Alex Njeru: There Can Be No Winners In The Kenyan Election

The fever that grips Kenya every five years is here with us. It is election year once again and the word fever pitch is an understatement. The fear or hope that characterizes almost every other election is here with us again.

Fear that the country is about to lose it all, or that it might well be on the cusp of greatness, hope that the people’s hopes, whatever they may be, are just about to be fulfilled.

The country, as is usually the case is divided smack down the middle, between the National Super Alliance (NASA) led by Raila Odinga and the Jubilee Alliance Party, led by the incumbent, President Uhuru Kenyatta.

For the purposes of definition, NASA and Jubilee are not so much of political parties, as they are political outfits with near total cultic following. All complete with dedicated adherents and fervent supporters. A buffer of sycophancy sits squarely between these two camps of supporters. It is fair to say objective reasoning rarely sits between the political debates between the two camps.

The small minority of neutrals, who lack alignment to any of the two camps, who perhaps self-righteously claim to be above Neanderthal ethnic politicking are being pummelled by rhetoric, untruths and outright ignorance, funneled in part by politicians used to shaping narratives without scrutiny.

 It does not help matters that the alternatives to the two popular camps appear insignificant in the grand electoral scheme of things.

The ethnic balkanization in this particular election is not worrying, it should be but it is not, in a sense Kenyans have become inured to the political landscape. With a shrug, nothing would be worse.

What is worrying is that this election cycle has heralded a benevolence of political promises never before seen in the country. The two camps seem to be dishing out promises like a bag of tricks from a circus clown. It is this diffuse demarcation between what a justifiable political promise made by either of the camps and what makes sound economic sense that should worry the neutral, and not that which has always been the character of the Kenyan political process.

Kenya stands the way it is today, at least economically, because it has avoided particular pitfalls associated with African countries. It has to a large extent stymied the allure of socialism and its many variants. This for example allowed to develop some market institutions which led to growth, as compared to Tanzania for example, which one would argue would boast of better natural resource endowment, but nothing to show for them.

Kenya has to a large extent avoided despotic rulerships, well apart from the President Moi years, with rulers hell-bent on destroying their own countries, a la Mugabe style in Zimbabwe.

But as they are saying in this political cycle, “vindu vichengaga,” things change.

Both NASA and Jubilee have shown intent to destroy the liberal economic policies put in place by President Mwai Kibaki, and that have served this country well.  Because of this, there can be no winners in this election.

There is something about politics and pandering to populism, and this phenomenon has visited this country, this election year without reservations.

Let us start with the promises.

NASA, perhaps in keeping with their social democratic political anchor has promised among other things to control the price of tenancy rents in the country, control the price of sugar, maize floor and milk or in their own language, “bring down the cost of basic necessities.” NASA has also promised to appropriate land owned by white settlers and such other places, a stark reminder of Mugabe’s land policies in Zimbabwe.

The economic chaos that would visit the country from the NASA’s price control measures would be without precedent. After all Africa’s experimentation with price controls, have not always borne the best fruits.

Jubilee, on the other hand, has promised all sorts of free things, and not so much as to how these free things will be paid for. This despite the country’s deficit clocking north of 524 Billion Kenya Shillings (26 billion US$D) and public debt hitting 3.77 trillion Kenya shillings, almost double what it was in the year 2013, when the Jubilee government took power.

The Kenyan election in 2017 is coming down to whose promises are more audacious. Not who shows an inkling of how promises made at the par of the political moment can be achieved.

Whatever happens in this election, whoever wins it, there can be no winners. It is a race to the bottom, where the country’s stability, forward momentum and very being are hedged on “pie in the sky political promises.”


Alex Njeru Ndungu wrote in from Nairobi, Kenya. This article was syndicated by