Five obstacles Raila should overcome before 2012 - Bob Mukhwana - The Star

Successive opinion polls have consistently showed that Prime Minister Raila Odinga is enjoying a commanding and comfortable lead in the run up to the 2012 presidential elections. Raila's lead is not accidental. His struggle for the democratisation of this country is exceptional and his firm and principled stance on important national issues has resonated well with the Kenyan public, endearing him to a majority of the masses.

In addition, Raila is a charismatic leader, a pragmatic political strategist and an exceptional campaigner. With all these credentials and public support, one would expect that Raila's journey to statehouse to be easy and smooth.

Unfortunately, this is Kenya, where political competitors are not judged by the content of their character, but by their ethnic orientation and 'corrupt credentials'. Raila should therefore carefully and wisely overcome five obstacles before 2012.

Re-branding ODM: The popularity of ODM is pegged on the fact that it is a party of change, yet, since it entered the government, it appears to have no radically different policy agenda from its coalition partner, PNU. As a result, ODM is increasingly losing popularity as more and more of its supporters get disillusioned.

As a matter of urgency, ODM must re-brand and re-invigorate itself as a party of change, for it to consolidate its support and retain its popularity. It should be able to convince the people that its options are currently limited given the coalition arrangement it has to operate within, but it will deliver its promised fundamental change, once it ascends to power in 2012.

To achieve this, ODM needs to be reformed by restructuring its policy framework, as well as changing its secretariat leadership. With the new constitution now in place, the party must develop new policies that would effectively address poverty and unemployment, and proactively sell them to the public to recapture its support, particularly among the youth.

Similarly, ODM urgently needs a vibrant and dynamic leadership at the secretariat, which would reconnect it to the grassroots, as well as spearhead positive policy transformation. Furthermore, the party must internally democratise to accommodate a diversity of opinions and party dissidents.

The running mate dilemma: Perhaps the biggest challenge to the PM would be to select a suitable running mate that can deliver to him large support in 2012. Naturally, one would expect that the PM would settle on Deputy Prime Minister Musalia Mudavadi as his running mate, given that he is his deputy, and hails from the Luhya community, the second most important political base for him, after the Luo community.

Yet, choosing Mudavadi may be misconstrued as the 'westernisation' of his government, and consequently provide a basis for the formation of an 'Eastern alliance' led by the Gema and Kamba politicians, to counter the politically imagined and socially constructed 'Western alliance'.

But dropping Mudavadi for a more favourable running mate may not auger well with the Luhya
community, and as result, it may cost the PM the significant Luhya support, which is crucial to his quest for the presidency. Faced with this dilemma, the PM must carefully and wisely evaluate his options, and ultimately make the right choice.

Reaching out (or replacing) the Kalenjin community: If the 2012 presidential race polarises between the 'Western alliance' led by Raila and Mudavadi (Luo-Luhya alliance) verses the 'Eastern alliance' led by Kalonzo and Uhuru [Kamba-Gema alliance], it is the Kalenjin vote that might be the swing vote; the ultimate decider. If the Kalenjin back Raila as they did in 2007, he might emerge victorious. But if they tilt their support to Kalonzo, in the spirit of the KKK alliance, Raila will definitely have it rough. It's important therefore that Raila reaches out to the Kalenjin community before it's too late.

Given that in politics, there are no permanent enemies or friends, Raila should acknowledge Ruto's influence among the Kalenjin, swallow his pride and make peace with him. Though possible, it is hard for Raila to get the Kalenjin vote through an alternative tribal kingpin such as Sally Kosgey or Henry Kosgey. It will also be difficult to replace the Kalenjin vote with the Gema and Kamba vote, given the widespread anti-Raila and anti-Luo sentiments among these communities.

Containing 'Railaphobia': There are people who would do anything to stop Raila from ascending to the presidency. These groups of people range from those who merely dislike him or differ with him ideologically, to those who feel he betrayed them at one point or another, to corrupt individuals who fear prosecution under his regime. These groups are working hard to scuttle Raila's presidential ambitions. Raila should reach out or contain such individuals, as well as avoid creating unnecessary political enemies by re-building trust and confidence among his allies.

Taming 'Luophobia': A Kikuyu friend told me that though he likes Raila and would want to vote for him in 2012, he fears the behaviour of Raila's kinsmen if he ascends to power. According to him, Raila's kinsmen are the biggest obstacle to his presidential ambitions because they behave as if they own him, occasionally getting over¬excited and over-proud, even arrogant, about him. As a landlord in Kibera, my friend actually fears some of his tenants might even refuse to pay rent under a Raila regime.

Luophobia is a reality Raila should seek to address. He must appeal to his kinsmen to stop behaving as if they own him and stop heckling and throwing stones at his opponents. He must convince his kinsmen as well as his critics that he seeks not to be a Luo president, but a Kenyan president.

In trying to address Railaphobia and Luophobia, Raila might seek an alliance with the Kikuyu community in 2012. Or alternatively, he can sit back and pray that ICC prosecutor Moreno-Ocampo comes for his major political opponents. This will definitely destabilise the KKK alliance.

Bob Mukhwana is a political commentator and post-graduate student.

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2 Responses to Five obstacles Raila should overcome before 2012 - Bob Mukhwana - The Star

Anonymous said...

A thorough article there that the PM must not overlook. Sometimes strategizing in Kenyan politics can be too risky and challenging. Thanks for good blogging.

Gilbert said...

Thanks Bob that is a great piece of advice that the PM cannot afford to ignore.