top of page
  • Writer's pictureIrungu Houghton

Kananu is a pawn in a political game that excludes voters

The game chess is not an exercise in public participation. Neither is the search for elective leaders it would seem with the installation of Anne Kananu earlier this week. The inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris illustrates why this approach is so short-sighted and further stunts our young democratic culture.

The January 20 inauguration of Biden/Harris was remarkable in several ways. Four stood out for me. First, the sight of a 78-year-old President - the oldest person to be sworn in as President in the history of America - being called to serve by 22-year-old Amanda Gorman, America’s youngest inauguration poet. Her poem, “The Hill We Climb” deserves to be promptly presented to all who claim leadership.

Secondly, a Vice-President born of immigrant families from two different continents, must now unravel one of the most cruel and xenophobic anti-immigration systems. Thirdly, the sight of so many women and men of colour on that inauguration dais and will join the new administration. One of them was Eugene Goodman. Goodman was the African American Police Officer who protected the Capital Building from the recent insurrection attempt. He was given the honour of escorting Vice-President Harris and first Second Gentlemen Doug Emhoff to the dais.

Lastly, it is not that America and the world have seen the back of a leader who openly stirred prejudice and instilled fear that was the sweetest moment. It is that democratic processes, institutions and instruments facilitated the will of the people to send the 45th President home.

Five states were decisive. They include Georgia, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Nevada. Here civic organisations effectively countered voter-suppression efforts and got the vote out particularly among people of colour and those cynical about electoral processes. The efforts of Stacy Abrams of Georgia and other voter protection activists secured sixteen electoral college votes and flipped two Senate seats.

Democrats did not weaponize law enforcement agencies, seek to pack the Election Assistance Commission with their party agents or spend its valuable energies in endless lawsuits. They concentrated on what mattered to 160 million voters. The concerns that Trump was too dangerous for a second term, police brutality against black people and the lack of a national plan to flatten the COVID-19 pandemic that has already claimed 400,000 lives. They also concentrated on door-to-door organising and putting forward new policy visions. It is this that gave the incoming 46th President the credibility to state that their democracy is precious, fragile even, but did prevail.

Nothing remotely close to this accompanied Anne Kananu’s installation to approach the seat of Governor of Nairobi. She had not acted as Deputy Governor before the now disgraced Governor was impeached. Not a single Nairobi voter cast a ballot. Politicians, lawyers, and state officers foisted this on 4.3 million Nairobians in yet another series of backroom deals.

Not personal Anne. Just alerting that you are being moved around as a pawn in a chess game that has no rules and has excluded citizens, one of the most important interests on the board. Legal minutia and elite trade-offs and curled optics have limited power before a progressive constitution that enshrines public participation and leadership integrity. We know what just happened and tragically, so do all of those who participated.

Neither cost, proximity to the 2022 elections nor parties’ fears of losing, hold water as arguments. They seem incredibly random and short-sighted and avoid the elephant in the room. The coup planners neither trust nor wish to substantially invest in the maturation of citizens, the credibility of our State or the rule of law just yet.

Instead, establishment politicians create anti-establishment propaganda without taking responsibility for their own sins. Others dishonestly demonise opponents to create hard “us and them” lines. The deep state insiders intentionally weaponise independent law enforcement and electoral agencies. Trapped in problem-centric thinking, they remain unable to galvanise public imagination only trigger public fears.

Now that disenfranchising us is thankfully off the BBI table, is it time to invest in opportunities that can safeguard and fully utilise the changes we are seeing under the NMS? As we wait for the outcome of the case of Anne Kananu vs LSK, is it time to prepare for that 2022 moment that defines us as a democracy? There are no short-cuts. We must engage kwa ground or the mass realisation in Egypt and Uganda that electoral politics don’t matter, will visit us here also. Citizens ultimately own this country and disenfranchising us is futile.

This opinion was also published in the Saturday Standard, 23 January 2021


bottom of page