Can an ‘outsider’ become Kenyan president in 2022?



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An “outsider” is defined as a relatively unexpected individual or movement that causes an upset in a country’s political contest. In his book The Rise of the Outsiders: How Mainstream Politics Lost its Way, Steve Richards argues, “the failure of the mainstream to reassure and inspire voters” has recently led to citizens’ rejection of political orthodoxy.

Notable examples of triumphant outsiders include Barack Obama (US), Donald Trump (US), Emmanuel Macron (France), comedian-turned-politician Volodymyr Zelensky (Ukraine) and UK Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Even before independence in 1963, Jomo Kenyatta and Jaramogi Odinga Oginga led Kanu as the dominant political party. Daniel Moi’s Kadu hastily joined Kanu in 1964.

To rule effectively and to secure land rights for the Kikuyu in Rift Valley, Mzee Kenyatta decided to work with Moi who eventually became an insider. Tom Mboya was adroitly used to politically neutralise Jaramogi, but eventually there was no seat at the table for him.

Jaramogi, through his contribution to Kenya’s fight for independence and his opposition politics, secured for himself an insider track in the country’s politics.

From 1969, Kenya became a de facto one-party state. Until Mzee Kenyatta’s death in 1978, politicians could only be relevant, by and large, if they operated under his political wings. Therefore, in the 1969/1970 and 1974 elections, Kanu competed against itself.

Then enter Moi, the second president. The Kenya People’s Union having been proscribed in 1969, Jaramogi eventually returned home to Kanu. However, in 1979, he and other ex-KPU politicians were blocked from vying for elections. Before the 1983 elections, Jaramogi and George Anyona tried to form a political party.

Moi moved swiftly to constitutionally transform the country into a de jure one party state. As a result, no other political party existed through which an outsider could venture into the political arena. The 1988 mlolongo elections made it virtually impossible for any candidate Moi did not like to win.

With the reintroduction of multiparty politics in 1991, the opposition could once more participate in elections. In 1992, Moi emerged the presidential winner by garnering 36.8 per cent of the national vote while the fragmented opposition secured 63.2 per cent of the vote. Ford Asili and Ford Kenya, the dominant opposition parties, were largely an ethnic coalition of Kikuyu, Luo and a section of the Luhya. Moi was able to cobble his alliance of the Kalenjin, a section of the Luhya, the Kamba, North Eastern Kenya (and generally pastoral communities) and part of the Coast

Ford, which like the pre-independence Kanu had the promise of becoming a pro-people ideology-based party, fragmented.

Although both Kenneth Matiba and DP’s Mwai Kibaki had been in Kanu since independence, they were at this stage still at best outsider-insiders.

In 1997, Moi’s Kanu won 38.43 per cent of the presidential vote. The combined opposition captured 61.57 per cent of the presidential vote. Kibaki reaffirmed his position as the leader of opposition and by this time he graduated into the country’s mainstream politics. Raila Odinga’s NDP was third in the political contest.

However, when NDP joined Kanu, he became part of the political mainstream. But he strategically retained his opposition and reformist credentials.

Perhaps the two outsiders who acquitted themselves in the 1997 presidential election were Kijana Wamalwa of Ford K and Charity Ngilu of SDP. They respectively garnered 8.19 per cent and 7.91 per cent of the presidential vote.

And although Wamalwa was appointed a vice president in 2002, he never became part of the country’s establishment. The same applied to Kalonzo Musyoka who became Kibaki’s vice president in 2007.

Through Raila Odinga’s later spirited presidential campaigns in 2007, 2013 and 2017 and also through the 2018 “handshake”, he is now indisputably part of the political mainstream. In 2013, Musalia Mudavadi proved to be a strong presidential outsider contender. In 2007, he had deputised Raila.

Although Kenya’s civil society, professionals and the intelligentsia were an integral part of the struggle to restore democracy through a new constitutional order, the political establishment has never considered them legitimate reform actors.

Many civic activists were co-opted into government from 2002 onwards with the exception of former Chief Justice Willy Mutunga, an outsider par excellence.

Enter William Ruto, alias “The Hustler”, who defines himself as an outsider even though he was Moi’s political son as far back as 1992. Ruto and Cyrus Jirongo contributed immensely to Moi’s 1992 pyrrhic triumph.

In 2007, Ruto was pivotal in Raila’s ODM presidential campaign as well as the earlier successful opposition to the 2005 referendum. In 2013 and 2017, he supported Uhuru Kenyatta. However, like Kibaki, he is not part of the political trinity of the Kenyattas, Odingas, and Mois.

Currently, to win elections in Kenya, a presidential candidate has to command a substantial war chest, mobilise the dominant coalition of ethnic communities, and gain the support of the public bureaucracy, especially the security apparatus. This reality always disadvantages outsiders.

As of now Ruto seems to command some lead because no other candidate has declared interest in the 2022 presidential bid. That may be why, increasingly, the politically visible Raila is being viewed as the only candidate who can match Ruto.

And yet, within three years the political terrain could radically change. If the executive is enlarged through constitutional change, some outsiders could arguably be accommodated in its ranks.

Previous outsiders who have vied for the presidency since 1992 have fared badly. The ideology-based politics of some of them did not excite the masses who have since independence been captured and hypnotised by ethnic barons. Could one hypothesise that the Kenyan voter is now sufficiently disillusioned by insider politics to potentially entertain a group of outsiders? Time will tell.

In Africa, the era and reign of outsiders such as footballer George Weah of Liberia is probably yet to dawn.

The writer is the Governor of Makueni County


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