Recently a close friend asked me, again, why I think CORD lost the last presidential elections. He phrased the question in such a way that I knew what he wanted was more than the ‘party line’; he wanted a candid personal assessment of where I believe CORD went wrong.
The CORD party line is that the 2013 elections were stolen; some supporters insist that they were even more compromised than 2007. Others say that the entire government system was engineered to ensure Raila Odinga did not win.
However having been intrinsically involved in the CORD campaign I know that it was more fundamental than that; CORD lost the last elections because we gave Jubilee opportunities to defeat us; at voter registration; in campaign discipline; and in vote protection. We created gaps that Jubilee took advantage of. We somehow managed to lose an election that Jubilee should not have won. That is politics.
As I watched CORD’s Kethi Kilonzo candidature for Makueni Senator being challenged last week, I got a déjà vu sensation.
Kethi Kilonzo became a public celebrity three months ago during the Supreme Court presidential petition hearings. The public was charmed by this amazingly smart and professional young lawyer who was so articulate, composed and confident in such a sensitive court process. By the end, even those who did not support her petition admired her. She was clearly a chip off the old block; her father the late Senior Counsel Mutula Kilonzo, immediate former Senator for Makueni.
When her father died, word started going around that CORD would ask Kethi to be their candidate for the Makueni senate seat, and I thought, ‘brilliant!’
Kethi is a young woman, with a national brand name, and her father’s daughter. It was extremely smart politics for CORD to want to leverage this to their advantage against the Jubilee Coalition in Makueni, in what was expected to be a do-or-die political contest between the two coalitions.
Then I learnt that she had not been involved in her father’s Makueni campaign, and might not even have voted there. I also learnt that not only did she not support her father politically, she might not even have voted at all! Finally, a few days later I heard that she might not even be a registered voter.
Now, anyone who has participated in any political campaign knows it is a dirty game where rivals will use anything to crucify an opponent, even where it is clearly untrue. However in Kethi’s case we had a situation where the daughter of the deceased politician wanted to inherit his seat, while it was clear that she did not vote for him, his party, or presidential candidate; in fact, she might not have voted at all! Jubilee was going to massacre CORD and Kethi with this information.
I publicly stated that CORD was setting itself up to lose an election that we should not lose.
Last week we watched what looks like the proverbial train-crash happening in slow motion. Kethi was completely out of her depth and appeared to be self-destructing. Cries by CORD supporters that Jubilee was trying to stop their candidate were hilarious; of course they were – it is what rivals do to each other in politics, stupid!
Today I am forced to ask; how did CORD make the decision to confirm Kethi’s nomination when she must have admitted to them that she did not participate in Kenya’s most exciting election, and they knew what this meant? Who did due diligence on Kethi’s candidacy? If this was done (well) why was there no decision made to have another party affiliated to CORD present a candidate to IEBC as a fall-back, in case Kethi’s candidacy was successfully challenged? Could it be that some party mandarins pushed her to run, and hoped for the best?
In the last election CORD suffered for its inability to think outside best-case-scenario strategies. There was no plan B most of the time because anyone who suggested we look at secondary or third-tier fall-back plans during the campaign, ended up being viewed as lacking ‘faith’ in the party and the candidate and was termed as disloyal and uncommitted to CORD’s ‘must-win’ eventual victory. This most likely happened when questions were raised about Kethi as well.
CORD should have nominated a more battle-hardened politician for the Makueni seat and supported Kethi to campaign with and for this candidate in Makueni. They should have then brought Kethi into the party structures and mentored her politically, for future elections.
But what we now have is a situation where Kethi’s political career has most probably been fatally wounded even before it started. Leaders who should have known better have literally set her up to public ridicule, shame and humiliation; hurting not only her political career, but her professional one too.
As for CORD; it could easily lose a seat it should very easily have won, again.
(Wambugu the Executive Director, Change Associates Trust)