This time next week, four things are likely to be happening in Kenya.

One, Jubilee Party flag bearer President Uhuru Kenyatta or opposition Nasa frontman Raila Odinga will be toasting to victory in the elections.

Two, one of them will be licking his wounds.

Three, both of them could fail to get the over 50 per cent slice of the vote needed to win the presidency.

And four, if the worst case scenario comes to pass, we shall be hiding under our beds trembling, lights off, as election violence rages down the streets.


But if one leans back to reflect, for all the dramatic things being said, and the loud electoral war drums, at base this is probably the most inconsequential and boring Kenyan election of the last 15 years.

It is nothing on the scale of December 2002.

First, there were quite a few surprises. Daniel arap Moi, who had ruled with a firm hand for 24 years, and was not as far away from a natural democrat as any politician could be, threw in the towel, and oversaw a free vote.

The result was that it was an epochal election. It was the end of an era. It ended independence party Kanu’s 38-year-old run in power. With the opposition’s Mwai Kibaki winning, it was also the first post-independence transition of power to an opposition party at the polls in East Africa.

The victorious National Rainbow Coalition (Narc), also offered up the largest democratic coalition that Africa had seen outside South Africa.

There was talk of a “Second Liberation”. Kenya was to be “rebuilt”. Its “lost glory to be restored”.

There was a lot of institution building to be done. A new enlightened constitution to be written. And Kenya’s place on the global stage to be filled again.

That 2002 feeling has been elusive, with perhaps dire consequences. The sense of occasion was gone by the 2007 elections. The trophy had been won, and it was gathering dust on top of the cupboard in the living room. It was back to good old politics: Horse trading, back-stabbing, ethnic baiting.


Though there was still a new constitution to make, electoral politics had become very programmatic again. Though the 2008 post-election violence was over alleged vote stealing, it was also helped along to some measure by a lack of a big purpose.

The 2013  General Election was dramatically muddied by the International Criminal Court charges against President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy, William Ruto.

An old-style anti-imperialist wave swept their strongholds, and brought out a very unvarnished form of nativism that some said hadn’t been seen since the late 1950s, as the Uhuru and Ruto troops rallied and circled the wagons to defend their sons.

And so here we are. The passion brought by the ICC issue has long faded. This feels like the big ICC hangover moment. There is no lost Kenyan glory to be restored. Ironically – and perhaps befittingly -  as the country votes, among the most heroic figures in Kenya, its world-beating athletes, will be running in the London World Championships.

So this is one of the most dry-boned programmatic elections. On the one hand, it’s about maintenance. Jubilee is saying its leaders should be given five more years to continue doing the good things they are doing.

On the other hand, for Nasa, it is a “mine is better than yours” case. It promises to fix the mistakes of Jubilee, and do a lot of the usual business of politics and running a country, especially the economy, better.

Both sides could be right. And, indeed, the next president will lead in exciting times, when this week China officially opened its first naval base abroad just up the coast in Djibouti, and in the United States, Donald Trump, a “man child” with nuclear weapons, is acting in ever more  frightening ways. Also, at a moment when there is democratic recession in Africa, a successful Kenyan vote would be a shot in the arm for pluralistic politics. Yet, even with all that, one can also hear some yawns in the audience.

Kenya seems to be a country that does well and puts its best foot forward at historical moments; when politicians and public intellectuals wax grand; and politics is cast as a big tent enterprise.

Not this time. There is a vacuum. As a friend said, we can only hope that the Devil will not move in and fill it.


The author is publisher of Africa data visualiser and explainer site Twitter@cobbo3