LESSONS FROM US ELECTION
There are Kenyans who will refuse to acknowledge the good things President Uhuru has delivered on, and reliably cast their votes for whichever candidate the opposition will offer
Earlier this week, many well-informed people had little doubt that Hillary Clinton would be the next President of the United States. They were really relieved that they would not have to learn to live with a President Donald Trump. Yet we are all now being drowned in analyses explaining why Trump won. This was considered to be a pretty close election by most counts right up to a few days ago, with the consensus that the outcome depended entirely on turnout. Well, Trump’s supporters really did turn out in large numbers, to defy the clever predictions of a likely Clinton victory.
But turning to Kenya, the question here is, what parallels can we draw between the just-concluded US presidential campaign, and our own, less than a year away?
Well, first is that Kenya is every bit as bitterly divided into political factions as the US. There are Americans who turned out to vote for Trump, solely because he was the Republican candidate and they regarded the possibility of a Clinton presidency as “too ghastly to contemplate”. Well, likewise, there are Kenyans who — to the bitter end — will refuse to acknowledge the good things President Uhuru Kenyatta has delivered on, and reliably cast their votes for whichever opposition candidate will offer the most realistic challenge to Uhuru’s reelection.
If we are to judge by the outcome of the recent byelections in potential “swing vote” zones such as the Kisii, Kajiado, and Turkana counties, there has been little change in political affiliations. There will be no large movements one way or another of voteg blocs. The cement has dried, and the final outcome will depend largely on voter turnout.
By-elections, by their nature, favour the political coalition in power. This is because with only a small voting group to focus on, the President and his men can bring the full force of the resources they command to bear on the usually very poor voters. The governing Jubilee Party certainly did “dish out” what Kenyan pundits like to define as “goodies” to the voters in Kisii and Kajaido in particular. But it was all to no avail. The power of the opposition’s anti-Jubilee propaganda in the end prevailed.
The second lesson is that “all politics is tribal” — in Kenya as in the US. It is now emerging that there are many American voters who somehow managed to give the impression they too were utterly repelled by Trump’s racism and misogyny, but, all along, planned to vote for him. Well, we have seen much the same thing in previous Kenyan elections, and can expect to see it in 2017 too
In general, Kenyans will discuss “issues” for five straight years, in-between elections. But come election time, they vote strictly on tribal lines. This does not prevent leading politicians from campaigning long and hard in regions they know very well are unlikely to ever vote for them. But this is more of necessary political drama, intended to establish their credentials as being nontribal leaders who have sound “nationalist” credentials. It does not really change anyone’s mind or lead to any new votes being harvested.
Third, turnout is indeed everything in any deeply divided electorate. What powered Trump to victory was his many supporters — some of whom reportedly had never bothered to vote before and were not on any pollster’s radar — turned out to support their hero, and to line up for as long as it took to cast their ballots for him.
American politics is very much like Kenyan politics, in that the two leading presidential candidates invariably come fairly close to the 50 per cent mark.
When the margin is that close, the difference between victory and defeat depends entirely on how energised your supporters will be on the morning of the election. In 2013, there was strong passion on all sides of the Kenyan political divide, and thus the turnout was fairly impressive.
It remains to be seen if in 2017, Kenyans will be equally motivated to come out and vote.
KENYANS WILL DISCUSS “ISSUES” FOR FIVE STRAIGHT YEARS BUT VOTE STRICTLY ON TRIBAL LINES