Sunday, 24 May 2015

How Raila Lost Rift Valley

Even among some of Raila Odinga’s passionate supporters in the Rift Valley, there is apprehension on whether the historic presidential candidate will win back some of the region’s support ahead of 2017 elections.

While all is not lost for the opposition leader, it is evident that there have been better days for him in the region that overwhelmingly supported him in 2007.

For Odinga to have credible chances at beating Kenyatta in 2017, he needs at least a million Kalenjin votes – or more. Such a prospect is a difficult to comprehend for now.

Even with the most elaborate strategy to win back the region – which he obviously does not have – Odinga’s prospects in wining some Kalenjin support in the Rift Valley rest on the outcome of the ICC case against Deputy President William Ruto, the unity and performance of the Jubilee government and the fate of the county governments.

I met Odinga March 2007 as he laid down the foundation for one of the most elaborate and energetic campaigns yet, to later become a front runner by late 2007.

It was in Kapkatet in Kericho during his first major campaign rally as he sought ODM nomination to stand in the election as president. He came across to many as genuinely concerned about the welfare of the region as well as getting them back into the government.

There is no underestimating the goodwill he enjoyed. Humanity flowing to listen to him for months! They even called him Arap Mibei (someone associated with water), without ceremony or tradition.

Covering many of his campaign rallies in the region, I remember a candidate who looked biblical and sounded prophetic. A Jeremiah! A modern day Moses who had landed to deliver the Kalenjin from misery and mistreatment under President Mwai Kibaki, whom Odinga backed in 2002.

Because he was supported by Ruto, the current deputy president, it was never easy to gauge how much was courtesy of his co-Pentagon member and what was due to his direct appeal.

He professed secularism and religious values when it mattered. He oscillated between far left and the centre when there was need. It somehow felt that Odinga become too comfortable with the support and even might have felt the Kalenjins were his to keep.

He had unflappable calm and endless energy, even amid huge storms. His mythical reputation gave loose bowels to the PNU. And then of course the tragedy of 2007 happened.

But I could not imagine seeing such a politician go ahead to lose the 2013 election. But he did. And his supporters have an explanation.

“There was so much propaganda ranging from Mau Forest evictions to ICC that was thrown at Raila ahead of the 2013 election,” Kipkorir Menjo, a former councillor and a key supporter of Odinga in North Rift explained to me.

“But now, people are starting to understand it was all about propaganda. It is becoming clear Raila had nothing with ICC… Such things, together with bad economic performance of the Jubilee are starting to bring the reality home,” Menjo said.

But even such optimism rests of elements beyond the control of Odinga.

In putting together this piece, some senior Rift Valley politicians told me Odinga was no longer electable anymore. Perhaps they are right.

Look. When the 2008 violence died down and a power-sharing deal gave Odinga the position of a prime minister, I saw a consummate politician who was enamoured by illusions of power and biometric access to his Harambee Annex office.

His humility was gone, replaced with a hopeless charisma. A man on a mission to turn every opportunity into misfortune, I thought.

His friends knew that Kibaki side was scheming his failure. Whether they had access to tell him is another issue.

As prime minister, while he fought with Kibaki over nusu mkate (half loaf) and all the rubbish about torn carpet and a moving toilet, Odinga missed an opportunity to network and carry forward the goodwill he had amassed in Rift Valley.

Mau Forest eviction

He started haemorrhaging support and the goodwill as soon as he was named prime minister after losing the election, which many in the Rift Valley concur, was stolen.

When he presided over the evictions of Mau Forest, he was doing the right thing.

There is no underestimating the importance of Mau, the country's biggest closed-canopy forest and a vital water catchment region. With more than 20 per cent destroyed, continued destruction would cost the country’s tourism, tea and energy sectors and threaten millions beyond Kenya.

But I always suspected that Odinga was waving his green credentials for the international community that does not vote. Those who vote had been pushed to makeshift camps. Their children had missed out on a full school calendar. They were being rained on, exposed to the elements, captured on TV.

This is where the rain also started beating Odinga. You often hear the argument that there were also those in Kibaki’s side of the coalition government who were setting him up for a failure.

