Engineering Raila succession in Luoland

Engineering Raila succession in Luoland

Kenyatta Otieno

Do not be fooled by the power of one-man-one-vote in democracy. Democracy, like many good things – must be guided. Do not get me wrong either. I believe in the “by the people, for the people, of the people” maxim of democracy; but I also know that left to their own ways, the people will not always get it right even if someone said, “The voice of the people is the voice of God”. Yet we all know that God, more often than not, speaks through prophets.

I have had a gut feeling for some time that “the establishment” – let us say the owners of Kenyan enterprise – is keen on who succeeds Raila as the Luo political kingpin. There are two factors here: Raila Odinga and Luo community. Raila Odinga’s exit is a constant – now in his early seventies, he has about five years left in active politics before things begin to overtake him. The Luos on the other hand are the variable which must be managed.

The effects of 2007 General Election and the aftermath that followed can never be understated. The people in charge of security were left exposed for failing to pre-empt such an outcome, which looked organised as much as it was not pre-planned. This single event has guided everything sociopolitical in Kenya ever since. The government will go to any length to make sure Kenya does not go down the same route. This background forms the fight for managing Raila succession in Luo Nyanza.

The Luo are slowly slipping down the pecking order in Kenya in terms of numerical strength, but that has never corresponded with their political push. Some people claim that the Luo punch above their weight; however, that punch can cause ripple effects that go beyond Luo Nyanza and Kibera, the two Luo strongholds.

The Luo are the ethnic group with the highest number of political leaders elected outside their home turf. They form the vibrant political caucus in most urban centres in Kenya due to their strong political consciousness. Where they can’t front one of their own, they determine who wins. From the beaches of Mombasa to the flower farms of Naivasha and the suburbs of Nakuru, Luos have managed to secure political seats.

The 2007 post-election violence is a good example. The government sent a large contingent of anti-riot police to Kisumu as it was assumed to be the only potential challenge to the bungled election results. The following day, Rift Valley was on fire and the government had to send in the prison warders and the army to manage a situation that seemed to be running out of hand.

The Luo like, black Americans, seem to have a deep lying anger that is covered by a veneer of robust mien and boisterous demeanour. This anger is always ready to erupt at the slightest provocation – a siege mentality that is a result of long-time government-designed marginalisation since Jaramogi Odinga’s fall out with Jomo Kenyatta. Luos believe that where their intellect fails, they can use brawn in a country that does not appreciate their presence or contribution. This anger is what the government is trying to fix safety valves for by managing the Raila succession.

A Kenyan Obama

There is an attempt to give Kenya a Luo president who is not as polarising as Raila Odinga. Kenya’s political space has grown to be polarised into Raila-phobia and Raila-mania units. This is what has made Raila to fail in his attempts to win State House tenancy. The system must get a Luo who appeals to their interests but who is accepted and endorsed by his tribe into State House.

When Dr Martin Luther King Jr marched in the streets of USA in the sixties with “holy anger” calling blacks to nonviolently resist marginalisation and discrimination, the mainstream whites felt threatened. That is the feeling Raila sends to the establishment every time he announces the coming of a political tsunami to wash away some people out of power.

When Obama put up his head for political election, whites saw a nice black man who was not so black. His upbringing in a white family shielded him from the anger that grows in young men and women in black inner-city neighbourhoods. He was the bargain they were waiting for to bring blacks to Washington without threatening their interests and hold on power at the centre of world’s super power.

If you take a look at 2008 US Presidential election, Republicans’ choice of John McCain and Sarah Palin to fly their flag against a flamboyant and experienced Obama-Biden ticket was, to say the least, suicidal. It paints a picture of the presence of Pro-Obama forces beyond the Democratic Party.

Here is a man who is black by virtue of the “one drop” of blood rule. The fact that he is a son of a Luo father adds juice to the fact that Kenya needs a Luo who will be as much a Luo to win over the community, but lacking in the Luo stereotypes that have been associated with Raila or his henchmen – the same way Obama lacks the traits of most blacks in the USA. Who is this man or woman in Kenya?

Dalmas Otieno

The veteran politician is currently in Parliament representing Rongo Constituency on an ODM ticket. He is a dyed-in-the-wool Kanu man who managed to convince Raila to give him an ODM ticket in 2013, which secured him a parliamentary seat. As soon as the dust settled on 2013 general election, Dalmas had already refreshed his old networks in Kanu within the Jubilee administration.

He toyed with the prospects of launching a political party as a successor to a lobby group he began in South Nyanza called Kalausi. He was then appointed envoy to the South Sudan Crisis and later, against the wishes of ODM, backed Philip Okundi in the Homa Bay Senate by-election.

Here is a Luo who developed his politics with the government of the day and never shies from going against the political wishes of his people. He can definitely serve the interests of the establishment but I doubt if he can win another term as Rongo MP.

