Exactly a week from today Kenyans will join the rest of the world in welcoming the New Year. We will shout away the ending year and shout in the New with the usual pomp. We will even proclaim it a happy new year, as we have always done. Kenyans are ending 2016 in hostile style, with the political class setting the ugly pace and agenda. It is understandable that we should want a happy new year. Yet, is this likely?
The activities of the ending week imbue men and women of goodwill with sadness and despair. When those from whom so much is expected deliver so little, or next to nothing, we have cause to worry. Our context is worse than saddening and worrying. It is frightening. The activities in Parliament are a pointer to the year ahead. We have seen fisticuffs, foul language and outrageous goings on. We have seen Parliament itself summoned at an irregular moment for the irregular business of bipartisan verbal and political violence. It is violence of an ethnic character, and which defines what you should expect next year. Ethnic tensions are going to be at fever pitch, unless wise counsel prevails. It should not surprise us to see a repeat of 2007/2008. The script will be the same, the cast and roles slightly different, the outcomes the same.
The most critical players are going to be President Uhuru Kenyatta and his nemesis, Raila Odinga of the Opposition ODM and Cord. The two leaders must reign in their troops and exercise personal moderation in their public pronouncements and actions. But they also need to reign in themselves. Ultimately, however, the buck stops with President Kenyatta. He is the person to whom Kenyans have given the responsibility of steering the ship of State. If we run into headwinds we all look up to him for the solution. If we run into an iceberg, he takes the flak. If we prosper, he takes the credit. Eventually, it is his tea party.
The New Year brings us to the homestretch of an election campaign process that began nearly five years ago. We are getting into this phase with a government that openly exhibits symptoms of panic and not so rational impulses. On the other hand is an opposition that is getting increasingly confident and sometimes reckless. That President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Jubilee Party are in political trouble is not in doubt. I have of course seen contrary opinion polls, published by a pollster who has lost all credibility and respectability – and does not seem to care about this anyway.
Ipsos Synovate says that the President’s popularity rating stands at 50 percent. This is laughable. Dr. Tom Wolf is taking our intelligence for granted. However, I appreciate the human factors behind his laughable opinion polling. It is public knowledge about who owns Dr. Wolf’s organization. A powerful individual in government owns big shares in Ipsos Synovate. They no longer exist to do opinion polls, but to influence opinion. I have previously torn apart Dr. Wolf’s below average polls. When we faced off on national TV Dr. Wolf came loaded with computers, books, files and memoranda. However, these did not add any value to his flawed polls. His rating of President Kenyatta at 50 percent should be ignored – and especially by the President himself.
I suspect, however, that the President knows the truth about his rating, which should now be anywhere around 25 to 29 percent – to take an educated guess. As I write, I have recently traversed the Western Kenya and Coastal regions over the past few weeks. The vibes on the ground are not good at all for the President and his Jubilee Party. And I hope they are listening. In the wake of the crowds that throng their meetings, you hear people who have just been shouting “Hosanna in the highest” saying that they will never vote for Kenyatta. His undoing is corruption in government, poor management of ethnic diversity and access to opportunities and a certain propensity towards the puffed-up absolutism of a Medieval Age Russian landlord.
In the emerging scenario, I am not surprised that there is panic and high handedness in Jubilee. But it is the recklessness that is worrying. Away from pronouncements that can only whip up the ethnic sentiment against the President and those he considers to be his people, there is culpable political recklessness of a dangerous strain. Consider the reigning controversy about election laws. The initial memorandum was from the Interim Electoral and Boundaries Commission, submitted to a committee of Parliament, shortly after the negotiated amendment of the election laws.
It is instructive that Jubilee has not only been very passionate about the contentious electoral proposals that came from IEBC, it has also finagled them through Parliament, to give them a legitimate face. Is it wrong to wonder whether the original impetus may actually not have been from the IEBC, but from Jubilee? For why would Jubilee take over and be so passionate about a proposition that was purely an IEBC initiative? Why would the Presidency cause the Speaker of the National Assembly to publish a Government Gazette notice at midnight, summoning Parliament to rubber stamp these amendments in the morning? Why would Jubilee legislators be given an edict to ensure that these laws go through, at whatever cost?
We are walking into 2017 with these questions and many more on our collective mind. We think of the unresolved questions around corruption in the national and county governments. There is palpable civil unrest and fear among the citizenry over the possibility of political violence. The opposition has promised unprecedented mass action. Jubilee remains recalcitrant with the irksome Aden Duale waving the iron fist against everybody, including the Judiciary. It is difficult to see how 2017 is going to be a happy new year. Yet all is not yet lost. Maybe President Kenyatta could still be persuaded to rise above partisan ethnic politics to provide leadership as the President of all Kenyans. He could still refrain from signing the controversial amendments into law. He could also lead in marshaling dialogue around all the other burning questions of the day. For if President Uhuru does not rise to the challenge of leadership, Kenyans could be headed into a most difficult year. Nonetheless, may I wish you a happy New Year