As the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) party pops the champagne to celebrate its victory in Kibra, politicians allied to President Uhuru Kenyatta as well as governors from Ukambani, Charity Ngilu (Kitui), Prof Kivutha Kibwana (Makueni) among others, are savouring the Raila Odinga-led party’s poll success.
Ideally, the election of Orange Democratic Movement’s (ODM) Bernard Otieno Okoth, alias Imran, as Kibra member of Parliament is expected to firm up the prospects of a new political alliance revolving around the President Uhuru Kenyatta and the former Prime Minister.
Following the unity pact between President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga in March 2018, aimed at promoting national cohesion, Mr Okoth’s election is welcome news to those who successfully fended off a serious challenge from Deputy President William Ruto, who spearheaded a serious onslaught against “the handshake candidate”.
Kirinyaga Governor Anne Waiguru, a few days before the poll, aptly captured the contest: “The Kibra poll is just the first in our several stages ahead of the 2022 polls. Next is the BBI (Building Bridges Initiative) and we must focus on this one fully kwa sababu serikali ijayo itatokea hapo ndani (because the next government will be formed by actors in this initiative).”
Going by her sentiments, repeated on several occasions by nominated MP Maina Kamanda, who was a prominent player on the ODM campaign trail, Jubilee Party politicians allied to the President view Mr Okoth’s win as a deserving reward to the Kenyatta-Odinga deal.
In essence, Mr Okoth is just a pawn in a bigger, high-stakes game, after serving successfully as a political guinea pig of “Team Handshake”.
According to Mr Kamanda, “He is our first handshake candidate, but certainly not the last. This is just the beginning and we are going to have many more to come, including for the top seat in 2022.”
Indeed, Mr Okoth is not the first pre-election coalition candidate in Kenya’s recent history.
Over the time, political bigwigs wooing one another have tended to test the waters and solidify their political marriages ahead of upcoming general elections. However, the experiment has not been entirely successful.
Mr Paddy Ahenda, Kenya’s ambassador to Qatar, for instance, was the wager in the political courtship between Mr Odinga and Mr Kalonzo Musyoka in 2006.
Having been fired from the National Rainbow Coalition (Narc) Government Cabinet by President Mwai Kibaki following the defeat of the 2005 constitutional referendum, Mr Odinga and Mr Musyoka teamed up under the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) outfit.
And following the death of Kasipul Kabondo MP Peter Owidi, LDP sponsored Ahenda to vie on the party’s ticket in the by-election.
He won the March 1, 2006 poll, becoming the sole elected LDP legislator in the 9th Parliament. The party was at that time touted as the Odinga-Musyoka political vehicle in 2007.
However, LDP politicians quickly jumped ship to the larger Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), named in reference to the Orange symbol of the opposing side in the 2005 referendum, leaving Ahenda isolated.
The Odinga-Musyoka dream collapsed when they went their separate ways in 2007, splitting the Orange party into two.
Similarly, Mr Kibaki engaged in such an experiment in 2006 with the Narc-Kenya party. For Kibaki, the move was necessitated by the death of six legislators in a helicopter crash near Marsabit town in April.
With Narc party leader, Ms Charity Ngilu, drifting away from him, his backers quickly cobbled up Narc-Kenya, a splinter party, to avert the possibility of Ms Ngilu denying Kibaki her party’s ticket to seek re-election.
The new party won three of the five parliamentary seats in the July by-elections, with 27-year-old William Kariuki replacing his father, Mr Mirugi Kariuki, as Nakuru Town MP and Hussein Sasura and current acting Treasury Cabinet Secretary Ukur Yatani Kanacho winning in Saku and North Horr constituencies, respectively.
While the experiment proved fruitful, Mr Kibaki abandoned the Narc-Kenya vehicle altogether, opting instead to vie on the Party of National Unity (PNU) ticket in the highly disputed and discredited 2007 polls.