On 27th December 2007, Kenyans go to the polls to elect a new President. New in this case means recently elected rather than elected for the first time. Yet, according to recent opinion polls, it could very well be that the word new may refer to both definitions.
There are two front runners for the post of President. The incumbent Mwai Kibaki is running on a party named the Party of National Unity whilst the main challenger Raila Odinga is running on a party known as the Orange Democratic Movement.
It is an enigmatic race featuring two enigmatic men. For the first time in several attempts at its multi-party democracy, Kenyans are braced for a choice between two very strong candidates. It is an election whose results will be eagerly awaited.
Mwai Kibaki versus Raila Odinga. If this was a sport, it would be featuring the Defending Champion versus a Talented Challenger. Yet, politics is no sport, but here they are slugging it out, sputtering and slopping their way into a neck-to-neck battle if the latest Steadman Group opinion poll is anything to go by. If you wanted a titanic battle between arguably the Best Two Politicians in the Country, you lucky sod, you got it.
At a glance the two politicians seem to have a lot in common. They both do not use Western names but are known by their African names. According to their respective official campaign websites, they both have four children. Their wives are trained as teachers. They have both had stints as University lecturers. They both served as Cabinet Ministers of President Moi. They both finished third in their first stab at the Presidency of our Republic.
However, they also have very distinct attributes and therein lay the choices that Kenyans are faced with at the forthcoming elections.
In the latest edition of Adam Magazine, Mutahi Ngunyi argues that Kibaki appeals to our heads whilst Raila appeals to our hearts. “That is the fundamental difference,’ he states. For one, Raila seems to have a down to earth approach and is easily recognized amongst thousands of fans who gather at local stadia to watch football matches. Kibaki on the other hand, is a renowned fan of the somewhat elitist sport of golf. It is no wonder that Raila describes himself as ‘The People’s President’ contrasting himself with ‘The Official President’ in much the same way as Princess Diana found favour as ‘The People’s Princess’ when she lost her official title.
Told as it is, some voters think that the main difference is that one of them is a Kikuyu, whilst the other is a Luo, the two most politically active ethnic groups in Kenya, who have held each other with great political suspicion since the days of independence.
Kibaki has represented a fairly rural constituency whilst Raila’s constituency is urban. It may be necessary to point out that Kibaki first made an entry into Parliament through an urban constituency, Bahati but shifted his base to Othaya in 1974 and has represented the area since then. If he wins the constituency seat, as he is widely expected, the people of Othaya will have handed one person the mantle of Member of Parliament for thirty eight years. Raila on the other hand, expects a nod as Lang’ata Member of Parliament for twenty years.
Any race that pits an incumbent against another challenger usually develops into a race between continuity and change. This was self evident with the Kibaki camp coining the Kazi Iendelee (Let The Work Continue) slogan whilst the Raila camp was quick to coin the Vote For Real Change slogan to evince the contrast between the candidates.
This ought to have been a fine distinction between the candidates. But with the passage of time, the Kibaki camp has tried to steal the thunder from Raila by adding on to its slogans the rider Vote For Change You Can See to combine the change and continuity aspects of the elections. But is that an oxymoron or is it possible to have continuity and change at the same time? By Change, the Kibaki team has referred to the previous rule of President Moi who ironically is in the Kibaki camp during these elections. The slogan amounts to bashing Moi who seemingly can’t quite see it that way.
This election also brings differences between the two candidates. With the ‘I Have Experience As President tag’ Kibaki is strong on the competence angle whilst Raila without the baggage of the same but having the ‘Give Me The Chance To Be Your President And See What I Will Accomplish tag’ is strong on the character angle. It’s a bright contrast.
Their assigned Ministries in the Moi Government were very different and after Kibaki’s ascension to power, the Ministries given to Raila were not Ministries that Kibaki had served in before. It is therefore difficult to assess performance in these Ministries and grade the two on a similar rating. It would be much like comparing long jumper and a high jumper athlete.
Kibaki comes across as a slow-reaction person to issues, a habit that has long earned him the derisory tag of Fence Sitter whilst Raila is quick with the word at every given opportunity.
Whilst Raila has in the past been placed under detention by President Moi, Kibaki was at some of these detention moments the Vice President and Minister of Home Affairs technically being in charge of the prisons in which Raila was detained.
The two protagonists present a fascinating choice for Kenyans. The Conservative and The Populist. The Capitalist and The Social Democrat. Mr. Fence Sitter versus Mr. Take It On. The Nice Guy versus The Bad Boy. The Economist versus The Engineer.
Even the way they have fashioned their political parties stands them apart. Kibaki’s Party of national Unity is only called that because the law requires that a candidate belong to a political party. In truth, it is the Parties of National Unity since it is a conglomeration of almost ten political parties. It is a party of corporate membership, with the corporate members being political parties. On the other hand, Raila’s Orange Democratic Movement is one party with individual membership.
Such differences still do not make the voter at a loss since each politician is at pains to take the positive attributes of the other. If Raila was perceived as a personality, Kibaki has also managed to achieve that status by the conglomeration of parties around him. Aspirants are falling all over in areas considered his strongholds by affixing his images on the respective candidates campaign posters. If Kibaki was perceived as a man with an agenda, Raila has managed to show that he is also agenda-driven. He has promised free secondary education just like Kibaki has done, he has promised free medical care for children under the age of five as Kibaki has done.
The question that Kenyans wanted to ask whether they would want to elect a personality or to go for an agenda is now an idle question.
But on 27th December 2007, Kenyans will troop to the polling stations and make their decisions for varied reasons. Some will vote for continuity, some will vote for change, some will vote for tribe, some will vote for age, some will vote for lack of any better candidate on the ballot papers, some will vote for likeability, some will vote as a protest measure and some will simply not vote. And if the results show Raila as the winner, we shall add another statistic to the Kibaki-Raila similarity: that they both won elections ten years after their first stab at the Presidency. The choice is for Kenyans.