BY DENNIS ONYANGO
An article appearing in the Standard on Sunday, “Its do or die as Raila seeks to regain Rift Valley support,” is remarkable by the degree to which it misses of the facts of the past even as he tries to use the past to explain what he sees as the PM’s current and future predicament in the Rift Valley.
In doing that, the story perpetuates a myth that is being repeated across the country that if you have lost the support of the MPs, you have lost the people. It also purports that it is Rift Valley MPs who gave Mr Odinga support in the region in 2007 and they have the power to take away that support. In fact, according to the article, the MPs have already taken away that support.
It is important to take readers of this article and Kenyans who have listened to the harsh criticism of Mr Odinga by Rift Valley MPs back to a fairly recent past and set some truth into the noise.
First, the repeated claim that it is MPs from the Rift Valley who introduced Mr Odinga to the Rift Valley is a lie. In the run up to the nominations for ODM ticket between 2006 and 2007, all the sitting Rift Valley MPs opposed Mr Odinga.
Led by Mr William Ruto, who was then Kanu secretary general, the MPs flip-flopped between crafting an alliance with Kanu chairman Uhuru Kenyatta, then turned to supporting Musalia Mudavadi, then shifted to Kalonzo Musyoka. Their rallying cry was one; that Raila is unelectable. Then as now, the MPs went around the Rift Valley with Mr Ruto and toyed with supporting Kalonzo, or Uhuru or one of their own. In the end, all those MPs lost their seats, except two: William Ruto and Charles Keter.
When the battle for ODM ticket peaked, Najib Balala, Kalonzo Musyoka, William Ruto, Joe Nyagah and Raila Odinga traversed the country seeking support, Ruto at some stage declared that as for him and Rift Valley MPs who were his friends, would support Kalonzo. A few days later, the Eldoret North MP said he would support Musalia Mudavadi. A few days later, he changed again and said he would support Kalonzo.
Between April and May 2007, Ruto and his MPs became very busy at meetings in hotels and rallies. The Palacina Hotel hosted numerous such meetings at which the Rift Valley invited various ODM contenders for the Presidency. The only man they ruled out was “unelectable” Raila Odinga.
At some stage, meetings between Rift Valley MPs and other contenders excluding Raila became so frequent that the Standard ran a story titled “Is this Man Isolated?” in reference to Raila.
It was later reported that at one meeting of the ODM Council of Elders, Raila shed tears as Ruto and Kalonzo supporters pushed the idea that Raila was unelectable.
It is said that often, when historians set figuring out why a nation or a community took one course rather than another, they are most interested in who said what to who at a meeting far from the public eye whose true significance may have been missed even by those who took part in that meeting.
For Raila, ODM and the Rift Valley community, such a meeting took place a day after the Standard story on isolated Raila.
That day, Prof Anyang Nyongo, the late Kipkalya Kones, William ole Ntimama, Henry Kosgey and Sally Kosgey invited Raila together with his brother Dr Oburu Oginga to lunch at a city hotel.
Sally recalls that it was “a very short lunch meeting.” It was at this lunch that a decision was reached that Raila stop meetings with Rift Valley MPs who were Ruto’s cronies in city hotels. Instead, Raila was to go and talk directly to the people of the Rift Valley, listen to their issues and measure his support or lack of it.
Ntimama and Kones immediately invited Raila to meetings in the South Rift. Raila then proceeded to other meetings in Baringo, Marakwet and other parts of the province.
It was meetings organized Henry and Sally Kosgey in Nandi, Keiyo and Uasin Gishu that shocked Rift Valley MPs back to reality. Raila addressed powerful meetings in Serem, Kabujoi, Kaptomo, Nandi Hills and Lesos.
On the day Raila was in Lessos, Ruto and his team had been alarmed. They called a meeting at Kapkatet grounds. Raila was to go to Kapkatet a day after Ruto’s rally. He met a pocket of protesters saying he was not welcome. But in the end, the rally was a great success.
On the ground, the feeling of the people was that unlike other leaders, Raila was least likely to lead his community into taking more land from the Kalenjin and he would not allow others to do it. The MPs meeting in Nairobi were clearly not speaking for their supporters.
The die was cast in the Rift Valley. By the time Raila turned to Nairobi after this tour, it was clear the then MPs had lost ground to non-MPs, who are the current Members of Parliament. The ODM delegate’s conference was approaching fast to pick a presidential candidate.
To salvage the situation, the MP convinced Ruto to abandon campaigning for Kalonzo and declare himself a contender for ODM ticket once again. He did. But it was too late. At the conference in Kasarani, Ruto came in third, in a field of four candidates.
There is no denying that like in 2007, the people of Rift Valley have issues they want Mr Odinga to come clean on in the run up to 2012. In 2007, they wanted Mr Odinga to prove that he is electable. In 2012 they want him to come clean on the Mau, the ICC and the sharing of Cabinet posts.
History may not repeat itself, though often it does; and what happened once, can happen twice. Raila will explain himself on every issue the Rift Valley is raising. He never depended on Rift Valley MPs in 2007 but all the MPs who opposed him lost to the current ones.
(DENNIS ONYANGO is PM\’s Spokesman. The article is not sanctioned by the PM. The views expressed are not necessarily his.)