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The Politics of Reason over Passion

By Matunda Nyanchama
September 27, 2006

Political temperatures are heating up in Kenya as the country edges close to the next General and Presidential Elections. There appears to be emerging two major protagonists under the auspices of two parties: the ODM-Kenya and Narc-Kenya. Political pundits predict a titanic political competition similar to the one that ushered the current administration into office.

In some ways, Kenyans have been on a long political campaign since the last elections. No sooner was the administration in office than cracks emerged from the ranks of the Narc leadership. And soon, protagonists were on the “campaign trail”.

On the one hand were LDP brigades that felt short-changed by the small number of cabinet positions their party got in the new government. This, they said, was contrary to the pre-election Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that proposed a 50:50 split of positions between LDP and parties grouped under the NAK. The cracks were clear as LDP cabinet ministers openly started criticizing the government of which they were part.

The next campaign phase was in the making of the constitution. As the process progressed, campaign undercurrents were clear: there were those in favour of a powerful prime minister’s office and those who favoured a strong presidency.

This polarization came to a head with the dilution of the Bomas Draft constitution to create a Kilifi retreat endorsed version that came to be known as the Wako Draft constitution. In November 2005, Kenyans passionately rejected the latter. The Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) as the opponents of the Wako Draft came to be called, led the charge and campaigned effectively to defeat the government at the referendum. It was passion at its best!

Few people have dissected the reasons for rejection of the constitution and Kenyan scribes and intelligentsia haven’t served Wanjiku well in this respect. For example, many politicians on ODM rejected the Wako Draft because of the manner in which it dealt with political power, especially the power balance between the proposed office of prime minister and the presidency. They also differed on the process through which the Wako Draft came to be, saying that Bomas was a “people driven” process and hence the Bomas Draft was the “more legitimate”.

The story was different in other parts of the country. In Western Kenya, for example, the Wako Draft was rejected for different reasons, among them being the issue of gender equity in inheritance. Like Bomas, the Wako Draft envisioned equal inheritance rights for male and female offspring. However here, like many parts of Kenya, women get married off to different clans. Men, on the other hand, remain in the homestead and inherit whatever their parents owned. Here was a very powerful empowering element and move towards equality that both men and women rejected based on existing cultural practices. This was yet an expression of passion over reason!

In the end though, ODM would claim victory even when their leadership would disagree with some of the reasons for rejection of the constitution.

A win is a win, though! And no one can take away the fact that the Wako Draft was defeated. Had there been more reason over passion, the outcomes might have been closer than was the case in the referendum results last November.

We are once again witnessing a passionate political journey in which ODM, now moulded into ODM-Kenya, expect to beat the current regime at the next elections. It promises to be a bruising contest should ODM-Kenya unity hold through to the elections, especially once its touch bearer has been elected. And ODM-Kenya’s hopes are to do a rerun of the referendum.

Passion drives Kenyan politics and little is likely to change as we head for the next elections. Already, we have seen opposing parties flexing muscles in staging rallies across the country. In online forums campaigns and propaganda have heated up with some invoking ethnicity, the latter being a key (passionate) factor on voting patterns.

It is important to be passionate about Kenyan politics, if only to spur participation in the political process. However, we need to inject reason into the process. That way, we would avoid the errors of 2002.

In 2002 there was a passionate rallying around the theme of Moi Must Go! And indeed, Moi’s “sell-by-date” had long expired. He should have left earlier! However, Moi was not a candidate in the elections. For Moi’s most passionate opponents, defeating Uhuru Kenyatta was a way of beating the retired president! Yet again, another expression of passion over reason! Moi’s opponents hardly ran against Uhuru Kenyatta.

In that year, Kenyans danced and sang of victories to come over the oppressive Kanu regime. A famous song did the rounds saying yote yaezekana bila Moi! The song went on to proclaim how we would get a new constitution bila Moi; how we shall do better farming bila Moi; and why? The song seemed to suggest that Moi was the stumbling block to everything that ailed the country; rid the country of Moi, and all will be heaven in Kenya.

The song was passionate and rallied people to defeat Kanu. We Kenyans never asked how Narc would do things differently. We never asked what plans and programs Narc would have in place to create a better Kenya. And yes, we expected the new administration to usher into place a new constitutional dispensation. However, we never asked them to clearly state their positions on various constitutional elements. Further, we never asked about their economic plan; what they planned to do with health care; how they planned to prosecute thieves and grabbers from the old regime of which many were part of; and more!

Had we sought these answers and forced the competing parties to declare their positions, we would have had different political alignments. In is conceivable that the winning party would have been more aligned with Kenyans’ aspirations than the Narc administration was. It is also possible that, had politicians been true to themselves with this scrutiny, Narc would have ruptured earlier, perhaps before the elections.

Our passion led us to elect a divided Narc administration; this has had a direct impact on the government’s performance to date.

The Narc administration’s success was substantially hampered by the bickering and internal opposition within its ranks, a process that started immediately it came to office. Its mixed success is largely blotted by the defeat at the referendum on the constitution.

Kenyans should not allow for a repeat of 2002. They should be more diligent in seeking answers from political leaders and their parties; they should then vote for the party and leadership that propose programs that would best serve Kenya. Of necessity, these programs need to address pertinent issues in education, the economy, health care, infrastructure (road, telecommunications, etc.), agriculture, industrialization and more! As for the constitution, let’s not be fooled! No one can put in place a new constitution in 100 days! Show me a person who makes the claim and I will show you a liar!

We must inject more reason into our politics. In the process, we need to tone down emotional waves and its exhilarating and numbing effect! If and when we heed these, we would have learnt a lesson or two. In the process reason will triumph over passion.

© September 27, 2006, Matunda Nyanchama

Matunda Nyanchama, an information security professional, is a past President of the Kenyan Community Abroad (KCA). He can be reached at

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