The covert reasons behind Kenyatta-Odinga ceasefire
4 months ago, 17 Mar 18:46
It has finally happened. The great political reconciliation is here. After months of bitter disputes, on March 9, 2018 President Uhuru Kenyatta and opposition chief Raila Odinga announced that they had made up and are now “brothers”. Regular readers of this column should not be surprised – on February 4, I wrote that the growing political fragmentation within both the government and the opposition would lead to splits in the National Super Alliance (Nasa) and the Jubilee Party and, before the next election, a radical process of political alignment. What I did not expect was that the change would come quite so quickly, and that Odinga would get such a poor deal. NASA DEMANDS Of course, it may be the case that a series of reforms are about to be announced, but on the face of it Raila appears to have given in to all of Kenyatta’s demands – most obviously recognising him as the country’s legitimate President, symbolised by the choice of venue, Harambee House – while Uhuru has not (yet) given in to any of the main points raised by the opposition. As a result, the deal has led to criticism – not least because it appears to provide cover for a Jubilee government that has engaged on a dangerous path of democratic backsliding. Babior Newton, Odinga’s biographer and usually a sympathetic voice, wrote that the nation had been “betrayed” and the opposition was “dead and gone”. Musalia Mudavadi, co-principal of Nasa, lamented that it did not reflect the will of the Kenyan people. So why was the deal struck, what does it tell us about Kenyan politics, and what does it mean for the defence of democracy? POLITICAL COMPETITION Although at the time it was often described as something of an aberration, now that the dust has started to settle, the politics of the last year seems to reflect a well-established pattern of political competition in Kenya. First, leaders seek to secure control over their own ethnic group. Second, they rally their community to a particular cause or party. Third, they leverage this support as a bargaining chip in their negotiations with other national elites in order to gain access to state power. Of course, I am not the first to point this out. Over 30 years ago, Nicholas Nyangira, one of the most astute analysts of Kenyan politics, wrote a book chapter entitled Ethnicity, class, and politics in Kenya. ETHNICITY He argued that although commentators were often obsessed with the significance of ethnicity in Kenya, ethnicity and class were both important. Ethnicity mattered, because without the backing of ones own ethnic community it was almost impossible to be taken seriously within the national political arena. But class was also important, because the real value of ethnic politics was that it enabled a leader to secure entry to the national political elite and potentially to corridors of power. As many people have noted, one of the main problems with this system is that the real needs of the communities ...
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