“Hope – Hope in the face of difficulty. Hope in the face of uncertainty. The audacity of hope! In the end, that is God’s greatest gift to us, the bedrock of this nation. A belief in things not seen. A belief that there are better days ahead.” – Barack Obama.
About two years ago, Martha Karua made no secret of her presidential ambitions and after wilfully resigning from Kibaki’s Cabinet, she has been hard at work campaigning and drumming up support for her bid.
About two weeks ago, Raphael Tuju resigned from his cushy job as Special Advisor to the President and declared that he is offering his candidature for President of Kenya in 2012.
These two are among the growing number of Presidential hopefuls seeking to challenge the two descendants from the two big political dynasties Kenyatta and Odinga, along with the rest of the candidates vying for CEO, Kenya 2012.
As far as political campaigns go, I’m sure that the hopefuls are hoping their new faces and fresh ideas trigger an Obama effect that will inspire wide-scale, cross-boundary support from the electorate. Although Kibaki is certainly no Bush, presidential aspirants will target the failings of his two-term administration and hope to sell themselves as the Change Agent that the voters and the country seek. They will promise to slay the twin-headed dragon that is corruption and impunity, they will have you convinced that once they’re elected the economy will be revitalised, jobs will be created and basic services will be improved for all Kenyans.
That said, the Obama effect as we know it, is unlikely to work here in Kenya.
We are still a nascent constitutional democracy and our institutions are still shaky, including political parties. Whereas in the States, once Obama was able to convince his own party that he could lead them, the party used its machinery to reach out to their entire country and drum up support for Obama.
We still have a long way to go.
Unfortunately, running for political office in Kenya is still associated with two things: firstly you are automatically considered your tribe’s flag-bearer and therefore your chances of success depended on the size of your tribal voting block and what alliances your tribe could build with other tribes. Secondly, as an aspirant for political office, you’re expected to have a lot of money to..well…literally go around buying support.
So with the latest entry of Mr. Tuju to the fray of presidential candidates, five points came to mind:
It is highly unlikely for a “nobody” let alone a “john-come-lately” like Tuju or Ole Kiyiapi or Mutava or Kenneth or Muite or Abdikadir or Wamalwa to just assume that Kenyans will vote for them simply because they claim to be new faces and claim to be offering change. Even Martha Karua, who is relatively well known, understood from the onset that the audacity of hope isnt enough to get you votes, you must start campaigning early enough to be able to prepare and sensitise the public.Therefore, new-comers like Tuju appear to be underestimating the challenge of running for president by starting off their campaigns almost at the eleventh hour.
2. Track Record & Merit
Starting campaigns early enough would allow new-comers to tell the voters who they are, what they’ve accomplished and why they deserve a chance to be president. With more and more Kenyans having access to information through the mobile telephony and mainstream media, aspirants will have to distinguish themselves as suitable candidates on the basis of their qualifications and experience. Campaigns will have to be focussed on the candidates’ skills and competence as well as their vision for taking Kenya forward. As demonstrated through the public’s participation in the interviewing and vetting processes of Judicial and Executive nominees, Kenyans are keen to have the right people holding leadership positions.
3. Being Tribeless
I must applaud Raphael Tuju for declaring that he is tribeless and is running for Office as a Kenyan and not affiliated to any tribe. However in reality, Kenya remains largely patriarchal and every Kenyan’s tribe is automatically deduced from your father’s surname. So when Tuju declares he is tribeless, some Kenyans might not quite understand what he means because our country is still very polarised along ethnic lines. For this reason, campaigning on a ‘tribeless’ platform has been successful in more urban areas than in rural areas, especially for Civic and Parliamentary Elections. But at the national level, tribe remains a huge factor that cannot simply be brushed away by going around calling yourself ‘tribeless’. If only, things were different, right?
4 Incremental change
Value systems and institutional culture certainly wont change overnight, and you’re not going to stop people from thinking ethnically just because there is a whole section in Constitution that lists National Principles and Values or a whole chapter dedicated to Leadership and Integrity. It is up to us to breathe life into these constitutional aspirations by practicing them in every facet of our private and public lives. As for the entire electorate, it is important that they think of themselves as citizens and not members of an ethnic community. This is the message that all the presidential hopefuls must carry with them as they continue their campaigns.
5 Significance of new-comers in 2012
In the two or three-horse race that is the 2012 Presidency, most aspirants including Tuju must aim to simply introduce themselves to the country as future leaders and start properly planning for 2017. Although these candidates won’t win the elections, their presidential bids will have a catalytic effect to inspire future generations to look at political leadership as open to all and that you can be elected or nominated to serve your country without having to invoke your tribe. Therefore by having a wide field of hopefuls consistently contesting for public office, this paradigm shift can gradually start to take place.
And so in conclusion, I am left staring blankly at the Prime Time News wondering: Will Kenyans ever be ready to vote for a “nobody”, an “outsider” or will the elections in Kenya always end up predictably a contest between a handful of pre-ordained tribally endorsed politicians?