The Similarities in Kenya and US politics

By IndepthAfrica
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Nov 10th, 2012
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By OSCAR OBONYO,standardmedia

Why Americans are in a “hurry” to rush through the electioneering process is a factor that baffles some. They found Kenyans in the middle of a prolonged campaign; did their stuff with intensity for barely three months and are now back to business.

While the presidential election is an event that comes and goes, back home, it has lately become a tireless five-year long ritual that begins after every poll immediately a new Government is sworn into office. Indeed, this is one of the biggest lessons for Kenya from the US poll.

And there are many more this time around – thanks to near similarities in the electoral process following introduction of the Senate and adoption of the presidential system in the new Constitution. The requirement that a successful presidential candidate must garner at least 25 per cent of the votes in half of the 47 counties will further encourage campaign teams to do electoral mapping.

On this front, Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta is already running ahead of the pack. Strategists of his political party, The National Alliance’s (TNA), have already mapped out and zoned the 47 counties into friendly and unfriendly zones. The document, which has since leaked to the media, also identifies the “battleground counties” or “swing counties” for the Uhuru camp.

Ideally, use of such US electoral jargon is going to be familiar as the General Election draws nearer. And reflecting on the just concluded US polls, one is tempted to draw parallels between highly competitive Florida State and Nairobi County where the poll is usually “too close to call” and the populous California state and Nithi constituency that ordinarily “tilt the scales” at the eleventh hour.

What is encouraging for Phillip Nying’uro, who teaches at the University of Nairobi, is that both candidates Barack Obama and Mitt Romney acted in national interest by reaching out to one another. This gesture, observes the lecturer, downplayed possible acrimony “since voters always take cue of the actions of their leaders”.

“Most importantly is the bi-partisanship interest in the whole matter, as demonstrated by Obama and Romney who immediately expressed interest in working together. This is a win-win situation for America, considering the economic challenges in that country are monumental,” says Prof Nying’uro.

True democracy

Although Obama received accolades from leaders across the globe including Kenya politicians, messages from Prime Minister Raila Odinga and deputy Premier, Musalia Mudavadi, were particularly curious. Mudavadi was amazed that Obama had been re-elected against a background of a poorly performing economy. Obama, he observed, had accordingly registered history on this account.

“His resilience is a lesson in how to turn adversity into opportunity. He fought hard and won against all predictions of the odds stacked against him,” said Mudavadi.

For Raila, Obama’s success was an example of the power of true democracy that “would inspire minorities throughout the world to struggle harder for equality within their nations.”

The observations of the two leaders are tied to another key lesson from President Obama’s campaign strategy – coalition building. The same formula worked for President Kibaki under Narc in 2002 when he brought together tribal and regional political leaders, in the same way Raila did under ODM in the disputed 2007 presidential elections.

Obama’s victory, for instance, has widely been credited to a coalition he built around women, young people, urban professionals, African-Americans, Hispanics, Latinos and other minorities. This is opposed to Republican candidate Mitt Romney’s team described as a coalition of men, the white, rural communities and ageing republican conservatives.

What is addling is that although most survey results ahead of the poll indicated that nearly 70 per cent of voters disapproved of Obama’s handling of the economy, they still went ahead to vote for him.

Another ten per cent identified unemployment and the increased cost of living as their most pressing concerns. “This clearly demonstrates that most of the Americans voted for Obama on the account of other grounds including racial considerations besides issues, which were in this instance secondary,” says Nying’uro.

 He says the very bad lesson for Kenya on this is that the Obama coalition enhances the “long rumoured theory of the so-called 41 against 1 (voting pattern where all Kenyans allegedly ganged up against members of one community): “The lesson to Raila, Uhuru, Kalonzo and Ruto and the rest, is that they can also do another 41 against 1, or 35 against 7, or any other permutation to achieve their selfish electoral goal.”

But Oscar Plato Okwaro of Quadz Consulting Africa, argues that Obama won the race on the basis of issues and not race. As he stated in one of the national debates, recounts Okwaro, the economic crunch was a global phenomenon.

“It is his policies and not racism that won him a second term, because Obama was equally voted in by huge fraction of the white community. We need to take cue by voting in able individuals with attractive blueprints and not tribal high priests,” says Okwaro.

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