Kenya’s elections are as different from Uganda’s as day and night. For one, the vote is three weeks away, and no candidate has been beaten to a pulp, arrested, or had his supporters shot by security forces. And there are no men in dark glasses and balaclavas driving around in unmarked cars seizing opposition activists off the streets and their homes, and off to “safe houses” for a coffee with torturers.
There is one thing, though, in which they are alike: no matter how many candidates there are in the race, the system whittles them down to two, and they always take 90 percent or more of the vote between them.
This year’s election has the most maverick candidate in Kenyan recent history, in the person of Prof George Wajackoyah. One of Kenya’s and Africa’s most educated individuals, he has a deskful of degrees — reportedly 16. In his manifesto, the Roots Party leader has promised to legalise marijuana.
If elected, he says he will hold a big pot-smoking bonanza in State House to drive away “evil spirits” from the people’s house, then in Parliament, and other corridors of power. He has undertaken to abolish the constitution and leave it to the masses to “create a people’s document”. Marvellously bearded, Wajackoyah, who sometimes wears a headband, actually looks quite cool. Rebellious youth have warmed up to him.
The latest opinion poll had him at 4 percent, suggesting that the excitement and enthusiasm he has kicked up will not turn into millions of votes. The battle remains firmly between the two frontrunners, former Prime Minister Raila Odinga and Deputy President William Ruto.
Wajackoyah’s endeavours, though, might not be in vain. He might just open the doors not only in Kenya but in East Africa, for candidates who champion forbidden and controversial issues that mainstream politicians are too calculating and cynical to bring before what they think are conservative electorates.
Over the next two rounds of elections in East Africa between now and 2032, we are likely to have candidates who champion the decriminalisation of homosexuality and legalisation of abortion.
Expect someone to seek to follow the example of rich, happy Costa Rica — which hasn’t had a standing army since 1949 — and abolish the military. However, living in a dangerous neck of the woods, perhaps the proposal would be more about getting rid of national armies and having a rapid-response East African force.
It will not all be in a progressive left direction. The successful candidates are likely to be those who espouse conservative issues frowned upon by the Judeo-Christian political establishments — like polygamy. But it will be difficult to just push polygamy in countries where women are the majority of voters. To get polygamy to be given constitutional respectability, polyandry will also have to be on the table.
It could result in unusual alliances between the forces on the right and left of East African politics. Wajackoyah, now 63, will likely still be around, seated on a pedestal, relishing his role as the septuagenarian high priest of disruption.
Onyango-Obbo is a journalist, writer, and curator of the “Wall of Great Africans”. [email protected]