Sunday, January 26, 2014

ODM RAISING POLITICAL TEMPERATURE PREMATURELY

Only nine months after the last general elections in March 2013, campaigns for the next polls in 2017 have seemingly begun, overshadowing the development agenda and shaking Kenya's political stability.

This is not entirely unusual in Kenya. A common joke is, in Kenya politics don't go on vacation. Kenyans play politics from morning to evening, from the beginning to the end of the year, from one election to the other.

This time around, however, the political mood stands poisoned by lingering grudges and unending claims by the opposition CORD (the Coalition for Reforms and Development), that Raila Odinga was robbed of the last elections and that certain arms of government including the military, the judiciary and the electoral body, abetted his defeat. This lie has been doing the rounds since the elections and continues to be peddled in public meetings, funerals and even at parleys with foreign visitors.

Hitler's propaganda chief, Joseph Goebbels, once said that if you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually believe it to be the truth. This is what is happening in Kenya. This lie has been repeated so many times that even those in CORD who had doubts now believe the 2013 presidential elections were stolen. This situation is polarising the population and distracting the government from its agenda. Some Kenyans think the opposition is deliberately sabotaging the State through careless statements and surreptitious blackmail.

But the political temperatures are also on the rise as a result of the tumult in ODM, the Orange Democratic Movement, over the forthcoming party national elections. The succession battles for the party leadership has kicked off aggressive, no-holds barred jostling for positions, and exposed the ODM as a tribal organisation not a national party.

Some senior officials in ODM believe - and they have said this openly - that some crucial positions, including that of secretary general, should be reserved for Nyanza - Raila's home turf - arguing that surrendering them to "outsiders" would weaken the party. What this means is that  Nyanza is either unwilling or is not ready to be led by leaders from outside the region.

Surprisingly, with all the talk in ODM of generational change, not a single "youthful" leader has come out to oppose the 69-year old Raila Odinga for the party leadership. Those, like James Orengo, Dalmas Otieno and Evens Kidero, who are a "little younger" than Raila are being fought left, right and centre by elements interested in preserving the fast fading Odinga dynasty. These are the same elements who are trying to coax Raila's rather disinterested son Fidel into joining politics.

And then, there are the problems in CORD of which ODM is a principal partner. Raila's closest allies are not amused that Kalonzo Musyoka of the Wiper Democratic Party and Moses Wetangula of Ford Kenya, who are part of CORD and much younger than Raila, want to challenge him for the presidency in 2017.

Supporters have already told Kalonzo and Wetangula not to cede ground to Raila. In the 2007 elections, Kalonzo failed to win the presidency and agreed instead to serve as number two to Mwai Kibaki. In 2013, he joined Raila as his deputy and both flopped. This time around his Kamba people have threatened to abandon him if he agrees to play second fiddle.

As for Wetangula, running for the presidency is the only way to rekindle his national image which, though boosted by his recent overwhelming win in the Bungoma Senatorial by-election, faces hurdles in his wider Luhialand home ground. In the meantime, he is telling his fragmented community to "come together" and to register as voters in large numbers in apparent preparation for his bid.

With the two vowing to proceed all the way, it is difficult to see how Raila will have a smooth ride four years from now. I am inclined to believe Kalonzo and Wetangula will decamp from the coalition at some stage and launch their own presidential campaigns. Left alone and depending almost exclusively on Nyanza votes, Raila will have no chance. The party has already lost in its top hierarchy some of its most dependable officials including the former chairman, Henry Kosgey and the former secretary general, Anyang Nyong'o, who have opted out.

I therefore believe Raila has tough times ahead partly because support even in his estwhile strongholds of Coast, Western and North-Eastern regions, is evaporating like steam from a boiling pot. Without numbers coming out of these areas, the chances of the former Prime Minister toppling Uhuru - assuming the President continues to maintain support of the Rift Valley - amount to zero.

But first things first. To get anywhere, Raila must first navigate through the mud of next month's National Delegates Conference. If his favoured candidate for the secretary general position, Dr. Agnes Zani prevails; if his chief trouble-shooter Otieno Kajwang wins the vice chairmanship; if money-man Ali Hassan Joho captures the deputy leader's position; and, on the other hand, if Evans Kidero and his group are vanquished, then Raila's road to 2017 will be much easier.

In the meantime, the political temperature continues to rise. It's time that we deflate it to allow us concentrate in nation building.

And that is my say.