Kenya voters’ choice on August 9 is between two sets of values

Saturday August 06 2022
Raila, Ruto, Karua, Gachagua

Kenya Kwanza presidential candidate William Ruto and his running mate Rigathi Gachagua (left) and his Azimio la Umoja counterpart Raila Odinga and his running mate Martha Karua. PHOTOS | POOL


On August 9, Kenyans go to the polls to choose between Raila Odinga and Martha Karua of Azimio la Umoja on the one hand and William Ruto and Rigathi Gachagua of Kenya Kwanza on the other.

The two teams are diametrically opposed in terms of political careers, personal histories, ideology, interpretation of history, and vision.

Raila was a political prisoner under Kanu while Ruto belonged to a pro-Kanu mobilising group known as YK’92. Karua, a young lawyer then, took up the risky job of defending political prisoners while Gachagua was a feared district officer, overseeing the violent suppression of pro-democracy activism.

The roles the two teams played at different moments in Kenya’s history are a matter of public knowledge. For instance, Gachagua, on a Kikuyu TV show, defended his actions by saying that he was “just following orders”. But what is not readily known, and which is of interest to me, are the opposed attitudes the two sides have towards history. Odinga likes to place Kenya within a historical context, often seeing continuity between the struggle for independence and activism for constitutionalism and social equity.

Martha has argued that the people who drove the pro-democracy movement in the ‘80s and ‘90s were tragically not the ones who took power. Her lament has eerie historical irony, because — as historians have argued — the nationalists who wanted real sociopolitical transformation at independence were not the ones who took power. Instead, it was a grouping of moderates, conservative elements, and colonial loyalists.

The Kenya Kwanza team hardly mentions the independence struggle, much less the struggle for the Second Liberation. To them, it seems, Kenya is a historical tabula rasa on which they will erect a “bottom-up” economic edifice.


But the soul of a country’s nationhood is constituted by the values and ethics bequeathed it by its history. When countries build sites for national memory and re-enact national commemorative rituals, and their leaders repeatedly invoke defining moments in their history, they are reminding their citizens of the values that define them.

Nations are propelled to greatness when their sense of who they are and the values that define their national character become the foundation on which to build their socioeconomic project.

Kimathi, a character in the eponymously titled historical play by Ngugi wa Thiongo and Micere Mugo, poses a fundamental question to his white missionary interlocutor: “Whose justice, whose history?”

His meaning is that the values and sense of justice that inspire resistance to oppression are not the same as the values and sense of justice of those perpetuating the oppression. Similarly, show me the history you quote and I will show you your values and notion of justice.

In a desperately critical sense, the choice on August 9 is between two attitudes towards history and, therefore, two opposed sets of values.

Tee Ngugi is a Nairobi-based political commentator.