By Tijan Jens
The Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (Cord) is in disarray. Three weeks ago, its principals began squabbling. The genesis of the fight stems from the fact that one of them, Raila Odinga, the Orange Democratic Movement leader, skipped the presidential launch of Ford Kenya’s Moses Wetang’ula, one of the three principals in Cord.
The Wetang’ula launch at the historic Masinde Muliro Gardens – a hallowed ground according to the Luhya community – not only carried a lot of weight but symbolism too.
It is on this backdrop that Wetang’ula, who has openly shown his desire to occupy the House on the Hill, could not fathom how his trusted brother, Tinga, could skip the event, contrary to the “spirit of the coalition”.
You may wonder why Wetang’ula and his camp led by Kakamega Senator Bonny Khalwalwe and Kiminini MP Dr Chris Wamalwa have been making a lot of noise about the “disunity” in the opposition coalition.
For starters, I must point out that Wetang’ula’s presidential launch has nothing to do with his desire of becoming President in September 2017. What he is simply trying to do is build momentum, a mass of supporters and political consistency which will elevate him to a new political league ahead of the anticipated polls.
You see, over the ages, the Luhya nation has advocated for an elusive unity which should ideally be geared towards catapulting one of them to the echelons of power. To date, and for the foreseeable future, it remains a mirage.
Suffice it to say that in the run up to the 2002 elections in which Mwai Kibaki trounced Kanu’s then candidate and now President Uhuru Kenyatta to clinch the seat as Kenya’s third President, Luhyaland was pregnant with optimism that in 2007, it would be their turn to occupy State House.
According to them, Masinde Muliro’s prophecy that their way to power would come through the Lake was beckoning.
The lake, of course, in this context, was Raila Odinga, the pragmatic and charismatic figure who was to marshal his Luo folk to join the Luhya vote block adding to the few fringe numbers of other ethnic communities to propel then Vice President Michael Wamalwa to State House. Sadly, it was never to be.
Fast forward and with less than 18 months to the polls, the political tide is yet again sweeping through the Luhya land with the faint message that in Wetang’ula they could once again launch a realistic stab for State House.
And, like in the period preceding 2007, which was punctuated by the untimely demise of Wamalwa, there are today, the minority who believe that through Raila’s hand of endorsement, the winds, can, as the prophesy goes, blow from the lake to the land of Nabongo Mumia and propel Weta to not only a political supremacy test with Uhuru Kenyatta but also lead him to the seat of power. In my opinion, it is simply myopic.
And perhaps aware of such machinations, Raila skipping the launch has more symbolism to it than meets the eye. Suffice to say, there could have been a secret pact to have all the three principals, Raila, Kalonzo Musyoka and Wetang’ula, all declare their presidential bids with all of them gracing each other’s events.
The aim of this, as, was in 2007 with ODM in the run up to the elections, is to put their traditional voting blocs – Western, Nyanza and Eastern (Ukambani) – under lock and key, which should ideally give them a solid base on which to take on the might of Jubilee at the ballot box.
Raila, however, in his political cunningness, opted instead for a private visit to the home of Tanzanian President Dr John Pombe Magufuli when his comrades soaked the choking fumes of teargas canisters.
In so doing, he may have been sending a subtle message to Weta, that either, he is not ready to hand over the coalition ticket to him or simply testing Wetang’ula’s political preparedness, patience, resolve and commitment to the Cord cause.
Being one in the majority school of thought that the nomination for a Cord presidential ticket is a foregone conclusion, Raila will, as a matter of fact, be on the ballot box– Wetang’ula’s antics may not have been directed at Tinga and his Nyanza bedrock but his principal assistant, Kalonzo Musyoka, who in the last polls was his running mate.
Again, Wetang’ula being a keen observer of Kenya’s political trends, may have learnt that the more noise he makes by traversing the Kenya landscape, particularly among the Luhya, he will have a stronger bargaining power thus giving Tinga the food for thought as far as picking his running mate is concerned.
