By Teklemichael Abebe
Ever since I left Kenya for Canada, I hardly missed a single day not following Kenyan politics online. It is the humour and flexibility in Kenyan politics that give me a break from the rigidity and bitterness in Ethiopian politics. Many things fascinate and puzzle me about Kenyan politics. One of the things that puzzle me is the role ethnicity plays in their politics. When I was in Kenya, their law did not allow forming political party along ethnic lines. There was no such thing called the Kikuyu Democratic Party or the Kalenjin Liberation Front or the Luo People Democratic Organization; no OPDO, TPLF or OLF in Kenyan politics.
Although Kenyan law does not allow forming political parties along ethnic lines, Kenyan politics is highly ethnicity-charged. The voting patterns in the last election and the vitriolic social media exchanges among members of different ethnic groups over the last couple of weeks demonstrate that. The voting patterns tell you that voters’ decision is determined by the ethnic background of their favourite candidate. In the last election, you can easily discern that Uhuru Kenyatta obtained 98 % votes in Kikuyu areas whereas Raila Odinga got only less than 2% in those areas. The reverse is true at Raila’s strongholds. Voters follow their ethnic candidate.
I was fortunate to observe the 2002 election before president Daniel Arap Moi left power. The then amateur Uhuru Kenyatta was defeated by the veteran politician Mwai Kibaki at that time. Raila ganged up with Kibaki in the famous Rainbow Coalition, a CUD like coalition formed by various political parties to defeat Moi’s hand-picked candidate, Uhuru Kenyatta. Raila endorsed Kibaki for president in 2002. Raila was given a heroes’ welcome when he went to Kikuyu area after the victory. The coalition did not last long and after winning the presidency, Kibaki and Raila parted their ways.
At the 2007 election, Raila and Kibaki came out being rivals. The election commission declared Kibaki a winner of the election, but Raila refused to accept the result. Serious ethnic clashes broke out following the announcement of the result and over 1000 people were killed. Although Kibaki was declared president, he had to share power with Raila in a grand coalition formed after Kofi Annan’s brokered peace deal. The last five years were full of tension, bickering and infightings between the two principals and their followers.
The March 4, 2013 reminded me of the second fascinating thing about Kenyan politics. Kenyan politicians do not hold grudges. They are flexible. A few months before the March 4 election, I read on one of Kenya’s newspaper that the current vice-president, Kalonzo Musyoka and Raila Odinga formed a coalition. I was puzzled by what I read. Kalonzo was Raila’s arch enemy in the 2007 election and over the following four years. Kalonzo ganged up with Kibaki after the 2007 election and mounted a surmountable challenge to Raila’s political powers. They remained rivals for four years and all of a sudden they emerged as allies for the March 2013 election. The coalition between Kalonzo and Raila is a marker of the degree of flexibility pragmatisms in Kenyan politics. We Ethiopians need the flexibility, pragmatism and forgiveness of Kenyan politics.
Be that as it may, after a week of counting and recounting of the votes, the Independent Election and Boundary Commission of Kenya (IEBC), the Kenyan counterpart of Ethiopian National Election Commission, declared Uhuru Kenyatta, the son of the first president of Kenya, the winner of the election. Raila Odinga, the son of the other famous freedom-fighter and politician, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, did not concede defeat. He lodged his petition to the Supreme Court of Kenya (SCK) last Saturday. According to the Kenyan dailies, Raila argues in his petition that the registration of voters, the conduct of elections as well as the transmission and tallying of votes was flawed and was in breach of the constitution. Hence he asks the SCK to declare that the result is null and void. The SCK commences hearing the case Monday. If the court holds that the election was fair and transparent, the swearing in ceremony of the president elect will proceed and Uhuru Kenyatta will be the 4th Kenya president. We don’t know the other possibility yet.
Kenya is a second home for hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians. Many Ethiopians are indebted to Kenya because it gave them sanctuary when they fled their country. Although we all faced difficulties when we were in Kenya, such as police harassment, the hardships we experienced there do not reduce our indebtedness to Kenya. I have been detained in about seven Nairobi jails. I was beaten by Kenyan police. However, every time I think of Kenya, I think of Njery and Mama Mambo, who used to feed me when I was hungry. Njoroge and Kamau, who tolerated me when I did not have money to pay my rent in time. I think of those ordinary Kenyans who have never complained about the presence of refugees in their backyards, competing in the markets and taking over their jobs and businesses. I love Kenya and Kenyans.
Based on my four years stay in Kenya and my daily updates, I don’t believe whoever becomes president will change the lives of ordinary Kenyans. However, I always pray and keep my fingers crossed that God save Kenyans from the repeat of any chaos and massacre of civilians. I hope the SCK will make an impartial, fair, and informed decision as it has promised. I also hope that the candidates and their followers will abide by the final decision of the SCK. Whoever loses at court should be thankful because in Kenya there is at least an independent court they can turn to when they are aggrieved. That is not the case in Ethiopia; where ethnic federalism is the basis of the constitution and people or political parties do not have an independent reliable court to appeal whether to protest an election or to get remedy for other political wrongs.