Evans Kidero

As Nairobi Governor, Kidero is the highest ranked Luo political leader after Raila. There was hype of Kidero being groomed to take over Raila by Central Kenya forces when he began holding fundraising events all over Nyanza. The effect of this move was the divide and rule tactic that followed it either by design or default. Some Kisii MPs have come out openly to back Kidero for the presidency.

Kidero is from South Nyanza while Raila is from Central Nyanza, named so when former Western Province was North Nyanza. Kidero’s trolls in Nyanza gave rise to voices from South Nyanza that it was time one of their own was supported by Luos after Raila retires from politics and Kidero was the man.

The problem with this move is that apart from Subas in South Nyanza, most of the other clans are originally from Central Nyanza. The old Rongo Constituency is made up majorly of Raila’s Sakwa clan from Bondo. With such a demography, diving the Luo was going to be a tall order. Kidero backed off after he was booed at Uhuru Park when Raila came back from a three month sabbatical in the United States and the ground became hostile to him.

Kidero’s biggest weakness, with his strong economic muscle, is his lack of a political mind. Money is important in politics but without a political mind-set, there is a limit to what money can do. Money is supposed to buy over alliances after securing a solid base with affiliation. For Kidero, it is money that begins and finishes the political move. A very tricky situation for a Kenyan politician since John Harun Mwau and Stanley Livondo failed to thrive/make it big in politics.

As a “not so clean” business man, Kidero could be a good bet to cleanse the past hurts of Luos without threatening the status quo. Kidero’s interest in business, which overrides his politics, is a plus unlike Raila whose political prowess overshadows his business acumen. The challenge is if he can marshal the Luos and part of the Luhya to back him.

Ken Obura

As young man in his thirties serving his first stint in parliament as MP for Kisumu Town Central, Ken Obura, at a glance, does not look like he fits the bill of a Raila successor… Until you look again.

Obura cut his teeth inside Raila’s inner circle where he made a fortune during the latter’s tenure as Prime Minister. He exploited his proximity to Raila to box his way into ODM nominations against the wishes of some of Raila’s henchmen. He lost the nominations to little known Abdul Dubai, but managed to get the nomination certificate, leaving Abdul to seek refuge in Ford Kenya.

Fast forward to the present, and Obura settled admirably fast in the August House where he managed to secure positions in crucial house committees. He then went ahead to try to marshal youthful Luo MPs around him by linking them to the right people. The moment Raila realised someone was trying to create another centre of power in Luo Nyanza, he began to look at ways of cutting his protégé back to size.

He is known for his courage to go for his goals regardless of what people think. He came out a while ago and announced that he is ready to lead Luos into working with the government of the day. When Fidel Odinga died, he had fallen out favour with Raila, which led to him being denied a chance to address the mourners in his home turf of Kisumu Town. The political brokers and opinion leaders in Kisumu are known to send emissaries to Obura to remind him that he is not Raila’s peer.

His association with Jubilee administration led to the introduction of multibillion National Youth Service slum upgrade project in Kisumu’s slums. Today Obura is popular among the youth who have been incorporated into the project, but is shunned by Raila’s loyalists in ODM.

The two times President Uhuru has visited Nyanza this year, Obura has not shied from portraying himself as Uhuru’s blue eyed boy in the region. Where he cannot get a chance to address an ODM rally in Kisumu, he has been the master of ceremony during the President’s visits to Kisumu.

Ken Obura is a good bet to back for Raila’s succession. His age is a plus as he has not developed deep roots in ODM or around Raila. His inexperience is his biggest undoing. He took the fight to Raila, an old dog in the game, too early. This gave the overzealous ODM brigades a target to hit just to impress their boss.

Stubborn facts

History is as stubborn as facts; the moment you brush it, it shoves the middle finger on your face by repeating itself. This is not the first time someone is trying to re-engineer Luo politics out of the hands of Engineer Raila Odinga. The most recent examples are Shem Ochuodho in Rangwe and Raphael Tuju in Rarieda; both failed to challenge Raila’s vice grip on the Luo community psyche.

The opposites of Ochuodho and Tuju are Prof Peter Anyang’ Nyong’o and James Orengo. These two senior Luo politicians at one point were not in talking political terms with Raila. The difference between the Nyong’o and Orengo, and Tuju and Ochuodho is that they never portrayed themselves as pro-establishment, which made their rehabilitation easy. To the Luo, being pro-establishment when Raila is anti-establishment is a cardinal political sin that is not easily forgiven.

The mistake Dalmas Otieno, Ken Obura, Evans Kidero and their backers make is to go to the Luo as government projects. You will never win over the Luo by working with the same entity they believe is the source of all their real and imagined misery.

To build a political force beside a waning Raila in Luo Nyanza, you must not present him as a government project even if he is government-friendly. He will have to come out as independent and courageous as a cover to two traits Luos like to associate with their leaders: “mbii” (captivating presence) and “siuria” (convincing influence).  ^

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