Top Stories / 2017 Elections
Monday, 01 May 2017 16:12 EATnewsdesk@kenyafreepress.com
The Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) is a big beneficiary of the ongoing political realignments in Wajir County ahead of the August general elections. If current trends continue, the party could be headed for a clean sweep of the Wajir County elective seats.
Among the contributory factors for the shift to ODM's advantage is its leader Raila Odinga's surging popularity in the region which is at its peak since the 2013 general elections, notwithstanding the fact that several leaders who were elected on his ODM party have recently decamped to the Jubilee side.
Among the defectors include five of the county's eight MPs serving on the ODM ticket, among them senator Abdirahman Hassan Olow, nominated senator Halima Abdille, Eldas MP Adan Keynan, Wajir North MP Ibrahim Abdi Saney and Tarbaj's Mohamed Elmi. Olow and Elmi are retiring from politics, while Halima is running for the women representative position and the rest defending their seats, all on Jubilee tickets.
Mr Odinga has enjoyed huge support in Wajir for decades, and among the Somali-inhabited counties it is here where he harvested the most votes in 2013, beating President Uhuru Kenyatta by a huge margin and winning the governorship, senatorial and five out of six parliamentary seats. But after concerted Jubilee campaigns, it appeared for months that Wajir might slip out of the ODM's grips, as indicated by the defections.
But Mr Odinga's undiminished popularity was evident in the rousing welcome he received in Wajir Town on April 1 when he led the NASA coalition leaders to the region shortly after signing the NASA power-sharing agreement. The rally was held at Wajir Stadium, on the outskirts of the town, but it still attracted big enthusiastic crowds that filled the stadium to capacity.
A week later when President Uhuru Kenyatta led the Jubilee team to the town, his local supporters advised him not to hold the rally at the stadium, fearing that social media commentators would exploit comparisons of the crowds with the NASA rally should fewer people turn up. The Jubilee rally was thus held at the historic Orahey Grounds, which is in the centre of Wajir Town.
While the field was filled, the rally was marred by heckling as youths booed ODM leaders who had defected from the party. Mr Keynan especially had hard time talking, and the rally ended up taking barely an hour. The crowds literally refused being addressed by the defectors, and Mr Keynan himself, who was the master of ceremonies, was heckled out of the podium, forced to hand over the microphone to the Deputy President William Ruto to conclude the meeting.
As the election approaches, evidence is growing that none of the ODM defectors has a good chance of retaining their seats under the Jubilee Party ticket. Mr Keynan faces political isolation in his constituency and has not been campaigning much during the last few weeks when other politicians have upped their vote hunt.
By contrast, his main opponent Dr Boray Aralle of ODM is enjoying a boom of support. Dr Aralle, who got the elders' endorsement for the seat, has been moving to establish himself as the MP-in-waiting, traversing the constituency for the past two weeks and receiving good reception wherever he travels.
Two other MPs, Wajir South's Abdullahi Diriye and women representative Fatuma Ibrahim Ali, are expected to win their seats in ODM. Diriye is defending his seat while Fatuma is now contesting the Tarbaj constituency seat, where analysts tip her to become the first Somali woman to win a constituency seat.
Also riding a wave of popularity is Governor Ahmed Abdullahi, who is defending his seat on the ODM ticket. Nationally, Abdullahi is the most visible and respected governor in the whole of northern Kenya. Reputed as young and highly dynamic, he is the treasurer of the Council of Governors. He went to Starehe Boys Centre for his secondary education and University of Nairobi.
He has accomplished a lot of development projects, including constructing a new county headquarters, a 28-kilometre road, the first in the county, dispensaries and hospitals, including a local campus of the Kenya Medical Training College, livestock extension services, water boreholes and community work, drilling boreholes and improving healthcare at Wajir and Habaswein hospitals.
In January, elders from 10 Degodia sub-clans endorsed the governor for re-election in Wajir Town, pegging their decision on Mr Abdullahi's developmental achievements. His opponent, Ambassador Mohamud Abdi is 65, a former primary school teacher with no management experience. The candidate is currently fighting allegations that his educational qualifications are questionable, with some local activists initiating a petition to bar him from the race on claims that he never attended university as required.
Unlike Abdullahi who is campaigning on his development record, the Jubilee party candidate is using the clan politics. Being from the Fai clan, he believes that he would get all the votes in Wajir East and Tarbaj constituencies inhabited by the Fai family of the Degodia clan and regions where former ODM leaders now support him.
According to Ibrahim Hassan, a teacher from Wajir North. "Clan politics can't be a strategy for governorship election. First, it is misguided, for if the vote was won on clans, there would be no need for elections, you just use the voter register and declare the winner. The youths throughout Wajir like in the rest of Kenya want good governance. Many don't see a reason to change a youthful performer they have for Mr Abdi," he said.
According to a strategist from the governor's camp, the incumbent, though he is from the Matan family, is riding on his own popularity across all the clans and has won admiration from professionals from Wajir East and Tarbaj by accomplishing projects and giving the county profile nationally. "Ours is the most respected of all governors from northern Kenya," he said.
The strategist gave the example of the movement of Devolution torch, a campaign symbol of the successes of devolution, organised by the Council of Governors, that travelled to all the 47 counties. The torch started its journey in Wajir. Mr Abdullahi's supporters say that while he won the 2013 race only 6,000 votes, this time the margin will be at least 20,000 votes.
The one race in which Jubilee is still competitive is the Senate position. Current senator Olow retired from politics before defecting to Jubilee. Former Wajir North MP Dr Abdullahi Ali Kabreta emerged early to claim the seat on the Jubilee ticket and won the endorsement of the Ajuran clan. ODM did not have a candidate for long but has now nominated Aydrus Sheikh Daar, who has not campaigned well.
Another factor working in favour of ODM candidates is the emergence of Party of Development and Reforms (PDR). During his tour of Wajir, President Kenyatta endorsed the party as a member of the Jubilee wing, and it will divide many pro-government voters. The party is very popular in the Ogaden region where its candidate is running for governor.
The growing popularity of Raila is not only in Wajir but all over Northeastern region. In Garissa, where ODM and Wiper Party candidates have wrangled for several months, the Wiper camp is amplifying its support for the NASA presidential candidate, recognising that he is the one leader the youths trust in.
Former Deputy Speaker of the national assembly and current Wiper Party deputy party leader Farah Maalim, who was ambivalent in his support for Mr Odinga in recent months, has reemerged as a pro-Odinga NASA hawk. This weekend, Mr Maalim declared that IEBC announcing rigged presidential elections in favour of President Uhuru Kenyatta would plunge Kenya into chaos.
Speaking to NTV host Larry Madowo, Mr Maalim said the coalition would proceed to swear Mr Odinga as president “If (IEBC) tries to do the hanky panky business they did in 2007 and 2013….crap we will not accept that…”.
Such feelings towards Mr Odinga abound in the North Eastern region, and with the completion of party nominations his campaigns for the ODM candidates is expected to boost them further once he comes down here, according to analysts.