Based on my experiences in discussions on ethnicity after the 2007 post-election violence and the lessons learnt, I am convinced that the most fundamental change in our new constitution is the ‘50% + 1’ requirement for one to become President.
In the old constitution the easier route to the presidency was to split Kenya into small pieces, and then seek the support of the largest ‘small piece(s)’. This is how President Moi could legally win an election with less than 32 percent of the entire presidential vote.
This ‘divide and rule’ principle over the years ultimately led to the 2007 post-election violence.
However under our new constitution the next presidents must work on the basis that Kenya is one large ‘piece’, and then seek the support of at least half of it, plus one.
Unfortunately not everyone has moved with the times as is clearly indicated by the operations of groups like the G7 Alliance. In comparison, Prime Minister Raila Odinga seems to have completely internalized this new principle of politics, which could be why he is leading in every poll.
The substance of his tour of Nyandarua last week is a case in point.
The Prime Minister started with a private visit to Mukami Kimathi’s home in recognition of the role her husband played as a nationalist, in Kenya’s fight for independence. He then drove across the county, with several stops at various points where he addressed several large crowds.
He then became the first ever senior government official in the 37 years since JM Kariuki died to officially visit the JM homestead and lay a wreath on JM’s grave. Finally, he proceeded to Ol Kalau where he officially opened Ol Kalau hospital, a hospital JM Kariuki helped build but which has never been officially opened, and also renamed it in JM’s honour.
The reason I use this tour as an example of why the Prime Minister has internalized the principle of Kenya being one piece is because going to Nyandarua was not a walk in the park for him. During his stops along the way at various towns he spoke to large crowds made up of people who ranged from the very warm, to the nearly hostile, to him.
However with each group he went out of his way and to great lengths, to explain his political ideology; his national agenda, and local government interventions he will pursuing to help area residents.
He also responded to stereotypes being used by his rivals to fight him politically, especially in the region. He explained why he holds the Kikuyu community in high regard and drew on his associations especially during the fight for multi-party democracy; he explained he cannot be behind Uhuru’s ICC tribulations as he and Kibaki were always in support of a local tribunal.
He also reminded each group that when he had said ‘Kibaki Tosha’ in 2002 it was with full knowledge that Kibaki was a Kikuyu; but in support of the fact that he was the best candidate to take over from Moi. This shows that he cannot be accused of being against Kikuyu leaders.
Unfortunately not a single MP from the region had the courtesy of accompanying the Prime Minister of the Republic of Kenya into their neighbourhood despite the fact that the heroes he had come to honour are all local men and women held in very high regard by large sections of the community; heroes these same leaders have done very little if anything, to honour themselves. Of course the most shameful absence would have to be that of the Ol’ Kalau MP whose only constituency hospital was elevated, re-named and better-equipped, to serve his own voters!
However what stood out for me was that despite this circumstances, and despite the fact that he could easily have done the same profile of a tour in any other part of the country, in a lot more comfort and with a lot more political support, the Prime Minister chose to take the tougher, more gruelling and certainly more humbling, route.
Clearly he leads the pack of presidential contenders because he is willing to work harder than his competition; it is also interesting to note President Kibaki’s recent comments that the next President will be the one who works harder than the others.
In conclusion, the pursuit of the presidency has never been easy in any part of the world; and in my opinion, should not be. In the Kenyan context, and with the 2007 experience, anyone who desires to be ‘Kenya One’ over the other 40 million of us must accept that the process of getting there will be uncomfortable, difficult, challenging, and humbling. Kenyans want them to go outside their comfort zone; to see the process break you and make you into a person in whom all Kenyans can see themselves. That is the only way we will trust you with our country’s leadership.
As the leading contender for the presidency Raila is setting the pace; now we need to see his rivals do the same. Maybe Uhuru Kenyatta could brave similar crowds in Nyanza as evidence that he understands that the Kenya he wants to lead also includes Nyanza?