Tribalism or regionalism: Factors that will determine Kenya polls winner

Monday August 7 2017

Students at the Rift Valley Institute of

Students at the Rift Valley Institute of Science and Technology protest against tribalism in the country. PHOTO | SULEIMAN MBATIAH | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By PETER MUNAITA
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Kenyans go to the polls on Tuesday, August 8, to choose their next crop of leaders for various elective posts.

The presidential election is billed as one of the most tightly contested in the country’s electoral history, with the most recent opinion polls showing a 1-3 percentage gap between the incumbent Uhuru Kenyatta of the Jubilee Party and Raila Odinga of the National Super Alliance.

While the cost of living, unemployment, corruption, security and free public services are key issues having an impact on the lives of Kenyans, the ultimate winner will be determined by a motley of factors. The EastAfrican's Peter Munaita lists the top ten.

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1. TRIBALISM OR REGIONALISM

Politicians talk of shunning it, at least until an election comes around.

Alliances are primarily informed by it and top leaders in them, principals in Kenya parlance, picked depending on their potential to rally their communities behind the coalition. That includes the choice of running mates too for presidential and gubernatorial positions.

So it is that the Jubilee Party is viewed as a dominion championing the cause of two communities, Kikuyus and Kalenjins, while the National Super Alliance (Nasa) is taken to be rooting for the interests of the Luo, the Kamba and the Luhya.

Predictably, the protagonists deny this and claim to be motivated by a need to unite Kenyans. Practice, however, discounts their word, with candidates in metropolitan areas like Nairobi appealing to tribal sentiment and those in rural areas exploiting the clan factor.

The recognition of Asians as Kenya’s 44th tribe recently — forget their diverse cultural and religious background — falls under this matrix.

So tribal is Kenya that opinion polls show a polarisation on key issues by region and by dominant community. On matters like worsening cost of living which affects all voters, Central, North Eastern and Rift Valley — home to the president, leader of government business and deputy president respectively, led in approval of the government.

In contrast, Nyanza, Eastern, Western and Coast — homes to Nasa presidential candidate Raila Odinga, running mate Kalonzo Musyoka, two principals Musalia Mudavadi and Moses Wetang'ula and Mombasa Governor Ali Hassan Joho — led in disapproval of the government.

Overall, 85 per cent of Jubilee supporters in a poll by Ipsos approved of the president while 74 per cent of Nasa supporters disapproved of him.

In a poll by Infotrak, five per cent of those who said the country was going in the right direction boldly said it was because “my candidate is in power” while nine per cent blamed tribalism for the country going in the wrong direction.

Asked about tribalism trampling on issues in Kenyan elections during the presidential debate, Mr Odinga referred to the homeboy mentality in the US to explain why Nyanza voters were more likely to support him than Mr Kenyatta, with the vice versa obtaining in Central.

Outside the home areas, however, Mr Odinga said that the support of each would be more inclined to issues. While the homeboy factor holds going by opinion polls, it is unlikely that issues explain why Jubilee is also the most popular party in Eastern, Rift Valley and North Eastern, while Nasa holds more sway in Nairobi, Coast and Western.

Voters identifying with a candidate’s issues outside the home region would be expected to be more evenly spread. Of note was a finding in the Ipsos poll that less than a half of respondents (46 per cent) believed any political party “genuinely represents the interests of ordinary Kenyans.”

A winning presidential candidate is by law required to garner more than a half of the votes cast (50+1) and win at least a quarter of the votes in 24 of the 47 counties.

All opinion polls show the leading candidates will meet the second condition but the regions present quite a tight race with regard to the first.

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