10 February 2012

Kenya: No-Win Situation for Mudavadi-Raila Duel

Photo: Gideon Maundu
Prime Minister Raila Odinga (second left) and his deputy Musalia Mudavadi.


It looked like a far-fetched scenario only a few weeks ago. But it is true indeed that a day in politics is a long time and so it is not surprising that Musalia Mudavadi has finally thrust himself to the frontline of the Kibaki succession race.

Credit that to the inept conduct of Raila Odinga's ardent supporters and the mesmerizing crystal ball of Kenyan politics.

First, the conduct of Raila's troops, who are rapidly wrecking his chances of becoming president. The scene was rather comical. James Orengo standing on the podium in front of President Mwai Kibaki during the opening of the Kisumu Airport last week and beseeching him to rudisha mkono (return the favour) rubbing into Jakoyo Midiwo's well rehearsed script imploring the president to please endorse Raila. In terms of protocol and common hospitality these exhortations were totally gross etiquette. It was inappropriate to tax the president, who was a guest, with such a big request in Kisumu. President Kibaki has already stated he will not endorse anyone to succeed him and the populist requests were tantamount to an attempt to extract a confession from a suspect under duress.

The pressure to endorse and the propensity of Raila's court jesters to dismiss anyone challenging him for the Presidency are sending alarming signals to the public. Luo MPs have become particularly rabid in assaulting anyone opposed to Raila's presumed entitlement to the ODM party ticket, generating resentment that has fueled and propelled a hitherto lucklustre and reluctant Mudavadi to stardom. Now Raila has to contend with a contest within the party that could potentially seal the presidential race in the first round.

Despite speculation that he is being propped by Raila's detractors, there is every reason to believe that Mudavadi's moves are self-driven and propelled by pressure from his populous "home" constituency of Luhyas. Being the target of unsavoury speeches by every Luhya politician on the weekend funeral circuit, Mudavadi needed to stamp his authority on his home support base by "coming out". Moreover the whispers doing rounds that he was a lightweight who could be passed over for someone else from another community to be Raila's running mate must have zapped him out. He may have neutered the image of the favorite happy-go-lucky loyalist although questions still linger over whether the gentleman of Kenyan politics has the stomach for a sustained and rough campaign.

Going into the future, Mudavadi will need to be careful about who lines up behind him, whose hands he shakes, whose calls he takes, which restaurants he visits, and definitely whose company he keeps. Still that may not assuage the propaganda and suspicion that has gone out that Mudavadi is the latest weapon being employed by Raila's foes to block him.

Granted, in politics the enemy of your enemy is your friend, Mudavadi must be wary of his suitors. Some of the support he will attract could turn out to be delusionary. They may be interested in him only merely paving their own way to State House. Similarly, his campaign must be pragmatic. The agitation for nomination at the County level as opposed to National Delegates Conference resonates well with the majority. But it is no guarantee that the recently elected branch officials are particularly allied to him as opposed to Raila, who is and remains the moving spirit of the party.

Most of those who fought and got elected to office during the controversial branch elections were diehard supporters of the party leader. It may not be as easy to flip their support to Mudavadi, who wears the image of a Johny-come-lately. It could be even more frustrating if he does not decisively deal with the propaganda that casts him as a spoiler or hireling of Raila's and the party's detractors.

Fact is, despite all the charges leveled against it, ODM remains the most established, progressive and organized party with clear structures and support countrywide. Its resilience despite the rebellion and desertion by MPs from Rift Valley and northern Kenya led by William Ruto makes its presidential ticket the most precious. That Raila is the glue that keeps the party together is not in doubt. But Raila must restrain MPs allied to him from bullying others.

The prospect that Raila could lose the ticket to Mudavadi has frightened MPs whose own fate could be sealed as well. For many Luo MPs, Raila is the first constituency, then their electorate. As long as they have his confidence, they know their seats are half-away secured. Hence, they will outdo themselves in pledging loyalty and defending Raila, oftentimes to odd lengths and censure. But Mudavadi's bid has exposed a streak of intolerance and undemocratic habits that should not be exported to the rest of the country or at worst infect our national democratic ethos.

Despite exhortations by Mudavadi and Raila that theirs is a friendly democratic contest, the external dynamics have raised the stakes of the ODM nomination to a dress rehearsal for the presidency. The results could as well determine the next president of Kenya. And how high the stakes are!

Mudavadi has figured that if he is Raila's running mate in ODM and they lose the presidency, he will spend the next five years in the political cold (Unless he is nominated to parliament on the party list as happened in 2002 after he was humiliated by Moses Akaranga but he graciously turned down the nomination by Kanu). That threat is a possibility if the forces ganging up to block Raila from succeeding Kibaki hang together. Mudavadi, is further being enticed by signals of potential support on the other side who would rather he is the ODM flagbearer to lock Raila out of the contest.

But these tempting prospects are fraught with danger. First, abandoning ODM under any circumstance could earn Mudavadi the tag of a traitor. Although the battle has been framed as one against Raila, the forces ranged against him are a combination of ODM's opponents of 2007 and the party's traitors who have crossed to bed with the enemy. Mudavadi would be guilty of opportunism and betrayal if he embraces them. Two, it is not clear how long such a honeymoon would last once the target is out of the way. Kenya's political graveyard is littered with many alliances built on such expediency and compromises at the expense of principle and ideology. Moreover, were he to win the nomination, Mudavadi would need Raila's energy and support to win the presidency.

For Raila, this is a do or die battle. If he loses the ticket to Mudavadi, he will have disappointed his big supporters across the country - which by all opinion counts is the biggest constituency. A presidential election without Raila on the ballot paper would be flat and boring. But that is a possibility we, and he, must begin to countenance. Is he ready to play Joshua and let Mudavadi be the Moses who will complete the political journey to the promised land of freedom and plenty?

What option does he have? Although he is adept at whipping up political parties, breaking away to run against Mudavadi would be self-destructive. Similarly, it would be remiss of Raila support anyone else. His best alternative would be to strike a deal with Mudavadi to identify a suitable deputy presidential candidate and reserve the elevated position of Party leader with the prospect that he would be the Majority Party Leader in the House should they win or lose the presidency provided they capture the highest number of seats in Parliament. It is clear both Mudavadi and Raila need each other for their political careers to prosper. They are better off keeping their heads low but even more importantly those of their foot soldiers who are prone to shooting from the hip.

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