THE BATTLE OF THE SONS RELOADED 50 YEARS DOWN THE LINE – IN PEACE THIS TIME
Kenya’s long awaited general election is underway since 7 am local time and while there are 6 levels of elected offices to decide about, all eyes are today on the two main protagonists, who renew the battle of their late fathers who on independence strove for political supremacy.
Back then it was Jomo Kenyatta who carried the day, leaving left leaning Jaramogi Oginga Odinga in the political cold and then literally shunned Nyanza Province after a shooting incident in Kisumu which saw him rushed away by his body guards in an incident described by his camp at the time as an assassination attempt. This event and its aftermath did for decades mark a political divide which evolved into an economic divide too, as that beautiful part of Kenya, bordering Lake Victoria, was in the eyes of many left behind when it came to resource allocation and infrastructure development, leave alone political influence.
Odinga senior, who found himself politically relegated into the lower basements as KANU subsequently stayed in power throughout the Kenyatta years and in fact until 2002 when Kenya’s second president Daniel arap Moi had to step down, stood for the presidency once again late in his life. At the time he made a spectacle of himself when with a tearful face he begged Kenyans to give him just one day in State House, a wish never fulfilled in his lifetime but clearly spurring on his son who is today standing for a second time to capture Kenya’s top political prize after losing 5 years ago to President Mwai Kibaki, which led to wide spread violence as his supporters took to the streets, throwing Kenya into turmoil until former UN Supremo Kofi Annan moderated a political powersharing deal.
In contrast is Uhuru Kenyatta, who grew up in State House as the son born that year and named after Independence Day aiming to return to the place of his youth and carry on his late father’s legacy in a second Kenyatta presidency, 50 years down the line.
Most Kenyans voting today are too young to remember those days though and will only have heard about these stories from their elders. Subsequently they will look at the 8 presidential candidates today from a different perspective, one where their own economic circumstances matter as they cast their votes today for the man, or woman of their choice whom they think can deliver a better future for them, and the entire country.
The new constitution of two years ago is also coming into full effect today as the new devolved system of governance comes into its own and the counties elect their governors and senators for the second tier of parliament, leaving the old provincial and district administrations from post independence days behind once and for all.
From the lessons learned in early 2008, when the country erupted in political violence as one camp disputed the outcome of the end December 2007 elections while the other was swift to put paid to speculations with a hasty swearing in ceremony, this year security is out in force with enough reserves reportedly held back to intervene at the first signs of trouble emerging once the trend of the results, drawn from exit polls and the gradual release of results for local, parliamentary, senate and governors’ elections becomes known. The region, after extensive consultations on governmental levels with their Kenyan counterparts, is cautiously optimistic that the chaos of 5 years ago was a one off event and will not be repeated as Kenyans, from the look of things, have a taste for peace and development rather than for a return to those dark days in early 2008, which set the country back for years.
All candidates in TV commercials pledged themselves to a peaceful conduct, unprecedented in this form in Kenya until now, and urged their supporters to also accept the outcome of the polls and seek and any redress in court and not on the streets of Kenya’s cities and towns.
A pointer towards that were news on Saturday that after the final rallies of the two key protagonists, opposing camp supporters, who streamed away from their venues, met in the streets and hugged and laughed rather than resorting to stones and sticks, a sign of remarkable maturity displayed and a disappointment for those foreign media sharks who came to Kenya to show their viewers back home pictures of chaos and strife. I, as do many of my friends in Kenya and the region, hope they will have to go back home with their tails between their legs, denied the doomsday scenarios they came – perhaps in some cases prewritten and prepared to file off the shelve from their luxury hotels in Nairobi – beaten by the Kenyan voters who will embrace peace and tolerance rather than violence and strife.
Hundreds of thousands of voters started queuing in the deep of the night, according to reports from several sources in Kenya and now two hours into the voting, which will end at 6 pm unless extended to cater for those already in the queues, making way for the all important vote count.
And regardless of my own preference of candidate and parties, my one and only wish is for Kenya to make yet more history today in this watershed elections, as it did when in an African first they staged two presidential debates on national TV. The signs are positive for sure, and a peaceful Kenya will be a prosperous Kenya from which the entire hinterland region comprising Uganda, South Sudan, Eastern Congo, Rwanda and Burundi will benefit.
As one of my sources said in a call at 7 am sharp, when his polling station opened ‘Let’s do this and show the world what Kenya is truly made of’’.
Tourism sources, who marched and advocated for peace in recent weeks, overwhelmingly endorsed the view that the elections will unfold in relative peace and that the results will not provoke the backlash of 5 years ago, which had wiped the fortunes of record performances out in one fell swoop and set the industry back by several years. ‘Yes, occupancies are down right now, considerably in fact, but we hope that if we have a winner today things will be back to normal in days and Easter will bring full house across our resorts and hotels and safari lodges. Overseas tour operators were overly cautious but will be back promoting us when we meet them at ITB later this week and show them evidence that all is well back home’ said one Nairobi based source in a message, who will be departing for Berlin and the ITB tonight.
Watch this space for updates as and when available and the results, as they are released by the IEBC as the only authoritative source of election result data in the country.