By Jama Ali Kabe
Elections in Kenya are usually held every five years. Elective positions are six in number: The Presidency, County Governor, Senator, Women Representative, Member of Parliament and finally, the Member of County Assembly (MCA). The position of the women representative was created to give women an equal representation in the National Assembly as a form of gender balance as regards elective positions. This was deemed necessary due to the fact that Kenya being more aligned to traditional African cultural values, women stood no chance competing against men for an election to office.
The electioneering period is defined by a pompous and extravagant display of wealth. The whole thing is ostensibly splendid. Every contestant tries his best to display his might and financial muscle to the electorate in the hope that his wealth and standing in society would lure voters to his or her side. It is never about policies or issues, it is always about who has the most money to spend.
On the other hand, aside from monetary might, another factor that is central to deciding who wins or loses is the tribe from which one hails from. More often than not, one from a larger tribe trounces another from a smaller tribe. He or she wins not on the basis of what he or she has to offer but because his tribe is more formidable than the other. It is for the reason that one famous analyst had to conjure up the cliché ” tyranny of numbers “, meaning might in terms of voting numbers of respective tribes.
In North Eastern Kenya, one of the most economically marginalized areas in the country, the electioneering period is very vital in the sense that residents have the chance to choose leaders they think are best suited to fight for their economic survival back in the capital (Nairobi). The communities that reside in the area are pastoralists by nature and most live their lives tendering to their animals. However, their survival is not confined to just pastoralism; others have set up base in urban centers and own or run flourishing business entities that generate a sizeable income to maintain their urban lifestyle. A good number have chosen the path of academia and despite the hurdles they endure due to lack of quality education in the area have ended up becoming highly respected technocrats with good standing in both the private and public sectors. Others have become polymaths and teach in universities and colleges.
Elections times for these communities usually turn out to be platforms of supremacy battles among them. Different communities choose from a pool of applicants they deem strongest and formidable to take on those from the opposing side. This process of handpicked and anointed select persons has led to what many refer to as a negotiated democracy.
In Garissa County for instance, the Abudwaq and the Samawadal clans who are said to share a family lineage that is locally known as Talamogge have come up with a sharing agreement to share the several elective seats within the county among themselves.
After deep consultations, the abudwaq family was allocated the governor’s seat, whose banner will be flown by
Mr. Ali Bunow Korane, a career administrator who lost once as a Member of Parliament to the current Majority Leader Aden Barre Duale and again lost the gubernatorial seat in 2013 to the current Garissa County Governor, Nathif Jama Aden. The family was also allocated the slot of woman representative which was given to little known Anab Subow. The samawadal family on the other hand due to their marginal numbers as regards voting strength had to settle for, albeit reluctantly, the deputy governor and the Senate position. The Senate position was allocated to the incumbent Senator Yusuf Haji.
The Talamogge sharing formula has had its own share of criticism. The decision has not gone down well with many including Retired Army Major Hon. Aden Sugow, who many consider as the front runner and favorite in the race to replace the current Senator. Women Representative aspirants from the samawadal family have also disowned the process and termed it as non-binding and thus are still in contention to replace the incumbent Women Representative.
Additionally, many from communities outside of the Talamogge basket have accused the Talamogge community of being egomaniacal and acquisitive in that little regard was given to families that fall outside of the Talamogge family tree. Garissa County is cosmopolitan; hence it would be injudicious and politically improper for two sub-clans to share everything available among themselves alone.
Concerning the race for the governorship, it is very difficult to tell who has the edge. Despite being frequently blamed for the biting water shortage in the county, the incumbent appears unperturbed and bullish about his reelection to office. He cuts across as a soft spoken and courteous, a trait that many love him for. His conservative nature and tendency to steer away from confrontations with other elected leaders is what is appealing toward the electorate. People in this part of the world are all for leaders who speak less, act more and stay clear-off unnecessary spats and unwarranted face-offs. In that respect, he is the prodigal son you would say.
