Incumbency: Factors that will determine Kenya polls winner

Monday August 7 2017

President Uhuru Kenyatta (left) and Raila

President Uhuru Kenyatta (left) and Raila Odinga. PHOTOS | FILE 

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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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Closely related to the second, incumbency presents a unique resource. The sitting candidate, unlike the challenger, has the State apparatus — personnel (both civil and disciplined), institutions including the intelligence service and logistics — that cost quite a fortune to mobilise.

Public servants for purposes of self-preservation will also donate generously to the cause of the incumbent as was seen during a recent fundraising. This factor has proven a hindrance to many a challenger of a sitting president in Africa.

Rarely mentioned directly, it manifests itself in claims of rigging that start long before the election date.

Cheating could be abetted at any stage of the electoral process, starting with the registration of persons and voters, lopsided voter registration, uneven distribution of election materials and the extreme ballot stuffing.

The opposition has been very keen to get the electoral processes right, mostly through court cases, because they create a semblance of a level playing field. A network afforded by incumbency would be difficult for an opposition to marshal except with the goodwill of supporters in its strongholds.

The incumbency factor is showing itself daily as President Kenyatta flies across the country attending up to a dozen rallies in a day, promising multibillion dollar projects. Mr Odinga, in contrast, can muster at most five rallies, picking holes in choice and fulfilment of government promises and explaining what he would do differently.

In an electorate swayed by free things, incumbency sells. Although only seven per cent of respondents in the Ipsos poll released last week mentioned the incumbent’s use of state resources as a hindrance to free and fair elections, no incumbent has lost an election in Kenya.

Although Mr Odinga, as prime minister, could be regarded as an incumbent in 2013, he did not enjoy the backing of President Mwai Kibaki after their toxic leadership of the coalition government.

Like elsewhere in the world where term limits are in place opposition parties tend to win during a transition. Ghana and Nigeria have recently bucked that trend, the first after a comprehensive adoption of technology in electoral processes that ushered in President Nana Akufo Ado in January this year.

In the second case infighting within President Goodluck Jonathan’s party and corruption allowed Gen Muhammadu Buhari to defeat him at their second faceoff in February 2015. Whether the incumbency will play a key role in Kenya remains to be seen.

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