• Sunday, July 21, 2024
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There’s been a level of maturity in Kenyan democracy – Maryanne Njeri

Global political update: UK  to name new PM, Kenya election ruling expected

Maryanne Njeri, a public relations expert, spoke with ZEBULON AGOMUO on the recent presidential election and related issues in the East African country. Excerpts:

As a Kenyan citizen, how do you feel about the just concluded presidential election?

The first feeling I have is pride. I am proud of my country. I think there’s been a level of maturity in the democracy and how we handled and participated in the election as registered voters.

On the part of those who voted and those who didn’t, there’s been quite a degree of change in how we do things, especially on the Election Day, it was fairly peaceful. I must say I’m quite proud of where we’ve reached.

In 2007, over 120 people died as a result of electoral violence in Kenya and in 2017 also, over a hundred deaths were recorded, but in 2022, many days after voting across the country and a few days after announcing the result, no loss of life has been recorded. Did Kenya learn her lessons or did the citizens choose to be peaceful because they are happy with the outcome?

First of all, that difficult history we had in 2007-2008 and then how tribalism and other negative factors can quickly break a country into pieces was a shock for all of us because we never saw ourselves in that place; so, it was too shocking because as an East African country, we have never been at that stage, and remembering that, we never wanted to go back there.

There has also been a lot of civic education in different parts of the country; there was a lot of effort vested into encouraging voter registration and educating voters. We also had a new set of registered voters who did not participate in the 2007 election because of age. So, their background and people who registered then is quite different.

Read also: How Ruto’s victory could change governance dynamics in Kenya, by Odion-Akhaine

The leaders then and those who campaigned vis-a-vis that time is quite different, yet similar. So, I think that plays a role in changing quite a number of things because there’s quite a lot set of new voters, which is a very young population.

Some people have described the election as a new dawn in Nairobi. Would you really say it’s new dawn given the fact that in August 2018, research said that Ruto was the most corrupt political leader in Kenya? Four years later, the supposedly corrupt man was to be elected president of Kenya?

Ruto campaigned to a younger population. He came in with this logo that he is a hustler.

So this younger generation, a certain populace associated themselves with him. Why? His way of selling himself was: I didn’t come from a dynasty, I’m a self-made man. Whatever self-made means to you, I think I can let you add it up for yourself.

So, that’s the story he used to package himself. So, people hustling on the street say I’m young and I can make it like this guy. You will remember that Kenyatta is from a presidential family; Ralia’s dad was into politics and was quite powerful.

It appears President Uhuru Kenyatta will be living behind a legacy of high inflation, high unemployment level, economic inequality, political corruption and huge debt. What do you think should be the low-hanging fruits that the incoming administration should pluck, in order to confront the economy?

I’ll tell you something, we’ve been left with quite a high debt, but on the other hand, in Kenyatta’s administration, I have seen so much FDI (foreign direct investment) come into this country in different ways. FDI comes in either from investors directly or from international events.

In Kenyatta’s ruling, I can tell you we’ve had so many bilateral agreements and Kenyatta with Goodluck signed a bilateral agreement between Kenya and Nigeria and that is why pre-Covid, they had visas on arrival.

The purpose of that was to enable trades, businesses and tourism flow and that is why pre-Covid, you could come in and I can come into Nigeria with just visa on arrival. It was a hat-trick; that is very powerful. In addition to that, I think right now we have a minimum of 70 French companies registered here; we have a lot of British companies, and American companies registered here. We have more Nigerian Banks here including GTB, Access Bank, UBA, etc.

Post-Covid, I think, about four months ago, we had a huge International Conference and this is among the things driving direct and indirect foreign investments. During the Covid in 2020, Kenya Airways could go back into France and to New York in August because August is the height of our tourism.

More so, the Americans are the highest spenders on tourism in my country and in Africa; it is the South Africans and Nigerians. I think, we have some of the most beautiful roads after South Africa, in terms of infrastructure and you need roads.

Let’s say if you have a road from Bayelsa to Lagos that is a one-way street, you know how much trade you can do. Even it’s a proper one from Ogun State to Lagos State; there are lots of things you can do in terms of trade. If I just drive one way down and pay a toll fee of 200 naira, I can carry my goods, come back home the same day and I have sold it.

