Raila, bruised by past failures, wants to make last stab count

Sunday August 6 2017

Nasa presidential candidate Raila Odinga addressing supporters at Uhuru Park in Nairobi on August 5, 2017. PHOTO | EVANS HABIL | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Nasa presidential candidate Raila Odinga addressing supporters at Uhuru Park in Nairobi on August 5, 2017. PHOTO | EVANS HABIL | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By OSCAR OBONYO
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Mr Raila Amolo Odinga is on the verge of making political history.

His three-decade long case of sustained crusade for regime change comes up before the public court the day after Monday and, if lady luck smiles his way, he will be crowned Kenya’s fifth President. 

The former Prime Minister’s date with destiny on Tuesday is a culmination of a torturous journey that has seen him detained for nine years and one that has been punctuated by near-misses of the coveted top seat, alleged poll rigging and conspiracies against him by the incumbency.

Aware of the magnitude and historic relevance of the events of Tuesday, Mr Odinga himself has fashioned it as a “historic day in the country’s calendar” and is asking Kenyans to be part of that history.

This indeed denotes the levels of confidence within the National Super Alliance (Nasa), that their presidential candidate will clinch the seat.  

DELIVER VERDICT

The answer to this, however, will be known in a matter of hours when the Kenyan people deliver that all-important verdict to the son of Kenya’s first Vice-President Jaramogi Oginga Odinga and his supporters.

Before his endorsement as the Nasa flagbearer, President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Deputy William Ruto of the rival Jubilee, chided the 72-year-old seasoned politician as the weakest opponent of Nasa’s four presidential hopefuls.

This was either a miscalculation by Jubilee or deliberate psychological gimmick meant to dupe the Opposition into identifying an alternative opponent.

Since being chosen presidential candidate over fellow aspirants, former vice-presidents Kalonzo Musyoka and Musalia Mudavadi and outgoing Senate Leader of Minority Moses Wetang’ula, the Uhuru-Ruto pair has laboured overdrive, covering a record 200 campaign rallies in the month of June alone.

FLAGBEARER

And on the same day he was named Nasa’s flagbearer, the Jubilee leadership — in a cleverly crafted ploy to deflect attention from Nasa and water down the impact of the event at Nairobi’s Uhuru Park — staged an impromptu afternoon roadside campaign in the capital city of Nairobi and its environs.      

As Bomet County governor Isaac Ruto aptly observes: “Raila is our best bet owing to his large and wide support-base, reform and leadership credentials, political experience and even biological age.” Ruto is a member of Nasa’s elite club – the Pentagon – alongside Odinga, Kalonzo, Mudavadi and Wetang’ula.   

If Ruto’s sentiments mirror the thinking within the Nasa fraternity and, if spirited marathon campaigns by President Kenyatta’s Jubilee party are anything to go by, then Mr Odinga is believably a strong candidate with a good fighting chance.    

However, victory will not come easy considering Mr Odinga is coming up against an equally solid candidate, Mr Kenyatta.

Besides enjoying benefits of incumbency, including power and state machinery, Kenyatta enjoys a huge following across the country.

IMPEDIMENTS

Poll figures of the 2013 presidential poll and current ones give a clear indication that the country is split right in the middle between backers of Kenyatta and Odinga.

Admitting the myriad impediments of challenging an incumbent, a member of the Nasa think-tank, Dr Adams Oloo, says the campaign is more confident “because we are doing things differently this time round”.   

“Having previously vied for the top seat and failed to be sworn in after what many believe was stolen victory, our candidate has learnt pretty much.

Mr Odinga is alive to the machinations of the State and the manipulations of the electoral process — threats which we have and are still fixing,” says the political scientist. 

This reality has presented the Nasa campaign team with a most delicate approach to the polls, which has included campaigning and whistle-blowing at the same time.

Walking this thin line has not been easy as it has, in some instances, threatened to derail the gains made by Mr Odinga’s campaign. 

RIGGING CLAIMS

Constant rigging claims by Nasa targeting the electoral body or the Jubilee administration are, for instance, feared to have probably generated voter-apathy among Mr Odinga’s supporters.

However, Oloo explains this has been a necessary move to guard against possible poll rigging.   

In the words of head of the Nasa secretariat, Norman Magaya, the current environment has dictated the campaign team walks and chews gum at the same time: “The politicians have been busy on the ground selling our policies, with the technical team engrossed in mapping out strategies and filing cases and injunctions in court aimed at aiding our campaign.”

In contrast, Odinga’s third bid for the presidency in 2013 was a near disaster in terms of securing his votes.

Over-confidence and under-staffing played a major role in his main opponent, Mr Kenyatta, chipping away at his commanding lead.

AGENTS

On March 3, 2013, for instance, campaign officials had not identified poll agents in central Kenya just a couple of hours to the polls.

In fact agents were not dispatched to the region — a factor some fear might have given room to illegal top-up of votes.

This time round, however, Mr Odinga has reportedly invested heavily in this area — which has over the years proved to be his weakest.

The Nasa candidate has gone further to reassure his supporters over vote theft and even promised he will neither cry foul nor seek help from the electorate over poll rigging.

But probably the biggest asset to the Odinga campaign this time are the key political allies he has teamed up with.

KALONZO MUSYOKA

Running mate and former VP Kalonzo not only brings to the Nasa table experience and a huge support base, but also greatly helps to project the much needed regional balance.

The same is true of Ruto, the Chama Cha Mashinani boss. Whether he succeeds or not to retain his seat as Bomet governor, his presence in Nasa similarly projects the coalition as a national outfit.

And unlike other Pentagon members, votes amassed by Ruto are a double gain, considering he shall be subtracting from a Jubilee perceived zone to the Nasa basket.

Separately, pundits believe the presence of Mr Mudavadi and Mr Wetang’ula in Nasa will greatly aid the Raila-Kalonzo ticket in sweeping votes in the larger western Kenya region, occupied by members of the populous Luhya community. 

Besides, as Mr Ruto has repeatedly voiced, “a coalition of five is better than that of two individuals”.