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Post-truth politics is a threat to Kenya’s democracy: Part II



Post-truth politics is a threat to Kenya’s democracy: Part II

Without a doubt, William Ruto won last year’s presidential ballot.

Despite this, on January 23, Azimio la Umoja leader, Raila Odinga, launched a well-funded protest campaign alleging that Ruto did not win and calling for his resignation.

Clearly, the financiers of the protests want regime change, not power-sharing. In the unfinished Uhuru-Ruto supremacy wars for the soul of Kenya and the kingpin mantle in Mount Kenya—both before and after the polls—Odinga is no more than an ace hatchet man.

The protests reveal former President Uhuru Kenyatta’s efforts to leverage on his support for Raila during last year’s elections to defend his family’s interests and reshape the future of power in Kenya. Part 2 of this series on ‘post-truth politics and Kenya’s democracy’ unveils the contours of the continuing Ruto-Uhuru battle for the soul of Mount Kenya.

In an article: ‘How Kenya’s fifth republic can escape the ‘Botswana trap’, published in this column on September 11, 2022, I urged the Kenyatta government to avoid “the Botswana trap”.

In the aftermath of last year’s presidential ballot, Kenya is hurtling down the same perilous path as Botswana — now held as a byword for a new trend in Africa’s transitions. After leaving office, former presidents (mainly scions of Africa’s liberators) and their families are caught up in supremacy battles with their successors. 

Their similarities are frightening. In Botswana, Khama Ian Khama, the son of Sir Seretse Khama, who led the country to independence in 1966, fell out with President Mokgweetsi Masisi, his former deputy President, who won the 2019 general election. 

In Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta, the son of Jomo Kenyatta, who steered Kenya to independence in 1963, fell out with his deputy, Ruto, who went on to win last year’s presidential ballot. Since Khama left power, he has been embroiled in a fierce power struggle with President Masisi.

He joined the opposition and financed a campaign to force Masisi out of power, alleging that Masisi rigged the 2019 election. In November 2021, Khama escaped under the cover of darkness into South Africa where he has continued to address opposition rallies via a video link. But at home, Khama faces more than 13 criminal charges. 

Increasingly unstable 

The Khama-Masisi feud has exacted a heavy toll on Botswana, once held as Africa’s poster child for democracy and economic prosperity, which has tragically lost its shine and become increasingly unstable.

Kenyatta and his Jubilee Party are the wind beneath the wings of the post-truth politics now soaring the Odinga-led campaign to push Ruto out of power. 

As a result, Kenya, like Botswana, risks losing its shine as a model of democracy, an economic powerhouse and a praetorian guard of peace in Eastern Africa. 

As the chairman of the Azimio la Umoja-One Kenya Coalition and Jubilee Party’s supreme leader, Kenyatta is the de facto leader of the opposition. His Jubilee Party is in the vortex of ongoing post-truth politics. The party’s secretary-general, Jeremiah Kioni, has increasingly cut the image of the proverbial “patron saint of lost causes” and an ideologue of Azimio’s post-truth politics.

On January 18, Kioni sensationally claimed that an analysis of the votes by “Vanguard Africa” found that Raila won the August 9 elections with 8.1 million (57.53 per cent) against Ruto’s 5.9 million (41.66 per cent) of the votes cast. “Those whose votes were mostly stolen are people from Mt Kenya,” Kioni claims.

“We know Chebukati stated that Raila got 800,000 in this (Mt Kenya) region but the truth of the matter is the number of votes Raila got, and we are yet to finish counting, is 2,607, 957,” he adds.

His appointment and success as a peace envoy in the Congo and Ethiopia were expected to gradually rehabilitate him as an impartial arbiter— even in Kenyan politics. 

Kenya Kwanza has been pushing for his exit from party politics and resignation as Jubilee Party leader and Azimio coalition’s chairperson.

Kenyatta has, however, remained mute on resignation. There is no sign that he will resign before 2027 when his five-year term ends. 

The Presidential Retirement Benefits Act requires him to retire and exit active opposition politics by February 9. In early January, Raila declared that Uhuru is in Azimio to stay. Raila knows that Kenyatta’s resignation will be a death blow to Azimio.

Clip Uhuru’s wings 

Kenya Kwanza has moved to clip Uhuru’s wings and neuter Jubilee’s post-truth politics. 

First, it is engineering change at the helm of Jubilee leadership to purge Kenyatta’s loyalists such as the deputy national chairperson David Murathe and secretary-general Kioni, who have questioned the legitimacy of Ruto’s election as President. 

Second, a divide-and-conquer strategy is bringing a critical mass of Jubilee legislators to support the government.

Since January 20, both Dr Ruto and his deputy, Rigathi Gachagua, have hosted Jubilee MPs led by Azimio’s Deputy Minority Whip, Sabina Chege, and EALA lawmaker Kanini Kega. 

The legislators have agreed to support President Ruto’s government. Sabina declared that she was not joining opposition rallies but is ready to work with and support President Ruto’s government. 

Third, efforts are underway to replace Kenyatta as the kingpin in Mount Kenya. 

Although Kenyatta is keen on holding on to the kingpin mantle, leaders in his party are shifting loyalty to Gachagua. Recently, Kanini, Jubilee Party’s director of elections, asked Central Kenya leaders to recognise Gachagua as the senior leader in the region.

Kioni’s response is that kingpin is not about holding to a position in the government but about moral integrity. 

For all intents and purposes, after last year’s victory in the region, Ruto is the real kingpin of the region. But his deputy, Rigathi Gachagua, is wresting the mantle of regional kingpin from Kenyatta. 

Kenyatta and other Azimio honchos are the unwitting losers in post-truth politics. It is uncertain whether Kalonzo Musyoka will retain his position as special envoy to South Sudan, a position to which he was appointed by Kenyatta in July 2019.

Odinga also risks losing his position as the African Union High Representative for Infrastructure Development. Uhuru’s new job as a regional envoy is clashing with his role in opposition protests. 

Moreover, Uhuru stands a good chance as a possible successor to Moussa Faki as AU Commission chairman, when he retires in 2024. But a successful campaign for the powerful seat will require the endorsement and support of his government. 

Accord, not discord, is the safest ship to the future.

Prof Kagwanja is a former Government Adviser, now the Chief Executive at the Africa Policy Institute and Adjunct Scholar at the University of Nairobi and the National Defence University (NDU), Kenya.

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