And it can be decided by the next vote.
We should enter the election period realising that it can truly be ours. The story does not belong to few political players but the everyday Mwanainchi. As citizens our new chapter should be one of maintaining peace, building unity and moving together towards a better country.