News Column

Cord Wants to Split Kalenjin From Uhuru

August 18, 2014

Ngunjiri Wambugu

During the 'Okoa Kenya' pro-referendum campaign launch last week, Dr Richard Leakey was quoted as saying: "There are many people, even in government, who share with us the feeling that things are not right, but for political reasons, will not join us today." This statement summarises Cord's entire motivation in calling for a referendum.

Most Kenyans understand that the March 4, 2013 presidential election was decided by the Kalenjin vote. However not many of us realise that until the votes were in, Cord was banking on at least 30 per cent of Kalenjins not supporting Uhuru Kenyatta due to the Kalenjin-Kikuyu historical animosity. This would have denied Jubilee the 50 per cent plus one outright win, and given Cord an opportunity to rally an even larger section of the Kalenjin against 'another Kikuyu' government in the subsequent presidential run-off between Uhuru and Raila.

This plan fell through because more than 80 per cent of Kalenjins voted for Jubilee. However, Raila Odinga understood that to be President he would have to still figure out how to split some, or all, the Kalenjins away from Uhuru. But how?

So a few months ago, when Kenyans were treated to a major fight between the Kalenjin and Kikuyu interests in this government, disguised as 'outrage' in how the Standard Railway Gauge tender was issued, Raila saw an opportunity knocking. If a first-time Kalenjin MP could have the audacity to confront the President to his face on the issue of inclusion of Kalenjins in the Jubilee government, and demand the sacking of 'enemies of the Kalenjin' in his Office, the Kalenjins were ripe for another 'take-over bid'. The Kalenjin reception of Nandi Hills MP Alfred Keter's accusations that Jubilee (read the Kikuyu) had not delivered on the promise of 'half' of the government to the Kalenjin, was manna from heaven.

The former Prime Minister immediately launched a 'Call for National Dialogue' on 'inclusivity'. He then rolled out a series of public rallies across the country to test the waters. The main target was the rally in Eldoret where he gauged the Kalenjin's mood for a fight. He liked what he saw. The next step was to figure out how to reel them in, subtly, and without spooking anyone until it was too late.

Then Raila remembered the 2005 referendum. It had offered him, and other disgruntled forces within President Kibaki's government, a chance to road-test a political partnership with forces outside the government, without their having to leave the government until they were sure of the formidability of the new political formation. The 2005 referendum had provided Raila with an opportunity to re-engineer a political formation against Kibaki's government while still within it. The President's reaction afterwards had then allowed Raila to brand Kibaki's government as a 'Kikuyu' affair, and thus create the ethnic momentum that led to him 'winning' the 2007 elections (as he believes he did).

This is what the referendum call is about. It does not matter whether Cord wins or loses this coming referendum (and it will come). What matters is Cord convincing part or all of the Kalenjin vote bloc that they can make a team formidable enough to challenge Uhuru now, and in 2017.

The Kalenjin have nothing to lose. In a worst case scenario they raise their bargaining power within the existing Jubilee government, which means more power, positions and business for their people. In a best case scenario they join a political formation that hounds Uhuru out of power; establishes a post-Jubilee government, keeps at least the Deputy Presidency but with more power; and has more strategic positions in government and a bigger say over who gets lucrative government business tenders. It is a win-win all round.

President Uhuru's team needs to appreciate what Cord's referendum call is about. It is not about winning a YES-NO vote; whatever referendum question is presented will be most probably be so audacious it will not be implementable. Cord wants to weaken his government, from within.

The President needs to get proactive. If Kenyans insist on supporting a referendum despite the reality that it will genuinely distract from nation-building, then open the 'Pandora's Box' fully.

In addition to Cord's call, let the governors proceed with another independent one. Religious groups can also call for one, maybe on the 'Gays' issues. Youth can ask for one, maybe on specific percentage of representation in government. Jubilee can ask for one, maybe on Presidential age limits. Each group raises one million signatures, which is not hard in a country with over 15 million registered voters. Then the ideas compete in the market place.

Meanwhile Mr. President, do unto CORD what they are trying to do unto you. Debunk the perception that your government's stability depends on two communities by raiding CORD and bringing some of them into your government. Do not wait to 'run when it gets dark' (as the Kikuyu say); like President Kibaki did in 2005.

Ngunjiri Wambugu is the director of Change Associates, a political communications consultancy.

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Source: AllAfrica

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