However, the other side of the coin tells a different tale. His critics have termed him as a weak, inept and often gullible person with very pitiful knowledge concerning the running of a government. He’s main opponent Korane, points out to his experience as a career administrator and a lifelong civil servant as the two aspects that give him an edge over Nathif Jama, the incumbent governor. Korane himself is not short of critics. Many detail him as a product of the almost obsolete Kenya African National Union (KANU) Administration.
With Election Day fast approaching, it is upon Adan to convince the electorate that he is deserving of a second chance and also upon Korane to prove to everyone that he has the capability and charisma to deliver to the people of Garissa County. Will it be second time luck for the incumbent or will Korane finally break the jinx that has hampered his political aspirations and get his hand on the iron throne once and for all? Only time will tell.
Crossing over to the Senate, it is almost a certainty that the incumbent Senator will finally have a tough challenge in his otherwise glorious political journey. His opponent, Aden Sugow, is an established politician who left the Kenya Army at the tender age of thirty to try his hand in politics. He is a man famous for never shying away from engaging in political battles and taking on his opponents. His debut in politics was against a then 3 times MP in 1997–an MP who had deep connections with government machinery and an array of moneyed, opulent and powerful backers behind the scenes. The incumbent Aden Sugow was challenging, narrowly lost the seat. For Aden Sugow though, it was never about wining, it was always about proving to the privileged establishment kids that they were never untouchable, and that with proper planning, they were easily beatable.
Fast forward, the Young Turk ended up being successful in his subsequent election campaigns and was twice elected as a Member of Parliament for Fafi Constituency. He ended up rising to the rank of an Assistant Minister in the Kibaki Government. Despite losing in 2013 to his long time rival Elias Bare Shill, Sugow is back this time round to prove that he is not all bare bones, that he still has what it takes to win an election.
Yusuf Hajj, the current Senator is a respected and distinguished elder within the community. In the last four years that he has held the senate office, many accused of him of underperforming and turning a blind eye to the perceived rot in the County Government–this either made him an accomplice to the apparent rot affecting the county, or it simply means he has utterly failed in his mandate to ensure county resources are properly utilized. It is no secret that he has failed in his oversight role. He has been described as the proverbial village man, who after moving to the city to look for a job completely forgot about and ignored his wife back in the village and connived up to the beautiful make-up clad sophisticated women in the city only to return to the village five years later and demand conjugal rights from the village wife he had abandoned.
Clearly, there’s been a sharp contrast regarding how the two front runners for the senate have run their campaigns. Whereas the incumbent has resorted to fronting a coalition of the blood brothers Abudwaq and Samawadal, his opponent Sugow has played his cards wisely and has asked for support from every community that resides in the county. He has warned the electorate against falling for emotional blackmailing from candidates who use the ethnic card to seek votes; he has instead pleaded with both the electorate and candidates to keep off completely from ethnicity-based politics and rather propagate issue-based politics. “Judge someone by what he plans to do for you to improve your standard of living, not because you share tribal affiliations with them”, he often says.
Barring a miracle of Biblical proportions, it is almost certain who the next senator will be, and it most definitely will not be the incumbent. But do not be so sure, for as they say, wisdom lies in the old; the old man might not dust and skeleton after all, he might have an ace or two up his sleeve. We will wait and see.
The incumbent women representative is perhaps the worst performing elected leader in the county. Having woven her way intricately through sheer luck in 2013, she faces an uphill task from several, very well established women leaders. She faces formidable opposition in the face of Fatuma Kinsi, a renowned humanitarian activist and a proponent of girl child education in the county. Then there is Amina keinan, a career health practitioner who has been based in the United States for the better part of the last decade who hopes to use her expertise in health care to develop maternity care for women. We also have little known Anab Subow, a quiet lady who seldom graces the public limelight. She hopes her very short stint as a staff of the humanitarian committee in the refugee camps will attract voters towards her. It is a battle between tough, educated and dominant women who never shy away from a fight. It is tough to say who the winner will be, but one thing is certain: the winner will hardly emerge without a bruise or two. It is a rumble in the jungle and it is all about who has the stamina and patience to give out the knockout punch.
