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Strange political events unfolding in Nairobi's political bellwether

Sunday November 3 2019

Kibra election

ODM leader Raila Odinga addresses a campaign rally in support of Imran Okoth for the Kibra parliamentary seat, at Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Foundation in Kibra on November 2, 2019. PHOTO | FRANCIS NDERITU | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

KWENDO OPANGA
By KWENDO OPANGA
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Strange things are happening in Nairobi's slum-dominated electoral constituency of Kibra.

Former Prime Minister Raila Odinga is campaigning in the by-election with a candidate's urgency and frequency.

Indeed, he is asking the people of Kibra to either vote for Mr Imran Okoth, the brother of the former MP whose death occasioned the by-election, or vote for him if they do not want Mr Okoth. But he is not on the ballot.

Mr Odinga is campaigning with such energy and intensity that not only defy his 74 years, but were also not witnessed when he previously sought the area's votes to be MP of Lang'ata and President of Kenya.

When asked not long ago if he would support Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang'i for President, Mr Odinga replied that the latter is rather like his son and he would advise him accordingly when the time came.

JUBILEE'S ENTRY

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But in the Kibra campaign, Mr Odinga is insulting the much younger McDonald Mariga as ill-educated yet purporting to have a blueprint for the development of the sprawling Kibra slum. Mr Mariga, a former football star, is Mr Okoth's opponent.

Past, present and future Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) legislators from across the country are flocking into Kibra to campaign for Mr Okoth.

Never before has a candidate had so little to do on the stump as dignitaries ate from his palm.

Mr Mariga too has exalted company. Deputy President William Ruto has been campaigning for him in Kibra and canvassing VIP support for him nationally.

And that is why Mr Odinga and the entire ODM machinery have pitched tent in Kibra.

Kibra's by-election was going to be a local affair until the governing Jubilee Party unveiled Mr Mariga.

All had assumed that because of the rapprochement between President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga, Jubilee would support Mr Okoth.

Indeed, many in Jubilee were caught unawares by that announcement, with the likes of nominated MP Maina Kamanda openly declaring that he was supporting Mr Okoth and that he also was the choice of President Kenyatta.

PAWNS

It is now widely believed that Mr Mariga is Dr Ruto’s project. It is also believed that if Mr Mariga won the election, that would be a bonus for the DP, for his aim appears to be to cock a snook at Mr Odinga in what is regarded as his house.

While some strategists argue that Dr Ruto has already achieved his aim of letting Mr Odinga know that he will take him on anywhere and at anytime, others think that the outcome of the poll will still send a powerful message across the land.

Mr Okoth and Mr Mariga are pawns in a war between the DP and Mr Odinga.

They are proxies in a war whose long-range weapons are trained on the 2022 General Election in general and the presidential poll in particular.

Mr Odinga and Dr Ruto fell out over placement in the ODM hierarchy, roles in the coalition government of 2008 and the arraignment of Dr Ruto over crimes against humanity alleged to have been committed in the 2007/8 post-election violence.

TESTING GROUND

Dr Ruto regards the peace deal between President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga as meant to scuttle his presidential ambition.

Mr Odinga has not hidden his disdain for Dr Ruto’s ambition and has repeatedly attacked him as corrupt.

Kibra is rather like a testing ground, a laboratory of sorts, for the propaganda wars of Dr Ruto and Mr Odinga.

Suna East MP Junet Mohamed has been vocal in linking the DP to plans to grab and parcel off public land in Kibra.

Mr Mohamed has also threatened to mobilise ODM youth to burn down the Deputy President’s official residence because it is where voters go to take bribes. The message is clear: ODM will in 2022 portray the DP as a thief.

The Mariga campaign has been highlighting the challenges the slum dwellers face, and they are legion.

It is a bid to show that Mr Odinga, who represented the constituency over three terms, has nothing to show for his tenure.

It is an area the DP’s corner is convinced could be Mr Odinga’s Achilles heel, especially because Dr Ruto has at one time branded Mr Odinga a lord of poverty and a man so mean “he could not even donate his mucous” to a tree.

Unsurprisingly, the presence of the big beasts of politics in Kibra has focused attention on national issues and personalities and sidelined serious local issues.

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