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Kenya's media election buzz

This year's election may be receiving a lot of media attention, but many Kenyans are apathetic about what is going on.
Last modified: 3 Jan 2013 16:51

Open up a Kenyan newspaper these days and there is really only one story dominating the headlines. There has been plenty of political intrigue to wet the appetite; there are coalitions that have crumbled, and surprising alignments that are flourishing in the limelight.

And then there is the controversy over the political ambitions of two of Kenya's biggest election players. The Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta, and former cabinet minister William Ruto, they will run on the same ticket in the March 4 vote.

They are accused of crimes against humanity and face a trial at the International Criminal Court, which is due to begin in April.

Voter apathy

The election may be receiving a lot of media attention, but many Kenyans are apathetic about what is going on. Only 14.3 million Kenyans registered for the vote, well short of the 18 million the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission had hoped for.

One Kenyan who won't be voting is Florence Arunga. I met her in Kibera, the Nairobi slum where she lives. Her home is a room that is so tiny that she can't walk around a bed; she has to climb onto it, to get in through the door.

Her story is horrific, her house was burnt down during the violence which followed the last election five years ago, leaving her two children dead and her face and body disfigured.

Her husband eventually left her, because he couldn’t deal with the extent of her injuries.

What really astounded me about Florence was how happy and smiley she seemed, despite all of the hardships she has suffered. When I asked her about the state of politics in the country, her countenance turned steely.
 
"Politicians only want votes, after they get the votes they never help us." Florence says. “If they wanted to help, they should have come back to the constituencies and helped the victims. Maybe then I would have the will to vote. Right now I don't."

Link between tribe and politics

Politicians running in this election are promising to turn their backs on tribal politics. However, campaigners say some of the main candidates are still appealing to their own ethnic groups.

John Githongo knows more than most about what could go wrong in March. The former Kenyan journalist blew the whistle on the widespread corruption in the government of Mwai Kibaki, who had appointed him to expose what was going on.

He has been analysing the political rhetoric.

"Tribe has its own language, you don't have to go shouting the name of your tribe for people to understand what you are actually saying. There is a narrative of the we, and the them," Githongo says.

"When that narrative is captured, there is no need to go round shouting about this or that community, it is implicit, and it goes back decades into the political history of our country."

In his book, "Kenya, between hope and despair," Daniel Branch puts it well when he writes: "Kenya has a schizophrenic political system.

"On the one hand it has a vibrant civil society and a free press," but it also allows "groups like Mungiki to thrive and its politicians are accused of crimes against humanity".

Kenya is clearly attempting to move on economically and politically, the country has a new constitution, and there have been important changes to the judiciary.

However, one important factor that hasn't changed is that this is a nation that still remains divided along ethnic lines.