The most thrilling and widely anticipated of them all is the battle for the Garissa Township Parliamentary seat between National Assembly Majority Leader Aden Duale and former Deputy Speaker Farah Maalim. Ali v. Foreman, Ali v. Frazier, or call it what you want, but this is surely the most entertaining of all.
An incumbent MP, with all the financial muscle, power and influence one could dream of, coupled with the backing of a family with incredible voting numbers, squaring off against a former Deputy Speaker and powerful MP, with some astonishing financial might of his own, equally backed with a family of equal devastating voting numbers, what could be any better to historically memorialize when the dust settles after August 2017.
Both men personify and depict the faces of the two most powerful personalities in the country at the moment: The Head of State and the Leader of the Opposition. They are seen as surrogates of Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga and key point men of the figures in Northern Kenya.
Duale prides himself to be a self-proclaimed confidant of the president and prides himself in being the face of the president regarding North Eastern politics. When I speak, it is the government speaking, he says. The other doyen, Farah Maalim, depicts himself as a crusader of the rights of Muslims and other minorities in the region. He has been a strong critic of the government and has repeatedly lashed out against the harassment and enforced disappearance of Muslim youth and scholars under the guise of the War on Terror. His constant agitation for the protection of the rights of minorities, especially Somalis, has given him a cult-like status in the county and that is one of the reasons why he is widely revered, his valor and wits notwithstanding.
All in all, it is a battle between two self conceited men, both drowned in their feelings of self importance and both of whom are representative of the battle between the President and Opposition Leader back in the capital. It sure will be a bruising battle and it already has set tongues lashing. It is a face-off that will undoubtedly determine who the ultimate king of the North will be. Who has the bigger balls? That and other factors, we will find out in due time. In the mean time, where are the popcorns please?
The current Members of the County Assembly (MCAs) are as much to blame for the mess the County Government is in as the Governor himself. The Governor represents the Executive Organ of the County Government whereas the County Assembly Members represent the Legislative Arm. The current crop of MCAs fit the depiction of what clueless persons look like. They have no single bill to their name that has perfectly impacted on the populace. They are a bunch of thoughtless, imprudent, lame-brained savages united by the common goal of fleecing everything they could get their hands on. In their books, everything is edible. They leave nothing to chance.
Their lack of acquaintance with their roles as elected members can be related to the fact that a good number of them are unlettered and functionally illiterate and a bunch of thieves from the Diaspora specifically handpicked by the Governor and his cohorts for their adeptness at theft and in the art of embezzlement of county coffers. When someone has no apprehension of or command of what is expected of him in his capacity as an elected leader, the only thing that comes to mind is to become wealthy. Money is his way of becoming relevant in the contemporary society, being much aware that he has no intellect to boast of. In a nutshell, a well-oiled, honest, objective, candid–not necessarily educated County Assembly that is much cognizant of its role is what is needed in Garissa for devolution to succeed. An Executive Arm with no Legislative Arm to provide checks and balances will invariably run riot and grab all that it can on its way.
This election will prove to be one of the hottest contested ever; bigwigs have been set up against fellow bigwigs and the casualties are going to be immense.
At the moment, those left out by the decision of their respective council of elders appear unhinged; in fact, they seem to be having the upper hand.
Many scholars and analysts have described the elders ‘ way of doing things as backward and Stone Age in nature. The handlers of the process have absolutely no consideration for the capability of a candidate to live up to the billing. Ability is not measured by the development agenda one has, credence is however given to the weight of his or her pockets.
For now, the process seems not to be working out as envisaged with candidates left out of the sharing agreement continuing to do their campaigns and even exhibiting more clout than those in whose favors were overlooked.
The final verdicts or decisions of the Council of elders appear not binding as expected. In a very conservative society such as this one in which Traditional Elders are the law unto themselves, the prevailing rebellion against their old-fashioned way of making decisions is unprecedented and sets an interesting precedent for future elections.
So, who will be the last man or woman standing?
Jama Ali Kabe
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