The independents are coming... Are we ready?

Wednesday May 10 2017

Finally, we have the opposition line-up. Phew. With just over three months to go, their negotiations were cutting it close.

Second, the party primaries are behind us. Thank god. They were the stuff from which horror movies are made. Replete with abductions of would-be candidates which the police blamed on… said candidates (!) Attacks on party headquarters and party officials. Chaos among the fans resulting in assaults and even death. The absence of party membership lists. The absence of ballot materials. And so on.

Third, and more positively, incredibly, (some of) the people managed to get their views across. About (some) incumbent Members of County Assemblies, Parliament, the Senate and their Governors. We saw the ignominious fall from grace of people who thought they were shoo-ins on both sides of the political divide. Resulting in what will be a substantial increase in the number of independent candidates at all levels. This is both a good and a bad thing.

We can all, without quibbling, salute the courage and ethics of those — like Boniface Mwangi — who were clear from the start they were going to stand as independents. They had no intention of being boxed into narrow calculations on the basis of ethnicity. They weren’t going to rely on largesse from supposed ethnic kingpins to run their campaigns either.

But this new upsurge in “independent” candidates, deriving from the embittered and sore losers, we’re not so sure about. Again, some may genuinely have been locked out of the race. But, for many others, the allure of power is simply too much for them to take the blow with dignity — to turn around to support the candidates in the party that, just a minute ago, they were die-hard supporters of.

The silver lining in that cloud is that their standing will presumably split the respective votes in their areas. Opening up new fronts of opportunity. Interesting.


What we still haven’t seen, however, is clear candidate or party agendas. For those who aren’t Kenyans, what the fervour is about must be terribly mysterious. It’s implicit and yet supposedly understood. Yes, the opposition has both a critique of the incumbent’s performance as well an agenda it’s tried to get across. But the media doesn’t seem that interested. And the public seems unbothered.

Maybe, instead of expecting the parties and their candidates to have an explicit agenda, we are at the phase where we should be making clear our own agenda. Trying to make these elections demand- rather than supply-driven.

Yes, at every stop along the campaign trail, the people have made their annoyances and upsets known. But different regions and sectors have yet to put forward comprehensive sets of demands on both parties — or even their candidates. Asking hard questions not just about the specific concern, but about what the party in question or their candidates at different levels intend to do about that concern.

Instead, we’ve sat waiting for party and candidate agendas to descend on us. In the typical position of supplicant, not the position of citizen. Complaints are not the same as demands.

L. Muthoni Wanyeki is Amnesty International’s regional director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes