The Star (Nairobi)

1 December 2012

Kenya: Raila's Coalition Will Carry the Day

opinion

All eyes are on Prime Minister Raila to see if he can once again put together a winning coalition.

Although Kenya has been independent since 1964, the year 1992 marks the first time one can say Kenyans had a real say in who their president would be through the ballot but even then barely so.

Prior to that year's elections, both Moi and Kenyatta before him were elected and reelected to office in an exercise that is more aptly describable as coerced ratification than people having a real choice as to who they preferred to lead them.

The irony here is--and misleadingly so--these two men, Moi and Kenyatta were at one time or another very popular during their respective tenures even as they presided over the worsening of the country's economic and living conditions.

To be sure, Kenyans were ready to get rid of Moi in 1992 yet he won the presidency with only 37% because he effectively used state machinery to silence the opposition while otherwise rendering it impotent.

Some of the tactics Moi used relying on state instruments and machinery included heavily restricting and monitoring political rallies; deliberately failing to issue identity cards to millions of eligible voters thereby effectively disenfranchising them as they could not be registered to vote without the cards; making sure the state owned radio and TV broadcast disseminated only good news about KANU and its candidates while the few independently owned media houses were scared to death in publishing anything other than the same good news; using public funds to the tune of more than 60 million shillings then to bribe and buy votes and masterminding government sponsored pre-electoral ethnic cleansing and violence during elections in targeted areas that suppressed the vote sufficiently to allow Moi the less than majority victory.

Equally if not more significant in Moi remaining in office in 1992 despite an overwhelming sense of desire by the public to boot him out of office across the country was the splintered opposition that ensured Moi's less than majority victory besides rigging and heavy use of state machinery.

These same tactics and more were again employed in 1997 to ensure Moi remained in office despite the majority people's wishes to the contrary.

It was only in 2002 that the opposition in Kenya got it together and finally managed to defeat Moi and his Uhuru project with Raila key in that outcome with his Kibaki tosha declaration.

However, looking back, Moi did not survive the onslaught of multi-partysim against his regime and widespread dissatisfaction with his repressive rule merely by using state instruments and machinery to crush the opposition.

Rather, Moi in equal measure survived politically as long as he did by utilizing basic political survival skills such as first, ensuring his primary coalition of key supporters in key constituencies remained intact and secondly, upping the ante in the use of propaganda and other tactics to destroy opponents he could not otherwise arrest and throw in jail.

In 1992, for example, KANU experienced a high profile defection of a number of its ministers and personalities to the opposition, primarily to the Democratic Party, except for a few who joined Jaramogi's Ford Kenya.

Among these were then Health Minister, and now President Mwai Kibaki, then Education Minister Peter Oloo Aringo, then Tourism Minister George Muhoho and Njenga Karume, Mwangi Gachui, Mwangi Thuo, George Mwicigi, Kuria Kinyanjui who were all assistant ministers.

Rather than panic after suffering these high profile defections, Moi instead hunkered down and engineered a counter strategy to minimize or altogether blunt any impact from these defections.

As it turned out, Moi's strategy was two-fold but very simple: smear those who defected while propping up their opponents in their respective constituencies of course maximizing the use of state resources to this end.

The strategy worked for with the exception of Kibaki, all these high profile defectors lost their parliamentary seats to newcomers making the case it's not the defections that matter; rather, what matters is what the leader of the affected party does in response in ensuring his or core mission of winning remains intact.

Raila and ODM more than any other party find themselves in the unenviable albeit peculiar position where KANU was in 1992 and subsequent years in that ODM's members are the target of other parties, especially TNA seeking their defection to them and almost limitless money is being spent for this purpose.

Although there has been a couple or so of major defection and a number of low profile defections from ODM, Raila and ODM have however thus far demonstrated like Moi before, they have the requisite skills--but unfortunately not matching resources--to weather the storm.

With the deadlines for these inter-party defections to legally occur fast approaching on December 4, 2012, one can but conclude barring the extremely unusual, the worst of these defections has already occurred, which means Raila and ODM must now focus on both solidifying their base support while never giving up on prying away key members and personalities from the other parties.

All eyes are on Raila to see if he can once again put together a winning coalition the supreme coalition-building strategist he is as he has proven he can over and over.

When the opposition splintered in 1992 and 1997, Raila became instrumental in putting together a coalition of support that won in 2002 and made Kibaki president; when Kibaki reneged on the MOU leading up to the Kibaki tosha declaration, Raila put together a different coalition that defeated the Kibaki camp in the 2005 referendum that included none other than Uhuru Kenyatta himself; when Raila faced off with Kibaki in the 2007 general elections, he once again put together another formidable coalition that arguably won the presidency in 2007; and finally when a peaceful resolution was reached following PEV, Raila formed a coalition government with Kibaki and once again became instrumental in putting together a coalition that passed the new constitution in 2010.

In all these cases, Raila did not depend just on his own political backyard: rather it was his ability to create a national coalition of interests around his agenda of the time; and having done it so often before, he can do it again.

As such, these lesser players the likes of Uhuru, Ruto, Mudavadi, e.t.c. can scheme all they want, but in the end, it is the coalition that Raila will ultimately craft which will win the day - his success rate is four out of four; and not one of his coalitions has ever failed to carry the day.

The good thing about this is if Kenyans give him the nod as he believes they did in 2007, Raila has promised to summon all of his political and people's skills to fully implement the constitution and put the country on track to an unprecedented future of peace and prosperity.

As he has said, all he needs is one term to do all of that and that certainly isn't too much to ask from a man who has unquestionably already sacrificed and done so much for our beloved country.

Samuel Omwenga is an investment consultant and blogger in the US

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