For starters, ODM party leader Raila Odinga is, without a doubt, Kenya’s leading politician in terms of experience, age and sacrifice.
Alongside other ‘second liberation’ luminaries like Kenneth Matiba, Charles Rubia, his late father Jaramogi, George Anyona and others dead or alive, Raila stands out as one of the politicians who have spent much of their time fighting one-party dictatorships and agitating for pluralist politics. Twice, Raila has suffered incarceration.
Irrespective of sacrifices to liberate Kenyans from the yokes imperial presidencies, Raila has been denied the presidency four times–in 1997, 2007, 2013 and 2017. Herein lies my question: why has Raila, the liberator, been unelectable?
I discern three explanations for this. One is ideology. Raila has been a victim of circumstance. Some of Raila’s opponents still believe that he holds socialist policies that would interfere with their business and commercial interests. These fears are based in the Cold War politics—a time Raila’s father teamed up with people like Bildad Kagia in 1966 and formed the then opposition Kenya People’s Union (KPU). It was a party premised in socially and economically empowering the average Kenyan.
Raila’s higher education from the former East German, a socialist state, is still counted as a factor in his presumed socialist policies.
This ideological perception played itself out prior to the 2013 elections when the Nairobi rumor mill suggested that Raila people (read Luos) had deliberately refused to pay rent (to mostly Kikuyu house owners) on claims that Raila was a ‘Big Man’ in Government. At the time, Raila was prime minister.
Threat to property
Whether true or false, the claim tended to reinforce the perception of the anti-Raila presidency as a threat to private property. It remains a policy matter to be addressed.
The second obstacle to Raila’s bid for the presidency is his penchant for the ‘urban crowd’—the swelling number of mostly unemployed youths who massively attend ODM political rallies, yet they do not vote. In effect, they have served to deny Raila the presidency.
This was evident in 2013 when ODM leaders learned belatedly that supporters in the party’s stronghold constituencies had not voted in huge numbers. In Luo Nyanza, for example, the assumption was that as prime minister at the time, Raila would easily be assured of winning the presidency. He lost. 2017bwasalmost a replica.
The third obstacle to Raila’s presidency is the behaviors of the national bodies that have been entrusted to manage national elections. The botched 2007 presidential election stands out as one that frustrated Raila’s presidency. The consequence of this was chaos and ethnic violence that left over 1,300 persons dead and thousands others injured and maimed.
In 2013, Kenyans avoided a similar situation when they resorted to the highest court of the land to decide on the presidential election dispute. This time Raila feels fatigued. He has gone on record telling Kenyans that he would never again resort to the courts to resolve a stolen election. He however, contested the 2017 presidential election in court and the results were nullified.
Raila’s political party, ODM, is the only one in this country with a stated ideology. Initially a social movement, ODM stands for the diffusion of power from the center to the peripheries. Under the constitution we call this devolution. It is the social ideology of decentralization and the strengthening of devolution that could be perceived as the confiscation of private property in case Raila assumed the presidency.
Yet, this is false. As ideologies, socialism and communism are long gone. The twin ideologies have now been discredited and democracy, however, imperfect, is globally acknowledged as the way of life.