BY NGUNJIRI WAMBUGU
My political lecturer taught me that politics is about the power to allocate scare resources and manage conflict. He also told us that politics is ‘ubiquitous’ i.e. it is everywhere and in everything human beings do, all the time. This means we play politics in our social relationships, in how we conduct business, and/or in how we manage expectations on us from the society.
My lecturer also told us that in society, politics goes hand in hand with the management or lack thereof, of conflict. This is because whenever people have to determine who gets what, the resources being divided are not enough; then there will be tension, and conflict. These tensions and conflicts can either be managed and negotiated; or ignored. If they are ignored then whoever is in charge of that society must use excessive force to keep society quiet. However this situation is only possible for a while before the society rebels and uses this same force to break free of whatever fear their current leadership has over them; re-organise itself and replace that leadership with another group of people who present themselves as more sensitive to what society wants.
Kenya is a nation with scarce resources. We do not have enough access to education, health or infrastructure, or opportunities in business or employment, for everyone. This creates a political environment where the determination of who gets what, and when; and why, is fraught with all manner of drama.
When you are the one in charge you want to keep this drama to the bare minimum, because it can stop you from doing anything else. However when you are the one outside, trying to get into power, you do everything possible to keep this drama at optimum level because it disorganises those in power and disillusions the masses against them; making it easy to mobilise these masses to throw the first team out, and replace them with you; democratically or otherwise.
Conflict is therefore what opposition politicians thrive on. Former US President Bill Clinton once said that “constant conflict is actually often good politics, because the more you can inflame your supporters the more likely they are to show up at Election Day and if they’re more inflamed than the other side, even if the other side has more people agreeing with it, you’ll win because your crowd will show up.”
Jubilee inflamed their supporters a lot more effectively than CORD did in the 2013 elections. Looking at the build-up to Raila’s homecoming rally, and the Saturday rally itself; CORD clearly wants to return the favour, and going by their public utterances over the last few weeks I suspect that they are happy to have that happen even before the next elections day if possible. CORD leaders are trying to inflame their supporters as much as possible, maybe hoping that they can get them to the point where these supporters will accept to use ‘people’s power’ to throw Uhuru and Co. out; and replace them with Raila and Co.
They also seem quite unconcerned that for this to happen, lives would most probably be lost; maybe because they know the lives will not be theirs. I have heard them say that the tree of freedom is watered with blood. Fortunately (for them) it is never the blood of the leaders.
This is why I get very worried when Jubilee leaders say ‘wakati wa kupiga siasa umekwisha’ (the time for playing politics is over). How do they imagine they can govern a country like Kenya and not play politics, literally all the time; especially when their opposite number is someone like Raila Amollo Odinga?
Did Uhuru Kenyatta not learn anything from Kibaki’s tenure? He attempted to do what they are doing between 2003 and 2005. The results were unpleasant. His determination to ignore politicking, and one Raila Odinga, led to him receiving a resounding political whipping in the 2005 referendum, and to the 2007 post election violence. He learnt his lesson, albeit after thousands died and Kenya was nearly destroyed, and from 2008 made politics become such a central part of how he governed that he not only effectively managed and shaped political opinion and expression in and about Kenya locally and internationally; but over the next five years also completely neutered Raila Odinga’s political capacity.
He did all this so efficiently that most people, including the former Prime Minister himself, did not even realise what he was doing, until it was too late.
Jubilee needs to learn look at what Kibaki’s political aloofness during his first three years did to Kenya; especially how it allowed ODM the space to initiate and build momentum around a very dangerous ‘us versus them’ political narrative, which directly created the socio-political environment that led to Kenya’s 2007/08 moment of madness. Jubilee must tell us whether we need to prepare ourselves for another round of bloodshed, before they also learn how to govern, politically.
(Wambugu, who is the Executive Director of Change Associates Trust, was on the 2013 Odinga campaign)