To date, Odinga people tell me the eviction had been a government project and it was the right thing to do. No one doubts that. A consultative process, with concessions, would have been a preferred route, if he was keen on retaining ties with a constituency that sent squatters into Mau.

He forgot the difficult choices he faced. Play by the Kenyan shenanigans and retain Kalenjin support or go for it, and save humanity.

The problem is he lost both; Kalenjin support and Mau.

Ronald Ngeny, a key support of Odinga in South Rift said Jubilee is still following the same script in attempts to reclaim Mau.

“Jubilee recently evicted people from Mau Forest. If you are saying that Raila lost support because of it, then that would be untrue. Some people played propaganda with the issue at the time,” he told me.
The government has said no more violent evictions would be carried out in Mau.

Post-election violence and ICC

As if that was not enough, William Ruto and ex-broadcaster Joshua Sang – two Kalenjins - alongside four other Kenyans were named by the ICC prosecutor in December 2010 as suspected masterminds of the 2007/8 post- election violence.

The narrative advanced by the prosecutor, who also said he wanted to make Kenya example in dealing with impunity, was that Odinga’s party planned the violence.

The thinking in Rift Valley remains that ahead of the election, it was clear Odinga was wining the poll and so there was no need for any thoughts on violence.

Any suggestion that the violence was planned goes against the spirit of overwhelming support the Kalenjin gave Odinga in 2007.

Even though he rejected any claims that his party planned the violence, many felt that Odinga did not speak up loud enough in support of Ruto. And when he spoke, his message was cacophonic. And when it was clear, it seemed to support the ICC narrative that the violence was planned.

“We cannot stand up as a civilized country and say that nobody killed the 1,300 people. These murders must have been systematic and organised,” Daily Nation quoted Odinga saying on 28 March 2011 during a visit to Dubai.

In other comments carried by the media, Odinga repeated that someone had to take responsibility for the deaths for the violence. To his former supporters in the Rift Valley, he and Kibaki were the only people who should have been held responsible.

“William Ruto or Sang were not on the ballot paper running for president. Raila was ungrateful and seemed OK as his former supporters were being unfairly tried at the ICC,” a senator from Rift Valley said to me.

The possible dismissal of Ruto and Sang case in August or so before they are put to their defence will provide a relief for Odinga. He may even want to say that not a single kinsman was a witness against the two in court. His supporters have in the past said the real Ruto enemies are those he is with in government – the people who got the case before the ICC and provided witnesses.

“One day, Ruto will know that Odinga had nothing to do with the case before Hague. Since Uhuru case was dropped, Ruto has been left alone. Uhuru never speaks about it at all, No lobbying anyone anymore. He is being mistreated,” Ng’eny told me.

This thinking reinforces the narrative among some who believe that Deputy President William Ruto will not become president through Jubilee, read, Kikuyu support – or president at all. This is a dangerous hypothesis.

Odinga’s involvement – or lack of – in the ICC case is already part of Kalenjin history. It will take more than a speeches to prove he was not part of.

Fate of county governments 

Recent meeting between Odinga and Bomet governor, Isaac Rutto to discuss strengthening devolution is more to the benefit of the latter.

CORD’s Okoa Kenya initiative has several convergences with governors’ Pesa Mashinani campaign. As he leaves the position of the chairman of council of governor’s, some believe that Rutto had been keen to hand over the Pesa Mashinani campaign to CORD.

Odinga must be aware that Ruto, a sworn opponent of the deputy president, is not in his presidential equation.

A serious audit of the county government that presents an optimistic scorecard of the devolved units will provide Odinga with good tidings.

He can claim credit for championing the strengthening of the county governments.

However, an audit that suggests corruption has marred performance of the devolved units will cast doubts of the motivation for sending more money to them.

While selling JAP in the Rift Valley will require energy, re-introducing CORD in the same region will be like trying to artificially inseminate a porcupine. It will be repulsive and fraught with danger.

The flight of former ODM executive director Magerer Langat and former minister and ODM official Franklin Bett to Ruto side has left the party with no high profile figure from the Kalenjin.

Should Ruto and Rutto reconcile later, then Odinga’s hopes would have been dashed.

He cannot go to former president Moi, a key supporter of Uhuru Kenyatta.

That leaves the former prime minister with a bad wind in the Rift Valley.

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