Top Stories / 2017 Elections
Tuesday, 04 Oct 2016 20:08 EATnewsdesk@kenyafreepress.com
As another campaign period rolls around, the debate on whether Raila Odinga can win the presidency is regaining its urgency once again. Many a Raila supporter are anxious about the 2017 elections. But Jubilee supporters are not sitting pretty either, marvelling at the way the former PM continues to shape the country's political agenda.
Two weeks ago, the entire government machinery was deployed to give Raila as little airtime as possible during William ole Ntimama’s burial service, which Jubilee leaders knew would catalyse the conversation in the Maasai community around the 2017 elections. Jubilee dispatched interior cabinet secretary Joseph Nkaissery to Narok. Nkaissery would ensure that none of Raila’s allies in CORD would be given a chance to address the mourners, and Raila himself would be limited to only three minutes.
Ironically, Raila upended the script immediately his hands landed on the microphone. Against Nkaissery's wishes, Raila invited Musalia Mudavadi, Moses Wetangula and Kalonzo Musyoka to address the mourners, and the three galvanised them with resonant anti-Jubilee messages, leaving Raila to apply the killer punch: Raila informed the crowd that his former ally Ntimama, whose last public appearance was at a meeting with President Uhuru at State House, had called him immediately after the State House meeting and assured him that he still remained a strong member of ODM, Raila’s party.
The president was livid, reacting in a fit of anger that led him to gloat about the ‘nyama’ (meat) he and his fellow Jubilee powermen were enjoying at the expense of those Kenyans in the opposition, who were left to 'salivate'. Though he meant it to be figurative, the president was seen as arrogantly portraying the corruption and exclusion of Jubilee to a helpless national audience.
Like on the Jubilee side, Raila’s confidantes insist talk of panic is overblown. In a recent article in this website, former Bahari MP Joe Khamisi held that Raila and Uhuru have equal chances of winning the 2017 elections. There is a lot going for Raila. First is CORD, the longest lasting coalition in Kenya’s electoral politics. The coalition's endured unity is a real feat given its leaders are out of power. A key plank of the anti-Raila establishment dogma was that he couldn’t be trusted to maintain alliances. He has maintained CORD by doing what he isn’t best at doing: permanently courting his allies, giving concessions as needed.
The credit for CORD unity also goes to Kalonzo and Wetangula, in particular the former, for rejecting Jubilee’s enticements. Early this year, Kalonzo declared his steadiness in the alliance, declaring that it was better for him to “serve as a cleaner in a respectable CORD government than a priest in the tainted Jubilee alliance.”
The second source of Raila’s good run is the disappointment Kenyans have in Jubilee, which has stubbornly remained an alliance of two tribes. Nothwithstanding the looming election, Jubilee continues to stoke ethnic tensions as never before. Corruption and insecurity are at an all-time high. The last time Kenyans were so pissed off with their leaders was in 2002, and they booted out the government of the day in a history-defying manner.
The last enabler is money, which is flowing in Raila's direction thanks in part to devolution. No leader has the command of such a diverse and high number of governors and non-GEMA business and professional communities as has Raila. This election is Raila’s to lose', which means he can still blow the chance away. To put a credible fight to the wire he must do four things:
First, stop pretending that he is an angel. His criticisms against corruption go overboard, perhaps because he still thinks in the 1980s, when, on matters corruption, he was strikingly a cut above the political class. Raila should come to terms with the fact that Kenyans know corruption well, including Raila’s own corruption.
Elections are fought between candidates on the ballot, not between the candidates and some ideal persons that Raila seemingly aspires to personify. Kenyans know that Raila can be sloppy, so what he needs to articulate is his being the better choice among the ones on offer, not some kind of messiah.
Second, he must articulate attractive policies, show how Jubilee has undermined them and can’t be trusted to make amends for its perceived failures. So far, he has no programme other than pointing out Jubilee’s flaws. What are Raila’s key deliverables on devolution? Or on health? Or public education? Or the police?
The most recent lesson on a political programme should be borrowed from Bernie Sanders whose campaign for Democratic ticket for the U.S. presidency crashed in July. Sanders summarised his programme in a few objectives: free public university tuition, raising the federal minimum wage to $15, single payer health insurance, ending private prisons, breaking up the big banks, and massive spending on public infrastructure.
These are programmes no Democratic opponent could object to, and he forced Hillary Clinton to take up most of them, rhetorically, some believe. The fact is that voters don’t care so much about policy, but they need a political programme that explains a candidate's views, hopes and ability to realise them.
Only a people’s movement can defeat an entrenched elite, and to build a movement requires a mix of policy and politics. Even NARC’s 2002 victory was based on deliverable promises of free education, 500,000 jobs a year, 150,000 housing units, etc. So far Raila gives only empty politics. Fighting corruption is not a deliverable. Neither is protecting the constitution, or building infrastructure.
Supporters can argue that his complete thoughts were captured in the fallen ‘Okoa Kenya’ drive, but that was a long term vision that in fact contradicted his previous strong support for this constitution.
Third, Raila must strive to reduce ethnic tensions by not focusing on Uhuru or Ruto. This will be the fourth election marked by the enduring tensions between Kikuyus and Luos. The first was 1992, their split handed Moi the presidency. The second was 1997, when all opposition but Kibaki had agreed to support a compromise candidate (Wangari Maathai). The only high mark was 2002, when Kibaki and Raila worked together.
But five years later, they split, a dispute that ended in post-election violence and catalysed Raila’s emergence as a national leader. He compromised with Kibaki and became prime minister, the first time he exercised power. In 2013, it was his decision to accept a flawed election that saved Kenya from potential violence.
It is widely understood now that Raila was in the right of history in all these elections, and was always ready to sacrifice his presidential ambitions. To his traditional supporters, he carries an agenda fundamentally different from Uhuru’s. Explaining his sacrifices in the three elections would be sufficient to communicate his peaceful, moderating, patriotic politics.
Fourth, Raila has to mobilise. Much of the technologies for mobilizing voters available today did not exist in Kenya's previous elections. He can reach voters on social media, not to be at every place. But he’s not harnessing technology well, in fact not at all. CORD lacks a digital presence. Raila the person has a motley of accounts, mostly run by volunteers, whose messaging is inept and often amateurish.
Aside from social media the need for direct contact has never been greater. The new constitution created many positions, whose bearers have immense power to direct politics in their own interests. Social media can enable, not undercut, a grassroots outreach.