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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Kenyan politicians must learn to lose elections gracefully. And stop stealing in broad daylight as well.

Will you vote again?

That’s the question that went to a young lady on TV shortly after the post-election violence ended in 2008. Her answer told you everything you need to know about the state of Kenya’s democracy.

Of course I will never vote again, she said. But before the next election, she promised she would buy enough food to last several weeks. She would also stock up on airtime and water and then stay indoors until the chaos ends.

That is what it has come to. People will prepare for elections in Kenya as they do for war. The main problem is that we have entrenched a culture that does not countenance defeat. We see elections as a do or die affair in which failure is not an option. The graceful loser is certainly not a Kenyan creature.

The Law Society of Kenya elections were supposed to have ended on December 31. Balloting was extended until February. Don’t believe it when they say that was simply a procedural matter. In fact, the contestants in the race for chairman of the lawyers’ body openly state that the process had to be done afresh after claims of “serious irregularities” cropped up.

If the election of the chair of LSK—the one society that has consistently been on the right side of history these last few decades, the one society you would expect to rally on the side of justice in case of a rigged election—can be compromised, what do you expect of the main event, the General Election?

Recent events on the political scene suggest the next election will be as emotionally fraught as any we have known since 1992.

The 2007 poll was essentially an anti-Kikuyu referendum.

The dynamic will be slightly different in 2012. The polls indicate that Raila Odinga has made inroads in Central Province. Word on the street is that the Kikuyu elite has warmed to him, thanks in part to his performance at the Prime Minister’s roundtable – a quarterly forum where he meets business leaders with a view to addressing their grievances.

Mr Odinga will be up against a hugely formidable team at the next elections.

The boycott of the Mau tree-planting exercise tells you who his opponents will be. The 2012 poll will be a pro- or anti-Odinga referendum. It will be tough and emotional, simply because nothing or no one divides opinion among Kenyans like Mr Odinga.

If it turns out to be a close election, the question is: Will Kenya survive the aftermath?

Will any of the parties involved accept defeat? Will a Kenyan political party ever entertain the notion that being in the opposition is not such a terrible thing? That you can lose an election but still influence government policy by being a principled opposition?

That is the question on which Kenya’s future depends. The current discussions on the draft constitution, which have assumed the familiar Orange-Banana divide, foreshadow the larger battle to come.

One just hopes that before the next election comes around, Kenyan leaders will have learnt to lose with grace. At present, any contest between Kenyans is a 100-metre dash between 10 Usain Bolts on steroids.

No one wants to lose. And, in the process, we will all lose. The TV lady was right. If nothing else, make sure that before the next elections, you have enough unga in the house to last you a few weeks.

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