Presidential race begins 5 years early

With an insatiable appetite for intrigue, Kenya’s politicians are already re-aligning for the next presidential election, even though the polls are 5 years away.

Martha Karua, the Minister for Justice. She will vie for the presidency - in 2012.

Martha Karua, the Minister for Justice. She will vie for the presidency - in 2012.

A highly charged political atmosphere contributed to the chaos of Kenya’s elections in December 2007. Five years of campaigning had whipped up violent emotions among the country’s 42 ethnic groups, with each feeling that its candidate had to win the presidency at all cost. Threats against opposing ethnic groups were issued by candidates across the national divide.

In spite of the deaths of hundreds and displacement of half a million people, Kenya’s politicians have not learnt much from the experience as campaigns begin 5 years too early. President Mwai Kibaki is serving his last term of office in accordance with Kenya’s constitution, with allies dumping him and embarking on their own campaigns.

The latest entrant into the race is the Minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs, Martha Karua.  The tenacious lawyer is a key Kibaki ally who played a prominent role in negotiations early this year that created Kenya’s giant coalition.

Negotiations led by former United Nations Secretary General Koffi Annan were meant to reconcile President Kibaki of the PNU party with opposition leader Raila Odinga of ODM after the disputed December polls. Karua, representing Kibaki’s PNU, maintained a hardline stance against the ODM. Eventually, a coalition was formed with Kibaki retaining the presidency and Raila becoming Prime Minister.

Ms Karua is said to have grown disillusioned with President Kibaki for his apparent preference for Uhuru Kenyatta as a successor. It just so happens that Kibaki is Uhuru’s baptismal godfather. Other persons said to be in Kibaki’s good books are Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka and  Internal Security Minister, George Saitoti.

As a result of presidential ambitions among Kibaki allies, the PNU alliance is beginning to fracture. Ford Kenya has said that it will remain a separate entity as has the Democratic Party. Uhuru Kenyatta’s KANU party is not likely to dissolve itself if statements from its members are anything to go by. Kalonzo Musyoka’s ODM-Kenya is unlikely to willingly subsume itself into PNU. Thus, Kibaki and PNU are being described as lame ducks with little relevance in the emerging political equations.

The heightened presidential campaigns have been criticized by both President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga. Both of them say that government leaders should be serving Kenyans. Currently, almost 60% of the country’s population survives in abject poverty, with little access to water, electricity and health care. Rising food prices and fuel costs are making life harder for majority of Kenyans amidst ethnic tension and rising crime. In this light, early presidential campaigns are being viewed as an example of insensitivity and corruption among Kenya’s elite, most of whose income is largely untaxed.

Experience in Kenya’s history indicates that the person likely to become president is one entirely unexpected to win. Founding president, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta spent over 20 years in exile and close to a decade in detention before he won the seat. His successor, Daniel arap Moi was a former school teacher from a small tribe in the Rift Valley and who was considered as, “a passing cloud.” The current president, Mwai Kibaki, had by the end of the 1990s been dismissed as a spent force with an uncanny ability to procrastinate crucial decisions.

If the past is any indicator, it can be concluded that the noise makers in Kenya’s political scene have little chance of winning the coveted seat.

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