In Summary
  • County assemblies have treated us to dramatic punch-ups, scratched faces, weaves and wigs ripped off, jackets torn and many swollen faces.

  • During the sugar wars in mid year, Jubilee heavies were going against one another, Nasa politicians were butting heads and unlikely alliances were forming across party lines.

The week in Nairobi opened with members of the Nairobi County Assembly forcing out Speaker Beatrice Elachi, having impeached her the week before.

County assemblies, which were brought by devolution in 2013, have treated us to dramatic punch-ups, scratched faces, weaves and wigs ripped off, jackets torn and many swollen faces.

But there’s something that’s easy to miss: In the Elachi ouster, 103 of the 122 MCAs present voted to impeach her. In Kenya’s fractious politics, that’s as close as you can get to a unanimous vote. So why couldn’t the ruling Jubilee majority save Elachi?

It all goes back to March, when President Uhuru Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga, having fought a very bitter presidential contest last year, surprised many by doing the famous handshake, hugged and became friends again.

SUGAR WARS

The battle lines have since become very muddled in Kenyan politics. During the sugar wars in mid year, Jubilee heavies were going against one another, Nasa politicians were butting heads and unlikely alliances were forming across party lines.

That taught us a cold lesson: Whereas partisanship demoralises and often undermines effective government, it seems it is also the glue that holds African politics together.

It provides an organising principle in our wild politics because it puts the right price on the main ingredient of our politics — loyalty. You are loyal, you get rewarded. You are loyal to the government or the President, but you are a thief and get caught, your party supports you. You are their crook.

To the opposition, too, the enemy is clear: It’s the bad government that stole the election from them. If you are corrupt and are caught, you can cry that you are being persecuted because you are in the opposition.

LACKING CREDIBILITY

Your side closes ranks around you and, the State, lacking credibility beyond its loyal base, backs off because no one else believes they are not just out to get you.

The handshake removed the obvious enemy in Kenyan politics. There is no bogeyman. The handshake itself was unusual — in that it did not happen in the post-election context of 2007/2008 that gave birth to the Grand Coalition Government.

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