Expect little from Kenya’s elections

by Oct 27, 2022All Articles

ON 5TH SEPTEMBER 2022, THE Supreme Court of Kenya upheld President William Ruto’s victory in the recently concluded general election that was held on 9th August. Ruto’s main competitor, Raila Odinga, stood as the candidate of the Azimio La Umoja One Kenya Coalition. They had disputed the results announced by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) on 15th August. Raila cited irregularities by Commission Chairperson Wafula Chebukati. Chebukati was also abandoned by four other commissioners just before the announcement of the presidential results. They criticised the opaque nature of the final presidential tally. Azimio La Umoja Coalition then moved to the Supreme Court of Kenya, asking the court to declare the process null and void. They argued that there was technological interference with the forms uploaded to the Commission’s portal. However, in its ruling, the Supreme Court, through Chief Justice Martha Koome, dismissed all of the seven petitions submitted, due to insufficient evidence from the petitioners. The court also criticised the four commissioners, saying that it had taken notice of the fact that they actively participated in the tallying and verification exercise from the beginning, until just before the declaration of the results by the IEBC Chairperson.

Elections largely peaceful…

The following day, the four commissioners welcomed the verdict, agreeing to respect the court’s ruling and the commission of which they are part. International Observers, including the East Africa Community (EAC), the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the Commonwealth, and the African Union (AU) also praised the IEBC for conducting a credible election. The entire election period saw Kenyans remain calm and peaceful; the memories of the 2007-08 post-election violence always create tensions whenever a general election nears.

…but participation was poor

However, the 2022 election registered one of the lowest turn-outs in the last 15 years of Kenyan elections. Only 65 percent of the 22.12 million registered voters turned up to cast their ballots. Voter apathy was mainly among the youth below 35 years who are 70% of the Kenyan population. Kenya headed to these elections with the cost of living at a historic high, and with a legion of corruption cases under the government of President Uhuru Kenyatta. In this context, the state had an uphill task to mobilise voters who were not convinced there would be any change, regardless of who became president. President Uhuru had publicly declared his backing for Raila Odinga while William Ruto was still his deputy in the government.

Poverty, climate change and inequality

Prior to the August general elections, hundreds of Kenyans from informal settlements were organised by grassroots activists, under the slogan Njaa (Hunger) Revolution. They took to the streets in demonstrations against food prices and basic commodities that had become unaffordable. Millions of Kenyans were going to sleep hungry, while a few were f ighting for political power to enrich themselves.

Elections in a bourgeois democracy more often than not offer illusions of choice. They create a false consciousness among the working class that somehow they own the process to power, and perhaps it’s not just a ruling class affair. With neoliberal capitalism in crisis, it has become difficult to defend its discourse. Liberal democracy seems to have hit a dead end and there is no reappraisal for it anytime soon.

The future of capitalism is bleak in Kenya. Poverty, climate change and inequality are some of the contradictions that cannot be resolved. Maybe the working class, consciously or unconsciously, have understood the fact that the ballot does not bring any significant change. The previous regime of Uhuru Kenyatta failed completely to deliver on its promises of improving the lives of the ordinary masses. The result of this was that the majority of Kenyans did not believe in the manifestos of either William Ruto or Raila Odinga.

The candidates

Former Prime Minister Raila Odinga was once a detainee in the era of the Moi dictatorship in the 80s. He is respected among progressives in Kenya and celebrated for his role in the second liberation struggle, in the fight for multiparty democracy. It was also his fifth attempt at winning the presidential seat. In his manifesto, the former Prime Minister had promised social welfare to cushion the vulnerable against harsh economic times, increasing devolved resources for county governments and empowering women, and so forth.

President Ruto, on the hand, presented his manifesto under the populist rhetoric of “Bottom-up economics”. This alluded to the fact that the majority of Kenyans are at the bottom of the pyramid and need to be uplifted to a life of decency and dignity. He blamed the current “trickle-down economics”, driven by dynasties whom he described as elite families that have been in politics since independence, for Kenya’s economic woes.

Prior to the elections, Ruto’s critics had pointed out that he supported former President Daniel Moi’s dictatorship that greatly curtailed democratic spaces. This has been the fear of progressives and activists: that there could be a shrinking of democratic spaces in the future. In a bid to get full political control, President Ruto has moved with speed by swaying members of the opposition to his team. His coalition now dominates both the National Assembly and the Senate.

A petition for the working class

Now, with elections over, what does President Ruto’s regime mean to the working class, the urban poor and peasants? Will the regime implement its manifesto or was it populist rhetoric? While these are critical questions, a better question still will be what a capitalist regime with heavy ties with imperialism has to offer and what can be expected of parliamentary elections. A look at the Njaa (Hunger) Revolution petition sent to the parliament before the elections shows that this is what the working class should rally around to hold this government accountable and demand better living conditions. In its petition, it captures four important areas. It demands that the National Assembly:

  1. Initiates processes that will ensure the provision of food for all those facing hunger and starvation in Kenya;
  2. Provides and makes public a comprehensive status report on the supply and distribution of clean water by all water and sewerage companies throughout the country. This will conform with the right of all Kenyans to clean water and sanitation, as per Article 43 1(d) of the Constitution of Kenya;
  3.  Initiates legislation that ensures the provision of free sanitary pads to all women and girls; and
  4. Provides a comprehensive status report on the usage of public land.

The commodification of education, unemployment, and the structural adjustment policies of the Bretton Woods institutions (the IMF and the World Bank) have increased inequality by incorporating small economies like Kenya into the global capitalism system. It becomes clear then that decent life and dignity cannot be achieved in any way within the capitalist system. The lack of a strong alternative Left in Kenyan politics makes it difficult for the masses to air their grievances and work towards achieving solutions.

It sends a bold statement to the regime when 8 million registered voters decide not to vote! Bourgeois elections, in general terms, do not represent the interests of the masses. With this realisation, it is imperative to expound on the issues captured in the Njaa Revolution Petition. They must be centred around class struggle and spearheaded by social movements and progressive political parties. Only by embracing the theory of class struggle can we dismantle populist politics that are not people-centred, as well as combat liberal politics that look radical on the outside but are reactionary on the inside. They are perfectly designed to treat symptoms that affect society; they never produce concrete, lasting solutions that lead to the total emancipation of humankind from the yoke of capitalism and imperialism.

We might not be able to totally foresee what the future holds for Kenyans under the current regime. Nevertheless, history has taught us that neo-colonial capitalist regimes have little to offer the masses; they never fulfill their agenda. Poverty and inequality, which are the major challenges, cannot be eradicated under such a system.

Nicholas Mwangi is a member of the Ukombozi Library and the Social Justice Movement in Kenya.

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