If free and fair elections were to be held today, Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga would most likely upset the incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta.
I base my position on the following premise:
First, three years into government the ruling Jubilee party has failed to meet the threshold of national aspirations: It has failed to inspire hope, failed to unite a balkanized country, and failed to tackle chronic unemployment and biting poverty. Tens of thousands of Kenyans are starving in various parts of the country due, in part, to poor policies.
Two, despite promises of commitment and declarations of intent to ‘slay the dragon,’ grand corruption still gnaws ferociously at the very fabric of the nation. After President Kibaki failed to deal with the matter during his eight years in office, Kenyans expected much more from their new youthful and savvy leader. But recently Kenyatta surprised many when he admitted he was frustrated by the whole issue of corruption, and blamed his officials for letting him down.
None other than the former anti-corruption czar John Githongo has said that Kenyatta’s is “the most rapacious administration we have ever had.”
Three, Kenyatta could go home in 2017 because an increasingly cynical citizenry is hungry for real, substantive, and sustainable change. They are tired of the status quo, of rampant tribalism and entrenched nepotism.
During campaigns, the Jubilee party leadership promised a double digit growth. That has not happened. The economy is still hovering at around five percent.
It also guaranteed five million jobs over a five year period. Three years down the line, not even half of those jobs have been delivered. A staggering 70 percent of young people remain jobless.
Four, the economy. Kenya’s debt has grown exponentially from 1.2 trillion shillings to 3.2 trillion shillings within three years. It is the citizenry that is shouldering the burden. Even the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) are worried.
Five, there has been a noticeable increase in police brutality against innocent people, protesters and members of the media in the last few years. A number of journalists have been threatened and beaten, and media freedoms are seemingly under siege.
And finally, Kenyatta won by the narrowest of margins in 2013: 50.03 percent against Odinga’s 43.28 percent of the vote. Dynamics have not changed much. Odinga remains Kenyatta’s most potent political adversary and will most likely give the President a run for his money. The leader of the Orange Democratic Party has the momentum, the determination, and a fanatical support of loyalists across the country at this point of time.
Also, the newly inaugurated Jubilee Party is yet to kick off in a more tangible way. It is only this week that party regional committees were appointed to oversee activities at the grassroots level. This laissez-faire attitude on the part of the Jubilee could be its Achilles Heel.
The only thing the opposition must do without delay is to announce its presidential flag-bearer, even though my view is that the flag-bearer will indeed be Odinga himself.
Having said all that, Kenyatta has some positive victories of his own. He can cite improved infrastructure (roads and railway lines), free maternity services, a more secure country, fertilizers and electricity provisions, and the delivery of digital learning devices to schools. He can also argue that Kenya is viewed more positively in the world today than it was during Kibaki’s time.
Will these positives be enough to guarantee him another four years in office?
Conventional wisdom tells me no.
I must say however that not everything is broken for Kenyatta. There is still time to change the negative perceptions on the ground. To do so, he needs to change tactics and strategies and dispel feelings among some that his Administration is elitist and insular.
As someone said, politics is a battle of perceptions.
Joe Khamisi is a former journalist, diplomat and Member of Parliament. He is also the Author of ‘Politics of Betrayal:Diary of a Kenyan Legislator‘, a political memoir about the situation in Kenya between 2001, when the ruling party of President Daniel Arap Moi, the Kenya African National Union (KANU), merged with Raila Odinga’s National Development Party.
The book also narrates cases of corruption in Parliament and in the Media and records Senator Obama’s visit to Kenya in 2006. As a friend of Barack Obama Senior, the author also remembers the times and tragedies of the American-educated economist.
Joe Khamisi’s second book, a biography, ‘Dash Before Dusk’ is also now on sale.
Joe’s latest book is ‘The Wretched Africans: A Study of Rabai and Freretown Slave Settlements‘ which has recently been published and is now available to purchase.