It is hard to tell our enemies from our friends in Kenya!

By Vision Reporter

I have been living in Kenya for almost a year now. maybe more accurately, I should say I have been paying rent because too much travelling makes the claim of ‘living’ very questionable!

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I have been living in Kenya for almost a year now. maybe more accurately, I should say I have been paying rent because too much travelling makes the claim of ‘living’ very questionable!

I did not know that there would be so many cultural and political differences from Uganda which had been my home for more than a decade. I was only moving across the borders in a slowly but definitely uniting East Africa.

In any case, for all the years I have been in Uganda, even in the most difficult periods of tensions and suspicions between Yoweri Museveni and Baba Moi (when Moi could close the border at will) one had no alternative but to pass through Nairobi which was and still remains the regional communications and transport hub.

In those days there were not many direct flights from Entebbe so one had to transit through Nairobi whetheryou liked it or not.

In those days you transited in Nairobi with anxiety. I remember when The Kenya Times published series of articles claiming that PAM was the centre created by Museveni to foment troubles among his neighbours and across Africa in general.

It was true too that many senior people in the NRM had sympathies and solidarity with different elements of the opposition to the Moi-KANU dictatorship.

A particular kind of understanding of Kenya flows from these experiences. One had a sense of who were our friends and who were our enemies. Consequently, even as relations between Uganda and Kenya improved, forced by economic realism and increasing isolation of Moi’s regime by its erstwhile foreign backers and the confidence and perseverance of the democratic opposition the template from Kampala was clear that Moi and Museveni were in mutual embrace for real politic only not fully consummated relationship.

The bulk of the opposition remained ‘our friends’. It was no secret that Uganda supported the NARC opposition in the run-up to the 2002 historic electoral revolution that saw off the Moi-KANU’s four decades of political monopoly.

We were all jubilant that ‘our friends are in power’ but since that euphoria, the reality of power and alliances based on negative unity of ‘Moi must go’ has shown their limits.

You may remove individuals but dealing with the structural relations of power skewed against the majority of the people requires more than just getting rid of the incumbent.

Within two years of NARC, the unity of the opposition that won them the election was cashed in for all kinds of opportunism, factionalism and sectarianism and accusations of betrayal in all directions.

So, it was not a familiar country that I came to settle in last year. It is really not quite clear who our friends are and who our enemies are supposed to be anymore as they are all at loggerheads. For instance, veteran opposition politician, Raila Odinga, son of the even more famous Mzee Oginga Odinga, along with others, including Kalonzo Musyoka, former Vice president George Saitoti, quit KANU because Moi imposed the son of the former President, Uhuru Kenyatta, as the KANU presidential candidate.

They teamed up with Mr. Mwai Kibaki and others to form the NARC which booted out KANU. Today, Uhuru Kenyatta is part of the ODM-Kenya, an alliance of parties and personalities who were formerly in NARC, now opposed to Kibaki. Musalia Mudavadi who became Moi’s Vice President after Saitoti is now in ODM-K too whileSaitoti is firmly with Kibaki. Are you confused?

There is more in store. No one is even sure which party the President belongs to because the DP which was the basis of his partnership in NARC is all but dead but there is another coalition, NARC-Kenya which is effectively the party of the President while he is still presiding over a NARC government of unity that theoretically includes those NARC members who did not flee with Raila and Co, i.e. Charity Ngilu, FORD people and others.

But listening to Ngilu and other ministers who are not part of NARC-Kenya, you wonder what they are still doing in Kibaki’s government.

Let me stop there because I will not only be confusing you but will lose the plot myself as the names and parties become incestuously intertwined! Kenya is the worst example of a farcical multi- party democracy because political parties have become so easily disposable depending on the personal ambitions of their leaders who own them and can literally do what they please with them.

Essentially, they rely on assumed or assured ethnic constituency which makes national politics a club of ethnic notables. The manipulation of ethnicity, religion, region and race by the political elite to secure support from the masses is not uniquely Kenyan or African.

Electoral politics even in the so-called matured democracies does involve manipulation of these bases to secure votes. Ask yourself why John Kennedy was and still remains the only Catholic to have been elected president of the USA.

Why is there no Labour, or conservative party in Northern Ireland but rather Irish parties allied to mainland parties?

My surprise in Kenya is the shameless way in which ethnicity is flaunted and ethnic prejudices proclaimed even among (maybe one should be more direct here and say especially) the ‘enlightened classes’.

Nowhere is this more prominently in evidence than in the electioneering campaigns going on at the moment which everybody agrees will be a two-way battle between President Kibaki (standing under NARC-K) and whoever emerges the opposition candidate in ODM-K. In ODM-K, the final duel is between the two leading aspirants, Raila Odinga and Musyoka.

If other Africans had a vote in Kenyan elections, Raila would have won hands down because he is the better known figure not just because of his old man but as a veteran opposition figure who had spent several years in prison for his political activities.

However, come to Kenya and ask many people outside his fanatical supporters you get a different picture.

Unfortunately most of the anti- Raila Kenyans will give you no other reason than the fact of him being Luo as the reason why he cannot be president.

Yet the same Kenyans are going hysterical about Barrack Obama, another Luo becoming President of America but won’t vote for his Luo uncle in Kenya! Why is a Luo good for Americans but not for Kenyans?

It is hard to tell our enemies from our friends in Kenya!