By Kibisu Kabatesi
Many in NASA and Jubilee see the failure to swear in Raila Odinga on Tuesday as a final sign of capitulation by the opposition. They don’t buy the script that it was in response to pleadings from the international community, and local business and religious organisations. They think it has more to do with fear of the mayhem and collateral damage that would have ensued. They could be right; the Jubilee regime seems to have decided extermination is the name of the game.
The government violently disrupted a procession to welcome Raila from his American trip, as well as the NASA rally scheduled to coincide with President Uhuru Kenyatta’s swearing-in. The latter was particularly brutal, with police targeting NASA leaders with live bullets. Many supporters were maimed.
The death toll from the two events was more than 50, bringing the number of Kenyans killed since the flawed elections to 215. These aren’t just numbers but children, parents and siblings of Kenyans.
NASA’s retreat was a moral issue; to avoid placing Kenyans in the line of fire from a regime determined to stay put at whatever cost. NASA has merely bottled the people’s anger; it could easily boil over any time. But the charge for reforms hasn’t aborted. NASA is regrouping for the long haul. At least that’s what NASA principal Musalia Mudavadi strongly hinted at.
In a press briefing on Friday after closing an ANC retreat in Naivasha, he was pressed on what was clearly an attempt to sow dissent in NASA. A journalist sarcastically inboxed on WhatsApp, “The country knows you as a sober leader. Your star is rising and you’ve a shining future beyond Raila. Why are you insisting on dimming it with this swearing-in?” The message was ‘drop Raila in exchange for unqualified ascendancy with Jubilee support.’ A composed and restrained Mudavadi took it in his stride and shot back: “What is a rose on a heap of rotten garbage? Isn’t it better to clear the garbage and have a rose garden for everyone?”
The answer confused the journalists. Like others in Jubilee, they continue to misread NASA’s insistence on reform. The People’s Assemblies and swearing-in aren’t ends in themselves but means to an end. NASA is not seeking power for the sake of it. It is not insisting on the presidency to assuage an ego. NASA is seeking electoral justice through reforms to our electoral system to stop this ritual of electoral theft and fraud. Electoral justice will benefit all and stop the country from sliding into ethnic civil war. Many countries collapse when citizens lose confidence in elections.
If Jubilee would choose to understand NASA correctly, it should be the first in line for dialogue. The ruling ethnic duopoly needs a cushion as it risks violent disintegration before the next election. Uhuru should resist the urge to scuttle dialogue on electoral justice. He must work to save the country post his rule. It’s unbecoming for the President to offer dialogue in official speeches and withdraw it in off-the-cuff remarks. It was Uhuru who promised dialogue after elections and upon being sworn in. In his Jamhuri Day speech, the President invited all Kenyans to the table for dialogue, promising to head an inclusive government.
But in a turnaround, Uhuru mocked the idea of dialogue, saying he would not engage in electoral reform and NASA should wait to discuss it with Jubilee candidate William Ruto in 2022. This is more than hypocrisy. Uhuru has a narrow view of electoral reform to mean voting. Electoral reform is meant to mitigate perennial conflict before, during and after elections.
A broad spectrum of electoral reform will end ethnic duopolies that balkanise the country, institutionalised electoral fraud and the wave of police violence and use of excessive force. You cannot always depend on force to leverage power. Sooner, the same armed forces begin to have intercourse with ethnic cleavages and abandon command.
Uhuru should realise every Kenyan desires that their vote counts in the end, whether they produce a winner or not. It can’t be normal that at every electoral cycle, instead of working towards free, fair, and transparent elections, a whole industry has grown around working to defeat credible elections.