Lessons from the Kajiado by-election

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BY DAVID WANJALA

“Mr Temporary Deputy Speaker, Sir, my name is Paul Gathiomi Mwangi the new Member for Kipipiri… This being my first time to have a chance to speak in this House, I would like to thank the Kipipiri constituents for electing me their representative against all odds… because the whole government machinery was set to work against me, but through the grace of God I beat them all. I will never forget to thank the Opposition Members of Parliament for the sleepless nights… I would also not forget to thank the Kanu MPs for being inefficient, deficient and disorganised with their campaigns, making it easy for me to come to this House. They should repeat the same in future”

Hon Gathiomi was making his maiden speech in the National Assembly after he won the hotly contested 1995 Kipipiri by-election. Ruling Kanu had poured every resource at its disposal, conducting door-to-door campaigns by the indefatigable President Moi in which he distributed goodies, including bicycles, to capture the seat for his party to no avail.

Other carrots that ruling Kanu dangled during the by election campaign included electrification of the constituency, a precious but rare utility at the time, and roads. The 312 electricity poles that had been distributed in the constituency prior to the by-election were, however, removed immediately Kanu lost. Too, graders that had been dispatched to work on the roads were recalled. It is recorded as one of the biggest humiliations and most enduring defeats President Moi ever suffered at the hands of the Opposition in his 24-year rule. It signalled the beginning of the end of Kanu.

President Kenyatta, it is reported, is furious with his Jubilee Alliance Party (JAP) officials for the humiliation his new party suffered in the Kajiado Central by-election mid last month. He has every reason to be. In the rare occasions that incumbents have lost by-elections in Kenya’s election history it signalled poor planning, disjointed efforts, arrogance and a sense of entitlement that comes with the incumbency. This combination has always spelt doom for the reigning governments.

Kajiado Central was not even a hostile voting block for the Jubilee Alliance. It is not even near what Kipipiri was for President Moi in 1995. The reason that occasioned the by election, by itself, should have handed the President’s ruling Coalition the seat effortlessly. The seat fell vacant after the President, in an unprecedented move since promulgation of the new Constitution, appointed its holder, Opposition’s Joseph Nkaissery, to the powerful cabinet portfolio of Interior and Coordination of National Government.

Renowned political scientist Mutahi Ngunyi summarised it quite aptly.
“Incumbents do not lose obvious elections. Kajiado incompetently handled by JAP. Kibaki incompetence of 2007 led to war. 2017 is months away,” wrote Mr Ngunyi on his Twitter handle.

What, then, went wrong?
First, just after Nkaissery was sworn to office, the neighbouring Narok County erupted into chaos. Nkaissery’s first major brief as CS for Interior was to quell the chaos in his own backyard. He handled it firmly, professionally even, but without the shrewedness and hindsight to stall the fallout and dissent that would follow in the larger Maa community.
The retired Major-General crushed the Narok revolt. The execution was a bit excessive, leaving in its wake a trail of death, massive casualty and destruction to property. Several elected leaders in the massive county, including the Senator and MPs, were also arrested, locked up and taken to court with record precision. The leaders together with their electorate felt slighted, a feeling that ran across the entire Maasai Community. Rather than celebrate the elevation of one of their own to a powerful post, they were instead mourning.

Jubilee Coalition’s biggest letdown is the utter arrogance manifest in the utterances of its key leaders. Coincidentally, it was in Narok County during the Mara Day celebrations that the Leader of Majority in the National Assembly Mr Adan Duale kicked off his uncouth tirades against fellow leaders. It defeats every sense of logic and decorum that Duale could afford to, with the seeming approval of the Deputy President, invoke one’s own mother in his spat against chairman of the council of governors, Bomet’s Isaac Ruto.

It was particularly insensitive on the part of DP Ruto and his henchman to display that kind of arrogance in a highly traditional community as the Maasai. Such actions inform, albeit subconsciously, critical decisions like who and what party to vote for. Another victim of Duale’s arrogance has been the Secretary-General of Knut, Wilson Sossion. Kenyans do not take lightly such kind of abuse. This kind of arrogance cuts across the Jubilee Coalition leadership. It is repulsive to the electorate.

The biggest blunder, however that did the President’s Jubilee Alliance Party in is the messed up party primaries. Vested interests ensured the party ticket was given to their preferred candidate in total disregard of the feelings of the electorate. They thought being the President’s chosen party; anything they wanted went. They would go dangle the goodies associated with the incumbency and win it. It no longer works like that. In the end, the most popular candidate was denied nomination on the President’s party.

Bitter truth
To prove that he was indeed the most popular of the them all contrary to what the President’s men were peddling, Elijah Memusi Kanchori crossed over to the Opposition side, clinched nomination there and went ahead and to win the by election. Contrary to Duale’s assertion that the difference of 500 votes by which their candidate Patrick Tutui lost means JAP is popular in the County, even if the difference was one vote, it would still be as humiliating. That seat was the President’s to take.

The bitter reality, coming from the by election is that JAP is likely to encounter more resistance especially in the Deputy President’s backyard.It is done and dusted. It is Raila Odinga’s ODM for Kajiado Central. What lessons should both JAP and the Opposition draw from this by election?

One, JAP is a bad idea for the ruling Coalition. Abandon it. Let constituent parties within the ruling coalition exist and even contest against each other. It does no harm to the Coalition so long as their allegiance remains intact. That way, the Coalition’s strongholds, including the larger Mt Kenya region, Rift Valley and Upper Eastern will not be subjected to the unnecessary turmoil that comes with wanting to belong when the many houses in a family are collapsed into one.

The second lesson, which should be drawn across the political divide, is that it is never a good idea for party leadership to interfere with party primaries to impose preferred candidates. Afford the electorate, your party members the freedom to choose. Allow them dictate to you, not the other way round. This lesson should ring a bell more with Odinga’s ODM party brigade even as it basks in the glory of victory. It has the knack for bungling party nominations with devasting consequences.

Of course, President Kenyatta and his JAP brigade, including DP William Ruto, is the biggest loser coming from this by election. Apart from the humiliation, the loss deflates steam from their drive to fold constituent parties of the Jubilee Coalition into one big party in preparation for the 2017 General Election. Having been billed as a popularity contest between the Opposition and the ruling Coalition, the by-election leaves the incumbent in a precarious position heading into 2017.

At a personal level however, the biggest loser is General Nkaissery. He squandered the opportunity to groom himself as a principled retired soldier and leader. He had already been appointed. His stay in the position did not hinge on whether he delivered his seat to the government side. Staying away from the dirt of the campaign for his successor would have earned him reverence from the President and the entire Executive and also admiration from his Opposition colleagues.

By getting deep into the campaigns for the President’s party and losing, Nkaissery may just have written his political obituary for, what happens two years from now when government is dissolved and elections called? Power equations will change irrespective of whether the incumbent retains power or not; relying on reappointment will be suicidal as he may not have the same influence he previously wielded.

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