Anywhere in the world, the political story in Kenya today, as campaigns for the August election get heated. Would be extremely strange. But good too.
An observer exclaimed: “What a country, what a democracy! A vice-president (William Ruto), over time brazenly insubordinates his boss (President Uhuru Kenyatta).
Disavows the official ruling (Jubilee) party. Of which he’s a member and which brought him to office, and forms an opposing one (United Democratic Alliance).
Is alleged to have plotted against the president. In cahoots with foreign forces (there’s no hard evidence of this). And all that happens is that he retains his position.
Not to mention other trappings of office, government machinery, and a national platform to continue propagating his side of things. Eat your heart out, Don King. Only in Kenya!”
Backing of former Prime Minister
Now, in the rapture, President Kenyatta has cast away Ruto. And is backing former rival and veteran opposition leader Raila Odinga in the next election.
Kenya is probably the leading country in the world in having judges rule against the government. Over 90 per cent of the time.
And whose president said he fled Twitter because the people were harassing him too much.
The state is not toothless, though. The police and security services are often heavy-handed and deadly.
The government might lose over 90 percent of the time in the courts. But it also ignores nearly half of those rulings.
Mellowed beyond recognition
All in all, President Kenyatta, who has mellowed beyond recognition from the combative 52-year-old. Who came into office after a scrappy election in 2013.
Functions with more democratic and constitutional restraints on his power than all other Africans, bar one or two.
How did this “misfortune” befall the Kenyan presidency in a continent where many leaders are still Big Men?
One reason was that the Kenyan democracy movement staged the most ferocious intellectual and philosophical attack.
On dictatorship at the center without resorting to armed or the intervention of benevolent coup-making soldiers.
In South Africa, even the anti-apartheid forces had to have an armed struggle. A sustained philosophical attack seems to shatter dictatorship more fundamentally than guns.
Long frustrating struggle
It was a long frustrating struggle, with a high body count. And thousands of years of life lost in jail by activists, until 2002.
When they won a famous victory with the election of Mwai Kibaki. Smaller democratic skirmishes continued until 2010, with the adoption of a progressive constitution.
The constitution was virtually the only democratic goal the Kenyan democrats scored by design.
Most of the rest were accidental, and some sprouted from some of the worst aspects of Kenyan politics. The main one being tribalism.
Ethnic politics in Kenya, especially during election season, can be scary. While divisive and polarizing, tribal politics created walls around constituencies.
That authoritarianism could just not break through, creating autonomous spaces within them.
It has resulted in a political, social and cultural barrier. That an overreaching central government in Nairobi still can’t breach except at a very high cost.
As for the nobler part of the Kenyan political struggle. There is sobering news for other East African democrats who might look for inspiration there. It took 38 years to win victory.