People queue to vote in Kenya's repeat presidential polls at a polling station in Nairobi. Picture: Xinhua/Chen Cheng
‘If you have to win a campaign by dividing people, you are not going to be able to govern them; you will not be able to unite them later”.

This was the most appropriate commentary - about five days before the rerun of Kenyan elections. The wisdom of prioritising the unity of Kenyans is what any leader at this stage in the history of the country craves.

Unfortunately, they were not uttered by anyone in Kenya; instead. It was former US president Barack Obama in what was interpreted as a veiled attack on his divisive successor - Donald Trump.

Still, it might as well be the collective rallying cry of the people of Kenya, in the light of the desperate lack of cohesion among them, come election time.

By Friday, four people had already been killed in protest actions over the second take of the nullified August 8 presidential poll.

I am not holding my breath for things to improve any time soon, as grim as that might sound.

While we will not experience the disaster of the 2007 post-election violence, which claimed no fewer than 1700 victims, nobody ought to die in what should be a democratic process.

But, then, this is not the ideal world; it is Africa learning its painful lesson in how to put the interests of the people first. The story of electoral democracy in Africa has a few more tragic episodes to go before it gets better.

Women cast their votes in Kenya's repeat presidential polls at a polling station in Nairobi, Kenya. Picture: Xinhua/Chen Cheng

On the surface, the fight was between the supporters of Raila Odinga and the police. Odinga, one of the two top contenders in the race to govern Kenya, had called them to boycott the elections and to embark on a civil disobedience campaign.

He did not believe that the October 26 elections would be free and fair. He was not alone.

Even the chairperson of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries’ Commission - Wafula Chebukati - had openly expressed his doubts about the very elections over which he would be presiding. The police will say that they were protecting the rights of Kenyans to vote.

On the other hand, incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta and his backers only see one way out: forward.

This after the eleventh-hour court bid to postpone the elections failed.

Reason? Only two judges - instead of the mandatory five - showed up to hear the case. One was unwell, the other could not get a flight back to Nairobi in time.

There was another whose bodyguard was receiving treatment at a hospital after being shot the night before, while two other judges simply “could not make it to court”. There you have it!

Failing to form the prescribed quorum, Chief Justice David Maraga announced, the case brought by three human rights activists could not be heard.

Ballot papers to be used during the fresh presidential poll arrive at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. Picture: Xinhua/Fred Mutune

This gave the green light for the race to go ahead without the very man whose court action had necessitated the rerun in the first place.

At the heart of the problem in Kenya, however, is one ugly reality: Kenyans do not vote on issues, I was told. They vote on ethnicity.

Kenyatta - who is Kikuyu - will always win an election when pitted against a Luo candidate like Odinga, according to a hypothesis by political analyst Mutahi Ngunyi.

Termed “the tyranny of numbers”, the hypothesis reasons that Kenyatta’s inevitable victory hinges on the fact that his Jubilee alliance guarantees him an ethnic vote of 6.2 million people (43.2% of the total vote, versus Odinga’s 19.2%).

This was Ngunyi’s prediction in the 2012 elections, which materialised; but it seems to hold even now.

Odinga’s supporters claim the election results are always manipulated; Kenyatta’s supporters believe Odinga will only accept the results if he wins. Still, life must go on. The IEBC indefinitely postponed voting in four counties of Kisumu, Migori, Siaya and Homa Bay, due to security concerns. The eventual winner - if anyone at all - will need to be gracious and govern through consensus, not majoritarianism, because in Obama’s words, governing the divided people of Kenya is near impossible.

* Kgomoeswana is the author of “Africa is Open for Business”, a media commentator and public speaker on African business affairs, and a columnist for African Independent - Twitter Handle: @VictorAfrica

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

The Sunday Independent