A story is told of how a young Uhuru Kenyatta saw Daniel Arap Moi, his father’s Vice President, walking towards President Kenyatta (Mzee); Uhuru picked his father’s trademark flywhisk, ran towards Moi and happily handed it to him. Pundits have weighed in on this as the reason why Moi, “the professor of politics”, insisted on Uhuru being his successor in 2002 against the advice of many people.
Fast-forward to 2015 and word on the street is that Uhuru is planning to support a Gideon Moi-Peter Kenneth ticket for the presidency in 2022. This may sound like hot-air talk from a bored, arm-chair political analyst; in Kenyan politics, however, earthquakes tend to follow the aftershocks. We can hear faint echoes from Rift Valley of a Gideon Moi push to reclaim what was once his father’s political stronghold.
Every country has an establishment. These are the people former US diplomat Jendayi Frazer called the ruling elite at the height of 2008 post-election violence. The establishment forms what other people call “the system” – these are the business persons and political power brokers wielding power behind the throne. In essence, a system tends to inherit itself unless a revolution happens. When Moi handed over power to Kibaki, unbeknown to optimistic Kenyans, the Kanu system had found new members, mutated and fitted into the National Rainbow Coalition (Narc).
Kenya’s current state of strong ethnic division and political polarisation cannot breed a revolution to the tune of Arab Spring or what sent former Burkina Faso president Blaise Compaoré into exile. This leaves our only means to political change at the mercy of the ballot which is often controlled by the ruling and political elite and not the people.
The plot looks like TNA power men are out to keep Ruto in check by leaving him to constantly look over his shoulders. The play is to keep Gideon Moi and his sidekicks – Nick Salat and Isaac Ruto – hot on William Ruto’s heels to prevent him from plotting how to extend his influence in government.
To the progressive minds, the establishment is not comfortable with a Ruto presidency, in the same way Martha Karua once said “they” can tolerate a Raila presidency. Ruto and Raila are cut of the same cloth, but subscribe to different political schools of thought. Raila was born in the system but matured politically out of it while Ruto is a thoroughbred system politician.
Time for an outsider
Gideon Moi has every right to desire and work towards becoming the next president, but what is the socio-political cost if his ambitions bear fruits? If he succeeds Uhuru Kenyatta, then chances of another spate of violence in Kenya will be a matter of when and not if. We all know that PEV was a culmination of innocent and “inconsequential” political decisions we made over time since independence. For the sake of stability, we need an “outsider” to succeed Uhuru because, if Kenya ever breaks into violence, it will be more in the line of class wars rather than ethnic violence.
We all recall how Mungiki, a band of disenfranchised youths from Central Kenya, came together to push a political agenda that was hijacked by the ruling class in mid course. Mungiki may have been banished, but the underlying problems that led to its formation have never been fully sorted. The next frontier is Rift Valley and Nyanza; already violent crime is on the rise in Kisumu.
This outsider can even be William Ruto. As much as he has been in the government side of politics for most of his political life, as a son of a peasant, he represents the possibility of any Kenyan rising to the presidency. A Gideon Moi presidency will send a message that the seat is reserved for the chosen few.
Our new constitution has borrowed a lot from the US constitution. A pure presidential system kills the opposition with the assumption that the legislature will offer oversight to the presidency. In Kenya this is a pipe dream, as our members of parliament are known to reason more with their stomach than brains. To mitigate this, we must find a way of assuring the common man that his interests are always taken care of.
Zero to White House in dream time
Looking at American presidents, we realise that regardless of one’s background anybody can work his way into the White House. Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Johnson, James Garfield, and Harry Truman were born into poverty. Herbert Hoover, Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan came from families with little or no inherited wealth and grew up in modest surroundings.
Bill Clinton, who was born William Blythe, is a son of a common woman. In her book “Hillary’s Choice”, Gail Sheehy describes how Clinton’s father disappeared as soon as he entered Clinton’s mother Virginia Cassidy’s life – he later died without seeing his son. She went ahead to marry three other men including Roger Clinton. That is Clinton for you, a son of a common woman who lived her life on the edge of adventure and recklessness but still managed to give the USA its “first black president”.
Barrack Obama is another example that in America, the name of one’s father doesn’t have to shout from the grave for you to win a presidential nomination ticket. Obama’s mother brought up her son with the help of her parents. When a son of a single mother and a Kenyan runaway father made his way into white house out of sheer brilliance and eloquence, it cemented the belief that in America, every dream is valid.
Richard Nixon’s early life was marked by hardship. He later quoted Dwight Eisenhower to describe his childhood: “We were poor, but the glory of it was we didn’t know it”. Abraham Lincoln’s family built a home in a farm in southern Illinois where he received an informal training in woodcutting and farming, which was typical of life in America at the time. His financial situation went from bad to worse in his early 20’s; he purchased a general store with a friend which later went under after the death of his business partner. Harry S. Truman is known for doing menial jobs on the side to keep his family afloat during his political career before he became president.
The cracker of US presidents is Andrew Johnson, who was Abraham Lincoln’s deputy and who took over after his assassination. Johnson was an illiterate son of poor parents who lost his father when he was young. He was a tailor who learned to read and write from interaction with clients but later became a good public speaker.
Back to Kenya
There is always an excuse that our democracy is too young to be compared with first world democracies. As much as this is true, the west did not have a prototype to work with; they developed their system through trial and error. We have the benefit of learning from their success and failures so we don’t have to repeat their mistakes or take as long as they did to get to where they are.
A Gideon Moi presidency is bound to arouse the feeling that the country has its owners. People will begin to feel that they are pawns in a game that is controlled by a wealthy and tribe-less lot out to keep its stranglehold on power. The effect of such feeling is reduction in ethnic division and amalgamation of people into social classes and interest groups.
There has been no tangible and practical effort to curb the rising unemployment rate, except the “Kazi Kwa Vijana” and NYS slum clean-up jobs. Kenya has a growing population and it is estimated that seventy five per cent of our population is below the age of thirty. The only thing the government owes this bulging demographic in the absence of meaningful employment is hope. When they realise that the same people who cannot provide opportunities for them have denied them hope, this asset of energetic and skilled workforce has a potential to turn rabid and boomerang on society.
Belief in country
The most difficult task is to balance interests in a diverse country in terms ethnicity and socialisation. However challenging it is, one basic tenet that must be preserved is our belief in our country. The moment people begin to lose trust in the state as it is designed, then creativity steps in. We must reassure Kenyans that it is okay to hope, dream and work to actualise their dreams; that if you work hard, your dreams will come true regardless of your background or ethnicity.
This is why I am against this idea of a Gideon Moi presidency; not because he cannot make a good leader but because politics is about perceptions. The perceptions such an eventuality will breed among Kenyans is fertile ground for disgruntlement which may lead to instability in future.
Our next president should be someone like Mohammed Dida. This will make our children to grow with hope that in Kenya, it does not matter how much money you have or who your father was; that what matters is what you can offer.^