For ODM, it’s time to exhale. Thank heavens Deputy party leader Musalia Mudavadi is history. He’s gone – vanished without a trace. Now PM Raila Odinga has a free hand to make an inspired pick for running mate.
But this is a double-edged sword for Mr Odinga. He could very easily blow this golden opportunity. He’s got to think hard and long. He can’t listen to ODM sycophants and hirelings.
This is my advice to the man they call Agwambo. Form a small, out of the box think-tank, to advise you on your choice for running mate.
Why – because your ascent to State House will ride on the woman – or man – you pick as running mate. Don’t let tribal math determine the pick.
Let me tell you who Mr Odinga shouldn’t pick as his deputy. The temptation might be to “replace” Mr Mudavadi with another Luhya. This would be a gargantuan political error. There’s no Luhya politician – except perhaps Speaker Kenneth Marende – who fits the bill.
Mr Odinga’s other temptation is to go for a Kalenjin. Again, this would be a colossal mistake. Why? Because none has the requisite credentials.
Only Agriculture minister Sally Kosgei comes close. She’s got the intellectual heft. But her deep connections to the Moi-Kanu state could raise eyebrows. All other senior Kalenjin leaders are heavily compromised.
Why do I pick on the Luhya and the Kalenjin? That’s because Mr Odinga may feel compelled to play the ethnic card. The conventional tribal calculus is that Mr Odinga couldn’t win without a Kalenjin or Luhya running mate.
“Tribal mathematicians” argue that he must appease the Luhya by picking one of their number as running mate to make up for Mr Mudavadi’s “loss”.
Or pick a Kalenjin to swing Kalenjins from archrival Eldoret North MP William Ruto. I say baloney to such “thinkers”.
The next election won’t be won on tribal math. The presidential field will be so fragmented that virtually no ethnic group will vote like an unthinking herd. The candidate with the broadest national appeal will win.
The election will be fought county by county. The first to win 24 counties with at least 25 per cent and a 50 per cent plus 1 national vote jogs to State House.
Otherwise, there’ll be a run-off between the two top vote-getters. The logic of the new Constitution was to scramble ethnic voting and “nationalise” presidential elections. That’s why reliance on ethnic alliances is unlikely to carry the day.
The charges for crimes against humanity that Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta and Eldoret North MP face at The Hague are sure to knock them out of the contest.
This will “detribalise” or throw up the Kalenjin and Kikuyu votes for grabs. That’s why Mr Odinga shouldn’t expect bloc-voting among the Kikuyu and Kalenjin.
This brings me to the persons I consider plausible choices for Mr Odinga. With the choice, Mr Odinga should slay the dragon of tribalism. He must use it to lead Kenyans in “crossing River Jordan”.
While I consider the tribe an illegitimate reason to pick a deputy, I think gender, religion, youth, and region should be factors.
That’s because these cleavages can be used to “kill the tribe” and race and dial up issue-oriented politics. They can start to heal the marginalisation of most Kenyans.
This is the only way that Kenya can start to become a “nation” as opposed to a collection of hostile tribes. This is an opportunity Mr Odinga must seize. It’s now or never.
The most compelling choice for Mr Odinga is Mandera Central MP Abdukadir Hussein Mohamed. He’s the complete package.
In fact, he’s the leader Kenyans have been waiting for. He’s a youthful, well-educated Muslim who’d help heal the growing rift between Muslims and the Kenyan state.
His presence atop the state could help demarginalise Somalis and other citizens in NEP and restive groups on Kenya’s coast.
He’s a proven reformer who steered Kenya to the constitutional finish-line, and has been an unbending champion of the Constitution and the rule of law.
Mr Mohamed is completely untainted. The only concern is his growing closeness to questionable characters in the G7 Alliance. It’s a really bad call on his part.
The other compelling candidate is Gichugu MP Martha Karua. She’s fearless and the only senior woman politician with a long record as a reformer.
I know questions have been raised about her defence of the Kibaki regime during and after the botched 2007 election. I admit that wasn’t her finest hour.
But I believe she paid penance by quitting the Cabinet and recapturing her mantle as a champion of reform.
Her being a woman and mother trumps her Kikuyu ethnicity. With Mr Odinga, they’d make the strongest reformist duo to rule Kenya.
As an “easterner,” she would bring regional balance to the ticket. It’s about time a woman sat at the pinnacle of the Kenyan state.
The last plausible candidate is the “detribalised” Gatanga MP Peter Kenneth. He’s youthful and impressive. I admit I don’t know if he has skeletons in the closet.
He seems a serious public servant. He would bring regional balance to the ticket. You’ll notice I haven’t named Kitui Central MP Charity Ngilu, a woman “easterner” with reformist credentials.
She lost the luster of “Mama Rainbow” because of political missteps and scandal. Nor is Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka a possibility. He’s got no reformist spine, and wouldn’t work with Mr Odinga even if his life depended on it.
Makau Mutua is Dean and SUNY Distinguished Professor at SUNY Buffalo Law School and Chair of the KHRC.