By Barack Muluka
With the Jubilee and National Super Alliance (Nasa) manifestos for the August 8 elections out in the last week of June, it was expected that the presidential competition would start being issue-based. Unfortunately the level of debate between the two main contestants for Kenya’s most powerful and most prestigious office has remained depressingly low. The conversation remains hugely in the territory of invective and ad hominem verbal diatribe.
To a great extent, you are reminded of the proverbial children in a marketplace shouting at one another, “We played the pipe for you, and you did not dance. We sang a dirge and you did not cry.”
At the very best, the debate descends to scrambling for credit for government projects. President Uhuru Kenyatta will come out exuding joy over the standard gauge railway, or progress on the Lamu Port South Sudan Ethiopia Transport Corridor (Lapsset) only for his nemesis Raila Odinga of Nasa to rebuke him for taking credit for a project that was the brainchild of the much-troubled grand coalition government in which he shared power with President Mwai Kibaki following the botched elections of 2007.
Other preposterous areas of engagement between the two sworn antagonists have included various road projects under the Jubilee government, the limping Galana-Kulalu Irrigation Project and social transfers of funds to support the poor elderly. This comic drama did not fail to find its way to the forums in which the two manifestos were launched. Deputy President William Ruto told the gathering that the Jubilee duo was doing so well that Nasa leaders were at pains to copy everything they are doing. The Nasa manifesto, he predicted, would be a carbon copy of theirs. Nasa, for their part, chided Jubilee for absence of originality and shoddy implementation of ideas they have taken from them. It does not seem to matter that governments have successive and residual responsibilities and that these will include carrying on with projects conceived under an earlier regime.
When the National Rainbow Coalition (Narc) government came to power at the end of 2002, for example, it found in place an elaborate educational support programme that the Kanu government had negotiated with a cocktail of foreign development partners, worth close to Sh9 billion support for books for primary and secondary schools. President Kibaki and his government glowed in the glory of this initiative whose implementation kicked off, as had earlier been planned, only a few months after they got into power. They gloated over it as one of the manifestations of the free primary school education that they claimed to have introduced. Neither Kanu nor Narc found it necessary to lay claim to the origins of this programme. The support has since died, following poor management and alleged misappropriation of the funds. The Kenya Government was forced to refund Sh4.5 billion to the British Department for International Development (DfID) six years ago, as a result of British umbrage at misuse of project support funds.
No less confounding has been Jubilee leaders’ thin skin and the thought that the opposition should not criticise their failures, regardless that they are only perceived or real. The President will, therefore, throw up a confounding public tantrum regarding allegations on corruption in his government. Even where he seems to admit that there is corruption, he desperately bursts into declamations to the effect, “So what do you want me to do, surely?”
But this is when he is guarded and keeping good control over himself. In less secure moments, he has called Odinga appalling names, from a witchdoctor to a madman. Addressing diverse audiences in his native Mt Kenya region, President Kenyatta has called upon them to help him send “the madman and witchdoctor” to retirement in August, so that he can “spend the rest of his life in the Lake Region, eating fish.”
The negative ethnic overtones in the President’s scolding of his adversary are unmistakable. The Luo people of the Lake Victoria Basin are renowned as connoisseurs of fish as a gastronomical item. In the early coming together of present day Kenyan tribes in the late 19th Century, the Central Kenya communities were not particularly known as eaters of fish. Even now when they are beginning to break with tradition, fish does not easily discover its way to the dining table. The reference to the man, the lake and the fish is therefore intended to be an ethnic slur. And it is matters of ethnicity and the slurs around them that seem to be largely informing the formations around the General Election…
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