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Nkosana Dlamini is a freelance broadcast and print journalist in Zimbabwe. He specializes in political and human rights stories. You can reach him by email: .
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An election in Kenya – thousands of miles away – would ordinarily not concern Zimbabweans. But in March 2013, our blogger finds just the opposite to be true.
By Nkosana Dlamini, Harare
As I pen this piece, Kenya’s election results are trickling in, with growing indications that Prime Minister Raila Odinga will be defeated by his deputy prime minister, Uhuru Kenyatta. This is sad news to many Zimbabweans who oppose President Robert Mugabe’s iron-fisted rule and who, by extension, dreamt of an Odinga victory.
Why is that?
A win by Odinga might have been viewed by Zimbabweans as an example of the kind of political trajectory that we might follow when our elections take place later this year.
Many Zimbabweans view our prime minister, Morgan Tsvangirai, as the legitimate winner of the 2008 presidential election that saw Mugabe, his main opponent, manipulate the poll to stay in power. Mugabe lost the first round of the Zimbabwean poll, but bounced back in a very violent run-off poll three months later. In Kenya, Odinga was widely viewed as the winner of the 2007 poll, but was denied his chance to rule by the incumbent Mwai Kibaki.
In their respective elections, ethnic violence killed 1,000+ Kenyans and a political conflict killed 200+ Zimbabweans. The two countries saw the subsequent formation of coalition governments led by incumbents. Against this background, opposition supporters in Zimbabwe naturally developed sympathy for Odinga and prayed for his 2013 victory. In him they saw their own Tsvangirai, also the victim of democratic subversion by African strongmen.
Having visited Zimbabwe last year at the invitation of the premier, Odinga did not hide his empathy for Tsvangirai. Tsvangirai reciprocated by being Odinga’s guest at Kenya’s Orange Democratic Party Coalition convention.
The legacy factor
There is also a sense in which Odinga’s win would have been viewed as a confidence booster for Zimbabwe’s MDC party; his loss would yield the exact opposite. Meanwhile, Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party can’t help but sympathize with the son of the East African country’s founding leader, Jomo Kenyatta.
Odinga has constantly criticized Mugabe’s regime for stealing votes from his ally. Conversely, an Odinga loss would put-paid the debate that Mugabe stole his way back into power.
That said, Kenyatta does not seem to be cut from the same cloth as Zanu-PF politicians, with their nationalistic ideology. Granted, Kenyatta carries his late father’s anti-colonial legacy, though he projects himself as a modern, dynamic leader who does not share in any thinking with Zanu-PF. Nevermind. What we can learn from the Kenyan elections is that if an opposition political party enters into a coalition government and does not perform well, the voters will punish the opposition.
Kenya and Zimbabwe are thousands of miles apart. But they are certainly not so distant in terms of their political directions. For Kenya, it now seems to be Uhuru. But Zimbabwe, it is not yet uhuru – that is, what Kenyatta’s first name means in Swahili: ‘free’.