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Why the 2002 Kenyan elections remain a point of reference

In 2002 Kenyans went to the polls. A united front was formed promising to fight corruption, and defeat the Kenya African National Union’s (KANU) led by Daniel Toroitich Arap Moi. Moi and his party was kicked out of power to chants of Kibaki tosha. With elections looming, and the same players in 2002 participating in 2017, will the new coalition defeat the present day government?

On 27 December 2002, Kenya was in election fever. The election was an opportunity for Kenyan’s opposition to kill the jogoo on the Kenya African National Union (KANU) flag and bring change, that would end KANU’s rule in Kenya, for the first time since independence. The new opposition party that was formed was called the National Alliance of Rainbow Coalition (NARC), which saw various opposition parties come together under the motto: Haki yetu sasa inawezekana (our right is now possible).

The founders of the coalition, Raila Odinga, Charity Ngilu, Mwai Kibaki and the late Michael Kijana Wamalwa formed a strong opposition block. Raila’s charisma was dazzling during this time, especially after Kibaki was involved in an accident. The accident left Kibaki, who would go on to become Kenya’s third president on a wheelchair with a big plaster of Paris on his leg. Raila’s prowess was not as an orator but as a mobilizer who seemed to have a remarkable talent of galvanising support. With an incapacitated Kibaki on a wheelchair, Raila traversed the whole of Kenya campaigning for Kibaki.

Kibaki won the election with 61, 3 percent of the vote, and the National Rainbow Coalition also recorded a majority in the National Assembly. Three years later after Kibaki was sworn in as president, Raila would maintain his remarkable campaigning skills against the draconian draft constitution being pushed by Kibaki.

Read: Kenya: Raila Odinga named opposition coalition presidential flag-bearer

Daniel arap Moi’s rule had come to a definite end and not even the projection of the son of Kenya’s founding father Uhuru Kenyatta could swing the votes to KANU. KANU was defeated after ruling for 39 years. Large crowds were singing “yote yawezekana bila Moi,” others followed Raila’s phrase of “Kibaki tosha!” (Kibaki is enough) but asides that this was a time when the duo singers GidiGidi MajiMaji had just released a song “who can bwogo me?’” which had the response, “unbwogable”, which basically means unshakeable. The opposition party used this song to its greatest advantage with GidiGidi MajiMaji performing before large crowds in the campaign trail.

Former President of the republic of Kenya Mwai Kibaki. Photo: Demosh/Flickr

The Kenyan spirit was truly unbwogable as many people turned out to vote against the repressive government of Moi. The 2002 elections wasn’t just voting out Moi or rejecting KANU, it was welcoming a new phase into Kenyan politics. The cockerel emblem on the KANU flag had been roasted out of power. The poll was the first truly free general elections held in Kenya since independence in 1964. Probably this was possible because it was two Kikuyu’s contesting against each other. The 2007 elections showed a totally different Kenya as compared to the Kenya the world saw five years before. Bloodshed and tribalism took over.

A young Uhuru Kenyatta receiving a prize from Mwai Kibaki. Uhuru Kenyatta later on contested against Mwai Kibaki in 2002 Photo: Facebook/

Read: Signs of violence ahead of Kenya’s 2017 elections

Almost 12 years later, Kenya has been struggling to deal with oppression and corruption. Uhuru Kenyatta is running for a second term, and Kenya seems to have come full circle, witnessing what they avoided when they voted out KANU in 2002. The gap between the rich and poor is still wide, corruption is the new order of the day and the unbwogable spirit of Kenyans will be tested once again this year.

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