The outcome of two bruising recent by-elections may be a sign of things to come as the rival coalitions gear up for the 2017 elections--and the Electoral Commission, worryingly, fumbles. By Dauti Kahura in Nairobi.
Mid-term by-elections are always tricky business for incumbents. But the two by-elections, one at the Coast, traditionally an opposition zone, and the other in the Rift Valley, where political temperatures often rise to boiling point, not only tested the Jubilee Coalition's mettle in unexpected ways but more worryingly, also raised questions about the prospects of a violence-free election in 2017.
The by-elections were triggered by a double case of political poaching--or rather, the Executive's poaching of the political set for personnel. Playing very close to the constitutional edge, President Uhuru Kenyatta raided the political class to fill two cabinet positions, made vacant by a corruption purge last year that forced out five cabinet secretaries.
The 2010 Kenyan constitution explicitly forbids sitting politicians from serving in the cabinet. It's a departure from the old dispensation in which cabinet positions were valuable sinecures distributed by incumbents among ethnic clients to shore up their national credentials. After initially appointing a lean cabinet of professionals and technocrats when he came to power in 2013, Kenyatta has found it difficult to resist the old urges.
Two cabinet seats were still vacant after Kenyatta had reorganised his cabinet. Politically weak at the Coast and sensing a chance to shore up his standing there among a restive group or opposition Coalition of Reforms and Democracy MPs, Kenyatta appointed freshman MP for Malindi constituency, Dan Kazungu Muzee (Orange Democratic Movement/Cord coalition), 45, as his cabinet secretary (CS) for mining.
In Kericho County, home of the Kipsigis, the largest Kalenjin subgroup, Charles Keter, the former senator there and a close confidant of Deputy President William Samoei Ruto, was made a cabinet secretary for energy and petroleum.
Jubilee's assumption appeared to be that the Kericho by-election involved a mere changing of the guard. Instead, local resentments flared up. Ruto was perceived to have handpicked Aaron Cheruiyot, the 30-year-old Jubilee candidate.
There was, in addition, popular anger to do with wider issues. Ruto, the putative leader of the Kalenjin, has been pushing for the dissolution of his own United Republican Party, whose ethnic base is...