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Kenya’s General Election: Why, for the good of the country, Raila Odinga must win

There has been a lot of negative coverage about the forthcoming gen elections in Kenya on 9th August 2022.

The Economist’s article below a few months back is typical:

It fairly cites a lack of a viable choice and focuses on the cynicism of Kenyan politics; Where politicians change allegiances and political parties – usually one-election vehicles for whatever frontrunner is in current fashion – more often than they change their expensive imported Versace and Armani suits; Of which they can easily afford a warehouse-load on a Kenyan politician’s ludicrously-inflated salary when compared to even those in the most powerful countries in the west.

Sure, the curse of tribal politics is nowhere more visible than in Kenya on the continent. A curse that always comes at the cost of actual viable social and economic policies that are almost an afterthought and hard to discern between the two current frontrunners – Raila Odinga and William Ruto:

Both candidates aspire to “bottom-up economics”, whatever that actually means, and a vague promise of subsidies on fertilisers. Ultimately they both inspire nothing more than apathy in the Kenyan electorate.

But that is missing a trick.

As someone who witnessed the Kenyan election violence first-hand; Violence that broke out at the end of 2007 after disputed elections back then that were clearly stolen from Raila and that saw over 1000 killed, if the country is to ever begin to overcome its tribal strife, then Raila must rightfully ascend. And do so in free and fair elections.

Ruto, who comes from the fourth-largest Kenyan tribe – the Kalenjins – might cite Julius Nyerere as one of his heroes because of his success at largely ironing out tribal divisions in neighbouring Tanzania (a great achievement in and of itself, but done at the cost of failed, socialist-orientated policies such as nationalisations and forced farm collectivisations that destroyed the country’s economy) and hopes to do the same for Kenya, but a victory for Raila would do more in a split second than any lofty words (and probably only token ones at that from Ruto) ever could.

For as de facto leader of the third largest tribe in Kenya – the Luos who make up most of western Kenya – Raila symbolises that whole tribe’s frustrations at having been largely excluded from the highest echelons of power since independence. Something that has been exclusive to the largest tribe, the Kikuyus and the Kalenjins in President Moi from 1978-2002, .

More than any other politician that I saw while covering the election violence in 2007/8, Raila always seemed genuinely weighed most by the whole terrible affair.

There are continued misgivings amongst a wary electorate – especially by the largest tribe – the Kikuyus – that he will be dictatorial and attack the very democratic values whose erosion lead to his own exclusion from power. But in the lead-up to this election, he has bent over backwards to court and humble himself in front of the very people who have again and again treated him with suspicion. There is no evidence that he would lead in this way. In fact, out of the three politicians who have dominated Kenyan politics since the election violence, Kenyatta, Ruto and Raila, he is the only one not to have been prosecuted by the ICC for the violence back in 07/08.

Whether he wins them over remains to be seen.

By giving his approval, current President Uhuru Kenyatta took the first step in trying to break that cycle of prejudice that has forever burdened Kenya, since independence with essentially the sidelining of the entire west of the country.

In my (humble) opinion, it is now time for the Kenyan electorate to follow suit and help smash the vicious cycle of tribal nonsense once and for all. Raila has done more and suffered more than most politicians in Kenya – tortured himself under President Moi.

It is time to give him the chance that he rightly deserves at the top slot and in so doing, take one more positive step towards ending tribal conflict and prejudice in Kenya.

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