Ethnicity still plays a role in the political decisions people make

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In announcing the presidential results for the October 26 repeat polls, IEBC Chairman Wafula Chebukati said the issue that we need to ponder urgently is why there is always violence during the elections. From 2007 to 2017, our polls are always bitterly contested. This happens regardless of how far-reaching the electoral reforms instituted. We have also been overhauling the electoral team in every election. However the solution to chaos remains as elusive as a mirage.

This can only mean one thing; that the answer lies elsewhere. It is increasingly becoming clearer that the problem was not Issack Hassan and the composition of his commissioners in 2013. Neither is it Chebukati and his team in 2017. If the solution was in reforming the electoral commission, we would be by now having smooth presidential elections.
So where did the rain start beating us? If you asked me, I think the problem is embedded in the tribal nature of our politics. Listening to Raila Odinga and the NASA brigade keenly, one realizes that they are seeking a political solution that cannot be found in merely reforming the IEBC.

It is a fact that Kenyans still vote mainly on the basis of tribe. This is not to discount the fact that we have made important progress in uniting the country and bolstering our democracy. However, we still have some ground to cover before we can achieve ideal democracy.

As it is said, building a vibrant democracy is not an event but a process. Therefore at the stage where we are now as a country, ethnicity still plays a role in the political decisions people make. This is why the strongholds of Jubilee are Rift Valley and Central regions while Nasa is Nyanza and Western. Presidential candidates draw their key support from their home turfs. This is not necessarily a bad thing. You have to be celebrated at home before the rest of the country can do so. This is why Raila’s support in Luo Nyanza is always solid as is the case with Uhuru in Central. This is a reality that we cannot run away from.

The main challenge when ethnicity defines election is that some communities can monopilise politics and power if they strike lasting political pacts and bring their large numbers to bear. Aside from perception issues, there is nothing wrong with this as well because the Constitution guarantees freedom of assembly and association. It is democracy at play, however imperfect it is. This is how tyranny-of-numbers debate has crept into our political discourse. However, this debate is misguided to a large extent as democracy is essentially about numbers – majority having their way and minority having their say.

NASA seems to be unhappy with the merger of URP, a political party with its base in Rift Valley, and TNA with its roots mainly in Central. Yet they themselves are an amalgam of disparate parties drawing their support from ethnic enclaves. So, we are in all these together.

Poring through NASA’s recent sentiments, one gets the impression that they perceive URP-TNA merger as a conspiracy by the two parties to monopolise power. Yet this was never the intention of William Ruto and President Uhuru Kenyatta when they entered into a political union. The opposite is actually true. The duo were on a mission to de-ethnicise our politics and unite the country after the 2007/08 post-election imbroglio. They were also keen on transforming the livelihoods of all Kenyans, a goal that they are well on their way of achieving looking at the Jubilee record in the last five years – unprecedented development in every nook and cranny of the country.

If then NASA is unhappy that Rift Valley and Central have found a formula to work together, they ought to candidly say so. Then we can have an open and honest discussion on how we can redress the matter at hand. Skirting around real issues and coming up with dishonest demands while holding the country at ransom will not redress the political questions that we face.

We can only reach an agreement on the political grievances that we have by being honest. Threats, intimidation and grandstanding will not take us anywhere.
Finally, it is not Uhuru’s and Ruto’s mistake to come from the most populous communities. It is also not a crime for the two to work together.

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