Kenya: teetering on the edge
Kenya is in serious trouble. In recent months, it has seemed as though the country is living day to day by Murphy’s law: “anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.”
Every day, Kenyans wake up to more bad news: soldiers killed in Somalia, again; the government in denial about the attack and number of soldiers killed- until, that is, Al-Shabaab releases videos (this has happened twice so far).
Besides this, there is a famine ravaging the north of the country – predicted a year ago when the rains failed- which the government assured Kenyans it had enough food stocks to offset. Subsequently, this has led to attacks on conservations and game reserves by pastoralists looking for pasture and killing the few remaining and endangered animals left in our ever-depleting parks and reserves.
If this were not enough, the doctors’ strike drags on; it is now entering it's 3rd month. Yes, 3 months! 62 days of no public hospitals and Kenyans dying. With no doctors to staff the hospitals, people continue to die due to lack of treatment or money to go to the few private clinics still open.
To top it all off, we have a President so far removed from the realities of the everyday, that he believes the most appropriate way to respond to these crises is with a PR and media train-wreck, by hiring a professional dance troupe (complete with costumes) and producing a video of himself ‘dabbing’ on Twitter- a dance that only under-16’s would understand. Perhaps given that 43% of the Kenyan population is under 16 years old, he thought it would be a good way to motivate the ‘youths’ in this testing time. Why not help the young men in Marsabit take their minds off their rail-thin cattle and hunger pangs with some light-hearted entertainment from state house?!
Meanwhile, his deputy William Ruto has already launched the campaign for his eventual takeover in 2022 (as he keeps insisting will happen). Never mind the fact that it is currently 2017, and the country is yet to carry out this year’s elections!
Across social media, TV, radios and on the streets, it’s clear that the common wananchi are angry but, at least for now, not angry enough. The country is teetering on the edge of a very thin precipice. Opposition supporters are pointing to all these government failings as reasons to kick them out at this year’s elections, whatever the cost. However, it seems as if everyone has resigned themselves to the eventual conclusion of this all, that there will be at the very least some conflict at this year’s elections.
Which reminds me, (yes, there’s more!) 2017 has always been known as an election year. Yet, for some unfathomable reason, the country’s elections referee, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, seems to be running against the clock and generally not ready.
There have also been massive cases of reported vote-buying and parallel voter registration. Only last week, an officer of the National Youth Service (NYS) narrowly survived a lynching after being caught registering members to join the youth service. The only problem was that he was caught using similar Biometric Voter Registration (BVR) kits that the IEBC have in an opposition-leaning area. The government later clarified that indeed he was registering youth for the Youth Service. This has left many wondering why The NYS saw it fit to carry out a parallel registration during this voter registration period, which only runs for one month- what was the hurry? It also brought to the fore the deep mistrust many in opposition-leaning zones hold about any activity the government participates in.
Further to this, there have been cases of fake IDs being used for registration and also of names going missing from the register. It does not help the credibility of the next elections that these problems are largely occurring in the opposition areas.
Even stranger, earlier this month an apparent Al-Shabaab attack took place in Mandera, in which BVR kits were stolen. At least, that was the government’s line. Later that week Al-Shabaab released a press briefing to clarify they had not stolen any BVR kits. At the moment, the government is engaged in an online argument with Al-Shabaab while Kenyans watch in amusement. Interestingly, the theft happened only weeks after ICT Minister Joe Mucheru said the government would be pushing for a ‘backup’ manual voting method in case of problems with the BVR system.
Another government senator, Beth Mugo, has given her reason for pushing for the manual system: apparently, Kenyan farmers work so hard that their fingerprints are non-existent and therefore it would be discriminatory if we were to rely only on the Biometric Voting system at the elections. I trust she will also be instructing judges in her region to refrain from using fingerprint evidence in court for any crimes involving agricultural workers hereafter!
Against this backdrop, people have been asking what happened to the dynamic duo at the top, Uhuru and Ruto. Their campaign pushed the pair as young and ‘digital’, with one of the main themes being that the opposition candidate Raila Odinga was old and ‘analogue’. Somehow it now seems the duo have gone analogue, while Odinga is now champion of all things digital.
The opposition is afraid that the government wants a manual system, as it is easier to cheat using this method, and have been quick to point out that Al-Shabaab’s alleged stealing of BVRs is part of the government’s shenanigans to push their manual voting line. The reasons given by the government for reverting to manual voting have ranged from the absolutely absurd to the outlandish. Meanwhile, the opposition has been rigid in its demands. However, having witnessed the Ghanaian and Gambian elections (which were largely free, fair, had international observers and systems agreed to by both sides),i t seems both sides are pushing for the election that would benefit them most.
For a country that almost fell into civil war in 2007, it is interesting that politicians on either side do not seem concerned about the rabid speeches coming from both sides of the political divide. With the collapse of the ICC cases, there is now no bogeyman to scare politicians into behaving as was done in 2013. For now, Kenyans stand by and watch with bated breath as events unfold.
Kwame L S Otiende’s interests include political settlements, development economics, global supply chains and security in Africa. He has a BA Politics and Development from the University of London’s- School of Oriental and African studies and an MSc Global Supply Chain and Logistics Management from the University of Sussex. He is also a member of the Chartered institute of Procurement (CIPS) and Supplies and the Chartered institute of Logistics and Transport (CILT).