The stakes are remarkably high in this election which features two dynasties whose world views have remained diametrically opposed.
IT’S ALL SYSTEMS go across the border in the south west as over 19 million Kenyans troop to the polls in one of the most hotly contested poll in the East African nation’s history pitying two political dynasties that have shaped the country’s political trajectory since independence.
President Kenyatta closed his pitch Friday in the historic Afraha Stadium in Nakuru county-the same venue which sealed his anti-ICC campaign victory in 2013 with a last appeal-Don’t let me down. Odinga and his NASA brigade on their part whipped public opinion in the equally historic Uhuru Park in Nairobi delivering his Promised Land call- We are ready for change.
The country’s electoral body, Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) has registered 19,687,563 voters who will be casting their vote for six officer holders-President, Member of Parliament, Senator, Women Representative, Member of County Assembly and Governor. It will be the second general election since Kenya adopted a new constitution in 2010.
The country’s treasury said in its Pre-election Economic and Fiscal Report last month the election would cost $500 million making it the most expensive in the continent and second most in the world with cost per voter estimated at $25.4.
The stakes are remarkably high in this election which features two dynasties whose world views have remained diametrically opposed. President Kenyatta plunged into the political scene thanks to an endorsement by the former President Daniel Arap Moi during his political sunset while Odinga is a battle hardened politician-political detainee and actively involved in the country’s second liberation. Kenyatta will be contesting for the third time while Odinga will be giving the presidency a forth stab.
The Jubilee Party headed by Kenyatta has fronted a free market economy while NASA under Odinga has pushed for an entrenched fiscal devolution marked by increase of up to 45% allocation of national budget to the counties.
It is an election closely watched in Somalia as its outcome poses direct and indirect ramifications since the two countries are strategically interlinked geographically, economically and more importantly security wise. But what are the key issues for Somalia in this election?
Kenya is both a police and troops contributing member of Amisom with an estimated 4500 troops serving in Amisom’s sector 2, which has its headquarters in the port city of Kismayo, comprising of Lower and Middle Juba. The question of troop withdrawal from Somalia prominently featured in the election campaign with the two main candidates proffering divergent viewpoints. Kenyatta maintained ground that the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) will continue serving under Amisom until the country is pacified or until an agreed withdrawal date by African Union. In a joint conference with President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo in March, Kenyatta reiterated his country’s desire to withdraw its troops in 2018. The African Union has also proposed a conditions based draw-down in late 2018.
Former Prime Minister Odinga has however argued KDF’s stay in Somalia is long overdue noting he would strategically pull out the troops to man the border and ‘provide strategic support to Amisom troops inside Somalia should he be elected president. His position is that Kenya has significantly suffered retaliatory attacks from Al-Shabaab as a result of its incursion into Somalia contrary to what he referred to as African Union’s advisory against entry by neighbouring countries. Kenyan troops in Somalia are viewed with a sense of ambivalence- a critical military force which has played an all important role in pacifying the Jubba region especially by dethroning Al-Shabaab from Kismayu port while on the other hand seen as a force with vested interests as exemplified by the charcoal trade debacle.
Whereas trade relations between Somalia and Kenya did not prominently feature in the campaign trail, trade between the two countries remain a common phenomenon though characterized by wide deficits against Somalia. A peaceful election and transition in Kenya is of paramount importance to Somalia and Somalis who move goods across the borders in significantly huge sums of dollars every day. Somalis who have over the years run very successful businesses in Kenya and contributed immensely to Kenya’s economy are now opening up branches in Mogadishu and seamlessly transacting across the two countries. Whereas the 2007/8 post-election violence may not have had adverse effects on Somalia as economy instability witnessed in Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi, political turmoil in Kenya posed a threats to livelihoods on Somalis.
The refugee question and Dadaab
The closure of Dadaab camp in Kenya’s north east which hosts thousands of Somali refugees remained a major issue in President Kenyatta’s administration particularly in the last two years with threats of closure of sounding louder by the day. His administration has been determined to close the camp which it has said it harbors terror elements and a threat to the region’s ecosystem. Kenyatta has also pushed for and funded the building of a border wall with Somalia which the opposition has strongly opposed. Odinga opines Kenya does not need a wall but instead it should firm border security and end discrimination of Somalis-a development which tarnished Kenyatta’s administration especially in the wake of terror attacks on Kenyan soil.
President Farmaajo came to office barely six months into the election in Kenya giving him little time to touch base with his counterpart thus a new occupant at State House Nairobi could mean a recalibration of relations. Somalia and Kenya are currently entangled in a maritime dispute lodged at the Internal Court of Justice with the former having secured the Court’s node in February to take the case to full trial. The two states will now be battling at the global court in the coming years on the disputed maritime boundary in the Indian Ocean. It’s noteworthy however whichever direction the election goes, nothing of substance is likely to change in regards to the approach on this matter especially now that it is subject to the authority of the global Court. However a Court verdict could herald a whole new frontier on relations between the two countries.
NASA Presidential candidate Raila Odinga has in the past waded into the Somaliland question drawing sharp criticism from Mogadishu and praise in Hargeisa. A firm believer in liberation struggles and consistently involved, Odinga’s view could not have been a road side statement-it carried weight and importance to his ideals. It is not however clear if Odinga would be keen on entertaining self-determinist agenda by Somaliland. On balance, he might not want to, considering existing diplomatic relations with Mogadishu.
Somalia’s entry into the East African Community has been a long process. The EAC Heads of States summit in a communique May announced the receipt of verification for the admission of Somalia into the EAC and directed the Council to follow-up on the matter and report to the 19th Summit which happens next year. Though the decision to admit members into the EAC bloc is based on rules established, political influence and will plays a significant role in fast tracking the process. It is not however clear if any of the presidential contenders have the desire to push Somalia’s case in the EAC.
A stable Kenya is a significant plus for Somalia’s recovery process and more so President Farmaajo’s four year agenda. Somalia will be hoping for a peaceful election and transfer of power.