In spite of all that, Uhuru Kenyatta will still be facing an angry electorate. Masses have short memories, and it is the frustration and difficulties of the last few months that people will take to the ballot, forgetting the good things that the president achieved over the last four years. The supporters that carried him to the presidency are dispirited due to the underwhelming performance of the government. Even the most ardent supporters of the president agree that this has been a disappointing presidential performance compared to the hopes they had when they elected him. I have already noted that the government has a fair amount of achievements, so the underachievement tag attached to the government is self-inflicted. In 2013, the government rode to power on the back of a gloriously ambitious, but ultimately unachievable manifesto. This time around, Jubilee has learnt its lesson as it launched a manifesto that was far less dazzling. Most of the promises this time are vague and most of it is inane stuff, usually found in government policy documents.
Still, the question that remains, will Uhuru Kenyatta win a second term? There is some mistaken belief among the legion of the president’s supporters that incumbents cannot lose an election. A few years ago, it would be inconceivable for an African president to lose an election. But the winds have shifted since the 1980s and 1990s. In this decade alone, incumbents have lost in places like The Gambia, Senegal, Zambia, Malawi, Ghana, and Nigeria. All these countries are contemporaries of Kenya. Incumbency is both a burden and an advantage. An advantage because people tend to prefer the status quo over the disruption a new regime would bring; this is as long as the status quo is not so bad. The biggest advantage incumbents have is the resources at their disposal, both private and public. For instance, during fundraising Jubilee could call in all the favors from businessmen they have awarded tenders in the last five years and raise way more money than the opposition. An incumbent is also able to control the political narrative; it is impossible for the press to ignore what a president will say, the president, therefore, tends to enjoy greater media coverage. An incumbent also controls government policy and can use government projects as campaign tools; we have already seen this happen.
Incumbency also comes at a cost. Governments make mistakes, sometimes disastrous ones. Governments are incompetent and they also underperform. Terror attacks happen and natural disasters occur from time to time. All these are blamed on the government. And these have been in plentiful supply in Kenya. For that reason, the ruling party is always on the defensive. A clever opposition coalition could take this opportunity to incite change and promise a new and a more hopeful future. Of course, when the opposition gets into power, the cycle of incompetence and underachievement will continue unabated. Given how much Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto had promised when coming to power in 2013, it is not that hard to see where their weaknesses are. The most frustrating aspect of the Uhuru presidency has been the wide disconnect between rhetoric and action. It was easy to fall for the sweet vibes of the president and his deputy, but when you examine their actions, you will discover a dizzying difference between words and action.
Since the start of June, the president and his deputy spend their days staggering from one small town to the next, dazzling residents with a show of panoply they have never seen before. This year, my little home town at the foot of the Aberdare Ranges enjoyed the pleasure of a presidential visit for the first time in more than 15 years. The race to fill the vote basket has sent Kenyatta and Ruto deep into to the hinterland of the strongholds, places that have previously been neglected.
For this president to be re-elected, turnout in key strongholds in the Mt. Kenya region and in William Ruto’s Rift Valley stronghold have to be above 90%. Of course, the assumption here is that all those who turn out to vote in the presumed strongholds will vote for the president almost to a man. This is no guarantee, especially in the Rift Valley where a tiny rebellion has been fomenting. Remember, in 2013, the president surpassed the 50% threshold by 8,000 votes. The rebellion could be small, but it could inflict a fatal wound on this presidency.
Opinion polls might not be a very accurate indicator of who will win the presidency as we saw in 2013, in the US presidential election, and in the Brexit referendum. However, that does not mean we should completely disregard the opinion polls, they are still the most scientific method to measure the public mood. What do the opinion polls tell us about this election? Well, the polls show that the race is tightening, and in a trend, that should worry the president, they are tightening in his opponent’s favor. Raila Odinga and his NASA coalition, the president’s main challenger, took a bit of time to organize their internal affairs, which made it appear like the president would have an easy win. The NASA juggernaut has however gained steam, and it appears ready to give the president a terrifying run for the top seat. In the course of the remaining days to the election, the polls are likely to tighten further. By election day, the margin between the two sides will be razor thin, which means that election night will be a buttock clenching ordeal as each vote is pulled from the basket and added to the national tally.
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