Be that as it may, in a fair or unfair contest, neither Wetang’ula nor Musyoka can beat Raila to the nomination ticket, and so the aim is to build a case to be his running mate and later deputy in the unlikely event that Raila wins the elections.
Important to note though is the loud silence from Musyoka who has hereto been termed as “a loyalist par excellence”. As things stand, it’s highly unlikely that Raila would cede ground and play the role of a king maker to either of them. So what are each candidate’s chances, strengths and weakness?
Moses Wetang’ula, 60
Weta, as his close associates call him, is possibly a green horn as far as running a presidential race is concerned. Many also view him as pretender to the throne and one simply keen to wreak havoc in Cord. But to his supporters, he is the compromise candidate in the coalition capable of amassing scale-tilting support. That, of course, remains debatable.
But, hard as I try to look, I fail to find any strong point in his candidacy. His major baggage is the Tokyo scandal which made him lose his ministerial post under Mwai Kibaki in October 2010 due to his alleged involvement in the Kenyan Tokyo embassy scandal – it was alleged that instead of accepting free property from the government of Japan for the embassy, Sh1.6 billion was withheld from the sale of Kenyan property in Nigeria and used to buy a less suitable property. He is better off as Cord’s Majority Leader in the event of a Raila triumph.
Kalonzo Musyoka, 62
Musyoka is hailed as the perfect gentleman in Kenya’s rocky political landscape. Those close to him point to the fact that he has served in government for over three decades and failed to accrue appreciable wealth as proof of his integrity.
He is also hailed as a great diplomat who could easily forge cordial relations with other states in the unlikely event he becomes President.
Initially, critics argued that despite being an old hand in the game, he has never managed to ring-fence the Akamba vote. However, those accusations may find no credence, more so after his stellar performance in the 2013 elections in which he rallied the Kambas to vote for Cord and Raila to the last man.
His major weakness is indecisiveness. Many accuse him of being a fence-sitter and one who cannot make hard decisions, even those touching on his own political existence. Besides that, as compared to his colleagues in the top political league, he lacks the much needed financial muscle power to run a well-oiled campaign in a continent where the candidates find ways of raising own campaign cash.
Musyoka also stands accused of not being a hard worker and an anti- development who schemes how to benefit from others misfortunes or lack of it.
However, with the Jubilee line up intact, his stakes and future lie within Cord, where his major challenge is re-asserting his authority as the best second-in-command to Odinga. Allowing Wetang’ula to usurp his authority may mark the beginning to an end of what has otherwise been a glittering political career spanning three decades.
Raila Odinga, 71
Time is running out for the icon of multi- party politics in Kenya. Having been detained without trial, none of the current crop of politicians holds a candle to him as far as opening up of the democratic space is concerned. Odinga is also largely credited with the coming into force of the Kenya’s Constitution 2010 which, he vocally advocated for.
Politically, his tremendous energy and enthusiasm has not mellowed even with age. He is a good public speaker with the never ending metaphors which keep audiences asking for more. His charisma and the ability to raise campaign funds from far and wide are his strongest points.
Raila’s major undoing is the fact that he never learns from his mistakes. The principle of “gather all and scatter none” seems to elude him. Just like in the run up to the 2013 elections when he lost key allies and with them, influential voting blocs, he is showing signs that he could take the same path of destruction. The political clock is not on his side and with 2017 fast approaching, he just has one bullet left, which he must not waste.
Odinga also seems to be a lazy manager who prefers to delegate duties to some of his lieutenants, who are, unfortunately, his greatest enemies as far as campaigns go.
Allegations of his allies pocketing campaign funds, bungled nominations, inefficient management of his campaign secretariat and failure to pay party agents are some of the ills that haunted his last candidacy, and which may very well happen next year.
That said, he still towers above the co-principals and remains Cord’s best bet.
The writer is a media practitioner and political scientist; firstname.lastname@example.org