So, more people are actually coming from outside Nairobi into Nairobi to sell their goods and go back home on the same day. Still, under tourism, most Americans are coming in right now. In fact, as we’re speaking, Lewis Hamilton was in this country this week. So, we have had challenges in terms of debt, and we all blame our president.

He’s put us in a lot of it; we had a lot of debt, but then again you need debt to grow a country. As a third world, you need debt to grow your country. We don’t have millions of dollars to create roads. But again, the corruption. Who was in the corruption? It was Ruto. Ruto was one of the guys. I’m challenged because I don’t know who’s coming in the next administration.

As you’ve seen just now we are having a situation, Raila has declined the results, and this is going to be a court case and Ruto is not the president yet, but a president-elect.

So, till now, the head of state is still in power. I think, the first mandate is to jail thieves to curb corruption but I don’t know how Ruto is going to do it because he is one of them.

The election results were delayed following the allegation of irregularities, to the point that four electoral commissioners broke ranks, and held a separate press conference, denouncing the result and saying it is “opaque.” Now, would you say that the electoral body was infiltrated by the ruling party that didn’t want Ruto to emerge, or that when they saw the election was going the way they did not like they wanted to manipulate it? You have also said that the election was not conclusive yet because Odinga appears to have gone to court to challenge it; so, is there any way you could read the hand of the government in what happened in the election?

I’ll be honest, I do not know, but I feel the chairman of the Electoral board commission dishonoured the oath he took to this country, he went against his oath. Number one, of all the registered voters and all those who voted, I feel like we don’t know the real number.

Secondly, they’ve given us a number which is roughly 14 million people, but they’ve not told us how many votes were spoiled. They have not told us how many registered voters did not vote but yes, so there’s data we are missing. Thirdly, under the Constitution, it stays there should be a majority. There were seven Commissioners who refused.

So he is supposed to read the results that have been agreed upon by that committee but he chose to read what he felt served his purpose or whoever’s purpose.

So, whether the government manipulates you or the position, he had an oath he took to this country. He has disrespected this oath and disrespected the country.

As a Kenyan, how would you describe the social-economic situation in your country today?

It’s been quite challenging. Of course, Covid has just knocked everybody out. Covid has been the main factor that has really knocked down our economy.

The other factors included environmental. We are an agricultural country and we’ve been challenged with rain.

We are among the top three coffee producers and tea but we’ve been highly challenged by the rain and the prices have been very difficult.

So, the market has not been good for us in terms of tea; we’re number two, number three and coffee. So, from this kind of environmental factor, I think the government should learn by now that if you don’t have rain coming in, what can we do to make alternate sources like Dubai does?

Tourism has been challenged obviously by Covid but strangely, we’ve kind of come back up. But when you’re having politics season and looking at where we are coming from, 2007, that affects tourism and many of us are reliant on it.

Read also: How technology helped in Kenyan poll – Citizens

Whether it’s the person at the top; one at the bottom, you know from the pilots to the people who’re just selling Maasai sandals, they are reliant on this dollar. Fourthly; the dollar. It has been too high. In the last two months, the Shilling has been hit very hard and that affects imports and exports.

What’s your takeaway from this election; lesson to learn and what would you suggest going forward, assuming you were appointed as the chairman of Kenyan Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC)? Would there be any changes you may recommend based on what you have observed?

First of all, I’m honestly really proud of us. I find it interesting when I was looking on Twitter and I saw a lot of comments from a lot of African countries like ‘wow, Kenya still has internet going on during elections.’ Because the website was live so we could watch some of the counting and everything a lot of it was live.

When we were going to vote in stations, we had an iPad, everything was registered online. You just pull out your identity card, they see your face and you go and do your thing.

Also, there’s more openness in terms of information and access. I think we have come to a different stage of maturity and democracy. Even, we don’t have the military on the road.

Everything was fine, people actually driving around. So, I think we need to progress from that, where we’ve reached we cannot go back.

And I think it’s a lesson for a lot of African countries, especially if you’re a Powerhouse like Nigeria, South Africa, and Cote d’ Ivoire. I think we should get to one point where we can work together and go up to the next stage of openness in terms of democracy when it comes to elections. But then again we have corruption, we have challenged integrity.

If I was the IEBC, my job will be to honour my oath and honour my country. I would not ever want to compromise because that’s compromising 44 million people’s lives for the next five or ten years minimum.