Steadman polls: President Kibaki beats his rivals again

For quite sometime, many Kenyan politicians have been dismissing or supporting the outcome(s) of the Steadman Research Group poll ratings. A very good example was the low ratings in 2002 of then presidential contender and current Opposition Leader, Uhuru Kenyatta. He predictably lost his bid, despite having vehemently denied and dismissed that he was far behind current President Mwai Kibaki. These ratings, whether flawed or accurate, continue to shape the opinion of many Kenyans about the type of leaders they want.

The latest opinion polls published in the main Kenyan newspapers on April 1, 2007, have rated President Kibaki far ahead of other presidential candidates, proving that he is “electible”. He has still floored the ODM-K (Orange Democratic Movement of Kenya) leading contenders, Raila Odinga and Kalonzo Musyoka. Raila, who has opposed many past outcomes of the Steadman polls, has for the first time acknowledged them, probably because he is currently the most highly rated among other ODM-K presidential candidates. In terms of ratings, there is no argument; Kibaki beats all and sundry by taking the 51% lead. The polls have posed yet more challenges to the ODM-K who chart better winning strategies. Kibaki's ratings have risen sharply in the rural parts of the Central, Eastern, Rift Valley and the North Eastern Provinces. The Rift Valley is a leader in the high number of voters in Kenya, so the opposition needs to work hard in capturing them.

The rural folk as key voters

Kibaki has a stronghold in the rural areas that back him because he has revived the collapsed agricultural services and many farmers now get paid in time for their farm produce. These rural folk also enjoy the benefits of CDF (constituency development funds) and are happy about the presidential appointments of their own brothers and sisters to the Cabinet and other plum jobs, among other things. These “politically unadulterated” people are thankful to Kibaki because their children go to school without paying fees. This has eased their former heavy burden of scrapping around for money, which included selling their meager properties. Their profits can therefore be used to improve their farming or get invested elsewhere.

It is a general tendency worldwide for the incumbent to retain office. If elections were held in Kenya today, chances are that Kibaki would defeat the opposition candidate(s). The next results of the Steadman polls might tilt once ODM-K nominates its presidential candidate. The opposition stronghold is in Nairobi, some urban areas, the Luo-Nyanza, and sections of the Coast and Western Provinces. However, if the opposition leaders wish to be favored, they should work very hard to woo the rural folk in those areas supporting Kibaki.

The opposition needs a winning formula

Despite other weaknesses in Kibaki's rule (quite visible among his handlers), he has achieved a lot in his macro-economic politics by reviving some collapsed industries, creating various funds targeting constituencies, women and the youth etc. The trickle down effect might take longer, but it will eventually be felt, if channeled properly. Kenya is once again in the good books of the World Bank, which recently offered the government billions of shillings for its fight against corruption and to improve security. If this money is used appropriately, many voters will be happy and might even vote Kibaki back.

Since the general elections are a few months away, there are a lot of political maneuvers by the government to stay on top. These are clearly seen in top job appointments either favoring people from the President's region, or those whom he perceives to be loyal to him. His GNU (government of national unity) is mainly for political survival. By bringing in Kanu and Ford People inside his Cabinet, Kibaki has won the sympathy of constituents that feel their bothers and sisters have been “remembered”; he has bought their loyalty. This is probably why the North Eastern province is supporting him in the current Steadman polls. The downside of these political machinations is the death of multiparty politics, because he has managed to silence Kanu, which is the official Opposition Party. The poor rating of Uhuru Kenyatta in the polls proves it too.

There is evidence that the allocation of public funds and other services do not favor perceived opposition areas like the Luo-Nyanza and parts of Western Province. An example is last year’s imbalanced budgetary allocation by Simeon Nyachae, the Roads and Public Works Minister. He disbursed very little money to improve the roads in key opposition areas, though he defended by answering that they were already being funded from other sources. This is unfortunate because president Kibaki promised not to block the development progress of areas that are politically against him. To prove that he is a true national leader, Kibaki should launch major projects in these big provinces that are also very poor, especially the Luo-Nyanza. By doing so, he can shake the opposition kingpin Raila Odinga, because he would be directly playing a hand in his province’s development.

However, by physically shying away and using the only Luo in his cabinet, Foreign Minister Rafael Tuju, he is missing out on all those potential votes he may get in this hotbed of politics. Let us not forget that despite the notion held in Luo-Nyanza that Tuju is not electible, he has brought "visible development" in his Rarieda constituency, and might beat all his opponents in the coming elections.

As we await the general elections, the Steadman polls will continue to shape Kenya’s political landscape in favor of either President Kibaki, ODM-K’s candidate or other future presidential contenders. The outcome of these polls should therefore not be dismissed.

Jared - Sweden

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