Let's Cure Divisive Elections

All of us cannot be leaders and we always choose people to represent us from the village level with the council of elders to the national level with the president. Elections are conducted to determine the winner and therefore this process should always be free and fair. Since independence this has not been the case, elections have been defined by all forms of ills spurred by ethnic antagonism which has led to rigging, violence, killings, and even internally displacing many.

Before the attainment of our independence in 1963, many leaders led the liberation war against the colonialists and these leaders who represented communities in our country were united with one goal of achieving freedom. The colonial government tried as much as possible to use the divide and rule approach to weaken our liberation fighters however, Kenyan’s had suffered enough of torture and they were not ready to give up. The detention of our first president Jomo Kenyatta and other leaders was an attempt to curtail our journey to freedom, but this fueled the spirit of Kenyans to defeat colonialism.

It was all jubilation on first June 1963 when Kenya gained independence, and everyone was optimistic about the greatness that lied ahead. Our founding fathers laid down the blueprint of our nation identifying ignorance, disease, and poverty as the key challenges that needed to be addressed.

During elections, every community fought hard to elect one of their own to secure their interests.

The joy and celebrations of Kenyans were short-lived as the leaders who came into power betrayed their aspirations as they began to enrich themselves at the expense of their subjects. They amassed wealth irregularly by grabbing land and looting from the public coffers because they believed they fought hard for freedom hence deserved to reward themselves. This bred animosity among Kenyans as those who were close to those in power benefitted while most Kenyans continued to suffer.

During elections, every community fought hard to elect one of their own to secure their interests. The presidency being the highest office of the land was the most critical and this was evidenced when the first president was ill and on the verge of death.

Succession politics came into play and people went to the extent of trying to change the constitution to prevent then, Vice President Daniel Arap Moi from ascending to the top seat. However, this was not successful as Moi became the 2nd president of the republic after the death of Jomo Kenyatta. Those who were against Moi’s presidency did not surrender as they planned for a coup that failed.

The second liberation was witnessed in the 1980s as people realized that 20 years down the line, they still faced the same challenges they experienced during the colonial government. Kenya being a one-party state, did not provide alternative leadership. People fought for multi-partyism and the year 1992 saw many players in the elections. Those whom their candidates lost were dissatisfied and protested because they felt the elections were rigged.1997 was not different, and Kenyans no longer trusted the body conducted elections and the country witnessed ethnic clashes.

President Moi was serving his last term and the 2002 general election was one of its kind. Kenyans were tired of the KANU regime that had led the country for 4 decades. Everyone was eager for change just as in the year 1963. This saw president Mwai Kibaki ascend to power and this was viewed as a major milestone in Kenya’s history for democratic forces as it was considered to have been free, fair, and transparent.

Kibaki’s era saw huge transformation ranging from anti-corruption reforms, free primary education, and infrastructure development however despite the enormous achievements; ethnicity and nepotism still proved hard to defeat. The NARC government disintegrated before the five-year term and the 2005 referendum election widened the drift of unity in our country.

In 2007 general election was hotly contested and the disputed results almost brought our country into collapse. The violence witnessed was the worst claiming thousands of innocent lives and resulting in mass property destruction. The world could not watch our country that was an oasis of peace sink into its knees. The intervention of former UN Secretary-General the late Koffi Annan saw the formation of a coalition government that restored sanity in our country.

The 2007-2008 post-election violence played out largely on ethnic lines, and ethnicity continues to play an inordinate role in Kenyan political life. Ethnic-based violence has a long history in the country, fuelled by grievances over land, privilege, and inequality. Ethnicity continues to be a weapon used by political elites to mobilize people; hence elections are more often won based on tribe rather than performance, ideas, character, or national vision.

The perpetrators of the 2007 election were tried and charged before the International Criminal Court. This influenced the 2013 general election as those who were dissatisfied with the outcome of the results, went to court. No one was willing to be the culprit of ICC for leading violence. The same was the case with 2017 general elections where those who lost sought justice in the courts. The opposition went ahead to swear in their candidate however in so doing they were cautious and confined themselves within the constitution to avoid plunging the country into violence.

From this, President Uhuru Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga reached out to each other through what was famously referred to as the ‘handshake’ and this gave birth to the building bridges initiative -BBI which seeks to enhance peace and unity in the country.

Since time immemorial elections in Kenya have proved to be a threat to lives and the stability of our economy. Every four years, the country almost comes to a standstill as elections are prepared for. Investment and economic activity staggers, Kenyans lose jobs and livelihoods, while political competition often escalates beyond vibrant debate into ethnic polarisation. Personal security becomes uncertain, and often there is violence. Kenyans need to overcome this negative cycle by acting on the understanding that elections independently are not the solution to our national challenges.

If we faithfully adhere to the Constitution and the law, halt ethnic antagonism and profiling, promote inclusivity, strengthen devolution, fight corruption, and care about safety and security, as outlined in the BBI we will have elections that are not marred by mistrust and conflict. This initiative emphasizes the need to unite the country by enhancing shared prosperity and end of divisive elections triggered by ethnic antagonism and competition.

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