The Star (Nairobi)

8 March 2014

Kenya: What If Ababu & Joho Lead ODM Walkout?

There is a strange history of political party walkouts in Kenya, beginning with Oginga Odinga's exit from Kanu, the Cabinet and the founding vice-presidency in 1966 as a result of the outcome of the Limuru Conference. Odinga promptly set up and headed the Kenya People's Union (KPU).

No two political party walkouts are ever the same. Twenty-five years after Odinga left Kanu, another former Vice President of Kenya, this time Mwai Kibaki, also jumped ship into his own prefabricated vessel, the Democratic Party (DP), on Christmas Eve, 1991.

Eleven years later, another former Vice President, Prof George Saitoti, also leaped out of Kanu, this time in a mass exodus led by another Odinga, Raila son of Jaramogi.

In the years since Kanu crashed out of power in 2002, when Kibaki beat Uhuru Kenyatta for the post-Daniel Moi State House, ODM has become the only major political party to suffer serial walkouts just ahead of presidential elections.

With the Ababu Namwamba/Hassan Ali Joho factors and the sabotaging of the ODM convention eight days ago, it looks as if the party is all set to haemorrhage some more.

All these are factors of political paranoia, a main ingredient of Raila's career as one of the most polarising national leaders in post-independence Kenya.

Raila is steeped in the stuff and also attracts or inspires the paranoia of others, and never more so than during crucial historic crossroads in both the lives of the nation and of whichever political vehicle he happens to be driving - or attempting to grab the steering wheel of - at such junctures. However, in his long career, Raila has never encountered an operative of Pius Tawfiq Ababu Namwamba's skills set and modus operandi.

Speaking on Citizen TV's The Big Question on Tuesday, Namwamba went out of his way to protect both ODM and Raila, saying, for instance, that he could not bring himself to believe that ODM could sabotage itself in such a callous manner.

Observing that "the Party Leader has taken control of this process" (the aftermath of the sabotage), Namwamba declared, "Our primary goal is to make Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto the next leaders of the Opposition".

Previously on Citizen TV's Cheche political talk-show, Namwamba has downplayed widespread talk of his actually being a Jubilee-compliant operative inside ODM with remarks to the effect that his blood and the ruling coalition's are so fundamentally incompatible any mix thereof would only result in clotting.

Namwamba, 40, the MP for Budalang'i, is a lawyer who specialises in international human rights and constitutional law, was born in Uganda of Kenyan parents who themselves grew up in Kenya.

Towards the end of the Grand Coalition Government of April 2008-February 2013, he was appointed Sports and Youth Affairs Minister in the wake of the then Deputy Prime Minister and Deputy ODM leader Wycliffe Musalia Mudavadi, also a Westerner, leaving the party a jump ahead of the general election to head up the Amani coalition and make his maiden presidential bid.

Articulate, well-read and travelled, Namwamba is easily the most iconic of ODM's current crop of young turk leaders. Although he denies it, he has ambition by the ton and swears fealty to Raila's leadership inside ODM all the way to 2017 while at the same time working overtime to take the Movement from the former Prime Minister's inner circle.

The Namwamba-Joho team has dazzled ODM delegates with a high profile and well-oiled campaign complete with helicopters and a far-flung presence. When their names were announced on the floor of the convention by National Elections Board official Nancy Abisai, entire sections of the delegates jumped for joy on the terraces in the manner of football fans celebrating a winning goal.

When Kajwang's name was mentioned, the booing had an undertow of scorn and disapproval that was almost palpable. Outgoing secretary general Peter Anyang' Nyong'o went out on a tidal wave of interjections and jeering.

Team Namwamba-Joho includes MPs Aden Keynan (Eldas), John Waluke (Sirisia), Simon Ogari (Bomachoge) and Turkana Governor Josphat Nanok.

Timing their final campaign tour for a Kericho hotel where they addressed delegates from Kericho, Bomet, Nakuru and Baringo counties, the United Republican Party (URP) Kanu heartlands, the team issued a friendly fire warning to ODM, saying the party had no option but to use the secret ballot.

Namwamba declared: "Anything else will rob ODM of any moral authority to complain about Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission bungling of the 2013 general election or any other electoral process because you cannot engage in an electoral fraud and purport to complain against it."

There were more friendly-fire signals. Saying that Raila was surrounded by bad leaders and bad advice, Namwamba said the polls would be a chance to weed them out.

And then came the clincher: "Raila Odinga is a general with only one bullet left in his gun and in the 2017 election, he either hits the bulls-eye or misses the target, that is why he must be surrounded by a new batch of generals who will ensure that he hits the bulls-eye in 2017."

From where Raila and his 'bad' advisers were seated, this looked like the surest sign yet that Namwamba & Co ultimately plan a walkout. Among those whispering into Raila's ear are operatives who are trying to convince him that Namwamba and Joho are URP moles inside ODM.

This is still more political paranoia (which is not the same thing as discounting it out of hand). The key questions that Namwamba & Co need to clarify in their minds if they are indeed outward-bound from ODM are - Who are you walking out with; who are you preparing to join; and what value are you taking to their high table over and above the purely nuisance value of being seen to abandon Raila to his 'bad' advisers and their toxic counsel? The William Ruto-led ODM walkout is still fresh in political sector memories.

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