Saturday, July 27, 2013



By P.Anyang' Nyong'o

It goes without saying that the Makueni by-election was not just an ordinary by election in Kenya. For all intents and purposes it was a "little general" election in which the two major political coalitions have taken keen interest and the whole nation has been mobilized to pay attention to it. For almost two months the media was full of news about Kethi Kilonzo and the election.

For Jubilee the fact that Makueni was right in the middle of a CORD strong hold was no reason to let the by-election go to the rivals just like that. One only needs to remember that a European sitting somewhere at the Hague or an American in Washington has very little knowledge of Kenya's geography. The by-election, being the first after the controversial presidential election, would obviously be of great interest to the world out there with regard to which party wins. A Jubilee loss would be viewed as a much bigger event out there  and a much more useful trophy to the opposition. Jubilee was determined to ensure that the trophy eludes their rivals.

This election reminds one very much of the Gem by-election held in late 1966, the same year the Kenya People's Union emerged as a post independence opposition to KANU. The election was fought between the KANU candidate Omolo Rading and the KPU candidate Wasonga Sijeyo. Except for the absence of the KANU Secretary General Tom Mboya from the campaigns, KANU released all its big guns to face the KPU brigade led by Jaramogi Oginga Odinga on the ground in a predominantly KPU stronghold. But KANU was determined to win the seat, if only to demonstrate to the world that the KPU was no challenge to it and it was very much in charge in the whole country. In the end the KPU floored KANU without much ado, just as Mutula Kilonzo Jr. just sent the Jubilee team packing after only four days of being in the campaign trail.

While the Jubilee big guns did not troop to campaign in Makweni in large numbers, they spent most of their ammunition in Nairobi within the law courts and the IEBC. The tremendous efforts, logistics, manoeuvres and tricks used by Jubilee to find anything in the law to stop Kethi Kilonzo from contesting the Makueni seat were clear signs that Jubilee never intended to take its case to the people of Makueni: judges, lawyers and the IEBC mandarins were its carefully orchestrated constituency to decide for the Makueni people who their candidate was. The joke making the rounds in Makueni during the  campaigns was that after the Supreme Court saga, Jubilee had decided that it was much cheaper to win elections using the courts than to bribe thousands of voters in the countryside.

But why did the by-election in Makueni in the end become a "little general" election in Kenya?

To begin with the man who passed on and who was to be replaced, Mutula Kilonzo, somehow grew larger than life in his death. As Minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs Mutula had taken a very clear and firm legal stand on the ICC. As far as he was concerned there was absolutely no way by which Kenya could avoid its responsibilities to the ICC having been signatory to the Rome Statutes. Secondly, there was no way by which justice towards the victims of the Post Election Violence could be downplayed by not going ahead with the cases at the Hague, or tampering with evidence in any way whatsoever. This clear and unequivocal stand that risked making him unpopular with the Kibaki government won him the admiration of many Kenyans who thought as he did but rarely came out so succinctly on this issue as he did.

A continued focus on Mutula Kilonzo by getting his child take over his seat in the Senate was not the kind of thing that the powers that be wanted to put up with for the next four years. Moreover, when that offspring happened to be Kethi Kilonzo of the AFRICOG case in the Supreme Court petition that challenged the election of Uhuru as Kenya's fourth president, then one can see why Jubilee went out of the way to mess up Kethi's candidature.

Kethi's performance in the Supreme Court elevated her to national and international fame. Kethi in the Senate and staying in the lime light was something that could have metamorphosed into many things that the Jubilee mandarins and their intelligence squads did not want to wait and see. Nipping the whole thing in the bud without going to the ridiculous extent of rigging an election was a much better approach. Hence even after the IEBC had properly nominated Kethi to run it had to look inside its own house and manufacture some mistakes as reasons to withdraw the nomination from Kethi. Whatever the case, Kethi has now been fully initiated into national politics in a by- election which has been truly a "little general" election.

From now on Kethi has no other alternative but to look up, keep her profile high and prepare for 2017. She need not go back to Makueni. There are several options worth looking at which need not preoccupy her today lest she runs too much ahead of herself. But the options are there; those who have eyes to see let them see.

Young, gifted and female Kethi has the vibrant youth constituency to attend to. Disarmingly calm and articulate, she brings the best out of this generation as someone who has respect for her seniors while not giving them room for unnecessary patronage. Just by being herself she exudes some sense of authority when she speaks and reasons. She is obviously well grounded in her profession and a good number of people feared that politics may rob her of the opportunity to develop fully in her profession, thereby making even much more contribution than she would in politics.

But there is really no reason why she cannot do both. The present US Vice President, Joe Biden, shocked Americans when he became one of the youngest senators in 1972: he was in his twenties. He eventually carved a legacy for himself as one of the most respected legislators in the US Congress.

The Kenyan senate is slowly emerging as a house where painstaking work on law making and policy debates are key to the success of legislators. It is small enough to encourage collegial discourse and collaboration and yet big enough to influence the trajectory of Kenyan politics. Somebody like Kethi with both an intellectual and professional persuasion could, after a long haul in that house, make a difference which can only be imagined for now given the potential she demonstrated in her Supreme Court performance.