For some forty years or so, the man known as the “dean of political activism” – a phrase coined by his former political adviser, Miguna Miguna – Raila Amollo Odinga has, like a colossus, dominated the Kenyan political scene. Most of this time has been spent in the trenches, and in detention, and his street battles with the oppressive and autocratic Kanu regime over the ages are robustly documented in Kenya’s history.
His style of governance is so fundamentally different, some argue, that it is the reason State institutions, the ones that wield real power such as NIS and the KDF, are reluctant to work with him. This is why, even though many agree that he is a foremost patriot, has the toughest political skin on these shores, and is, rightly so, an enigma, the presidency continues to elude him.
But is this the real reason Raila is, yet again, not the president of Kenya? Why, despite his charisma, his crowd-pulling abilities, capacity to build crosscutting political alliances and international appeal, has perennially been unable to ascend to top office? Why in particular, isn’t he president this year? Better phrased, how did President Uhuru Kenyatta outwit his biggest opponent?
This is the starting point, always. In 2013, Raila didn’t know or care enough to marshal voter registration in his strongholds. He simply assumed that because he can pull crowds and then drive them crazy with his oratory skills, he was home and dry. This is the first pit stop where Uhuru outsmarted him. During the voter registration drive carried by IEBC that ended in February this year, President Kenyatta’s strongholds of Central Kenya and Rift Valley registered more new voters than did Opposition bases.
This advantage for Uhuru was helped in no mean way by the fact that those same bases had more numbers in 2013 than those of the competition. The lesson here, in retrospect, is that it is not the amount of noise made in political rallies and street demonstrations that matters, but rather the kind of work that is put into realising real results away from the limelight. This gain was visible for all to see once the results began trickling in.
Jubilee did better nominations, got stronger candidates
Every election cycle, analysts have always pointed out that after voter apathy, Raila’s next biggest undoing has been his inability to let party nominations run their course, uninfluenced. Unfortunately, he never seems to learn, because it wasn’t any different this time
Newspapers and social media were awash with stories of candidates and voters – including in his own Nyanza backyard – who vowed to “teach Raila a lesson” for taking away their legitimately selected choices of representatives. This is the second factor, which boosted the acceptability of Uhuru as the people’s choice.
Throughout the nominations period, besides the occasional endorsement of certain candidates, the President never went further to deliberately influence voters, or use underhand methods to make sure they got party tickets. An example is the gubernatorial contest of Kirinyaga County, where he told voters he would work with whomever they voted for. Other examples abound. Such detachment and refrain from influencing nominations gave him a certain statesmanship that even some of his detractors found appealing. This was bound to trickle down to the minds of voters, as it inevitably did.
This cannot be said with certainty for Raila. Cases of winners being declared losers, and losers’ victors are aplenty. In this election cycle, for instance, voters in Busia and Siaya Counties complained that Dr Paul Otuoma and Eng. Nicholas Gumbo were cheated out of victories and the certificates awarded to Sospeter Ojaamong and Cornell Rasanga respectively. Although the party’s choices eventually won, the disillusionment felt put off so many voters who either protested by not voting at all, or casting their lot with Uhuru Kenyatta. Recall that instance in 2013 when former Budalangi MP-turned-Jubilee-ally Ababu Namwamba who infamously quipped, “I was handed the ODM certificate at 2 p.m. at Yaya Centre”, and picture begins to crystallise.
Uhuru consolidated vote through joint nominations
In the run-up to the elections, Jubilee Party, aware that majority seats in both Houses would help them guard government and legislate its agenda, dissolved all affiliates to form one major political force. Initially thought of as a political blunder, it now emerges that it was the right decision to take.
Nasa, on the other hand, because of its deep-seated suspicion amongst its partners, opted to embrace sibling rivalry after throwing cold water on the suggestion by ODM that they conduct joint nominations.
In the long run, the sibling rivalry cost them dearly as they lost several parliamentary and governor positions, giving Jubilee a strong ground to beat them. In short, Nasa painted a picture of a disorganised coalition and did little to seal loopholes that ultimately robbed them of an otherwise easy victory.
Uhuru matched Raila in swing counties
In all practicality, Jubilee-leaning counties registered more voters than the Nasa leaning counties. It is also evident from the numbers released by IEBC weeks to the poll that the numbers favoured Jubilee. When the Nairobi Law Monthly did a pre-election analysis in July, it broke down the race to Nasa’s ability to make inroads to Jubilee bases, obtain significantly higher numbers of votes in cosmopolitan counties such as Kiambu and Nairobi, and get at least 80 pc in swing regions. Because the first two options were not exactly viable, it followed that the election was going to be won in the swing regions. Nasa did little to assert its dominance in these battle areas.
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