ODM-K Rivalry - Impact of Raila vision launch

We have no intention of raining on Lang’ata MP Raila Odinga’s parade on Sunday as he rolls out presidential election blueprint at the KICC, Nairobi. We will not even attempt to drizzle on one of the greatest days of his eventful life. Instead, we will reflect on a number of dynamics of the forthcoming General Election. In other words, the day of Raila’s launch will provide a rare occasion for political meditation.

First, we hope that Kalonzo Musyoka, William Ruto, Uhuru Kenyatta and Musalia Mudavadi will all be present in the KICC’s Plenary Hall as Raila launches his bid to capture both the ODM-Kenya presidential ticket and the national presidency itself.

It was Kalonzo who detonated the culture of the spectacular launch when he unveiled his Kalonzo Musyoka Foundation. To Raila’s and Uhuru’s explicit surprise and that of the Narc administration, more than 30 Western diplomats, including the American, British and EU envoys, attended the launch at the Hotel Inter-Continental in Nairobi. It was at this event that both Kalonzo and Raila spoke enigmatically about being able to “die” for each other — meaning to strategically opt out of the race in order to boost the chances of one of them.

But the main reason the large diplomatic corps presence, quite apart from his then commanding lead in the presidential election opinion polls, was the fact that, as Foreign minister, he had mediated the Sudanese and Somali crises and was now establishing a foundation to foster conflict resolution and democratic ideals in Africa.

A lot of water has passed under the bridge since then, not to mention the fact that quite a few bridges have been burnt, too. This was the period soon after the Government’s defeat in the referendum on the Draft Constitution. Two years later, President Kibaki’s economic reform programme has borne fruit. He, not Kalonzo, now has a commanding lead in the presidential opinion polls, followed by Raila.

Raila is the fifth ODM-Kenya presidential aspirant to launch his vision. Besides Kalonzo, Julia Ojiambo, Ruto and Najib Balala have unveiled theirs.

RAILA’S CHOICE OF VENUE, THE KICC Plenary Hall, was governed in large part by the security and comfort, not to mention the focus, of a large contingent from overseas drawn from the Kenyan Diaspora and the Odinga family’s wide network of contacts in foreign regimes and international non-governmental organisations.

Of the big-time political players, only President Kibaki had a key public function in the week leading up to the Raila launch: the Labour Day address to the nation from Uhuru Park, Nairobi, where he waived tuition fees in secondary schools and left the Opposition reeling with the timing and the largeness of his gesture. Raila has commented twice on the President’s May 1 move, both times trying to find fault, but coverage of his reactive remarks has been surprisingly patchy.

The first real jitters of the anxiety about the scale and scope of the Raila launch were perhaps voiced by former Vice-President Mudavadi last week when he suddenly blurted out a warning about a latter-day Idi Amin. And then, speaking in Meru, Kalonzo, now dethroned as king of the polls, finally went into fatalistic mode and actually uttered words to the effect that President Kibaki could well win a second term.

One of the greatest lessons to be drawn from a Raila presidential bid is that the minimum reforms process is not the only thing that stands between ODM-K internal cohesiveness and State House. The most petty and petulant individual jealousies, hates, betrayals, fears and loathing also loom large.

The next General Election is not Yes-No territory. The President is not an overbearing, authoritarian hate figure. He is an economist of the old school who says what he means as well as means what he says. There is no equivalent of the Kanu bogey.

Mr Kariuki is a PR consultant in Nairobi

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