ODM supremo Raila Odinga has let out just how seriously he is taking Musalia Mudavadi’s threat to his presidential ambitions by publicly pledging to support the latter if he won the race.
His conciliatory speech to a funeral gathering in Western on Saturday came as further evidence that, with only five months to the General Election, Mudavadi has emerged as Raila’s waking nightmare in the race for the presidency.
That Raila considers Mudavadi a big threat to his presidential bid has been apparent ever since the former ODM comrades parted ways in April. What is new on the map is just how serious this threat is deemed to be, and the extent to which the Raila political machine is prepared to go to clip the Sabatia legislator’s wings.
Raila’s statement was possibly the first time a senior ODM figure has admitted to the Mudavadi threat and was a departure from the party’s public dismissals of the UDF candidate as a small factor.
Privately, however, much thought and planning has gone into countering Mudavadi.
The ODM strategy, revealed by insiders last week, revolves around two key planks: Weakening the United Democratic Front candidate in his Western Kenya home base, and encouraging Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta to go the whole hog in the presidential race.
It is particularly interesting how, and why, the Raila machine is encouraging Uhuru to run.
It all started with doctored opinion polls showing that a run-off between the ODM candidate and Uhuru would result in an almost equal share of votes while a run-off against Mudavadi would tilt the results in Raila’s favour.
The truth of the matter, which has been confirmed by privately-conducted opinion polls for both ODM and TNA – the former recently commissioned a poll with a sample size of a whopping 47,000 respondents – is that Raila would easily beat Uhuru in a runoff while there is no possibility he can win against Mudavadi.
Raila’s strategy against Uhuru in a run-off, summarised in political circles as the “41 against 1 Plan”, and revolves around galvanizing all of Kenya against Uhuru on the basis that it is untenable for a Kikuyu to succeed another. It is indeed very easy to whip up this mantra, even in the short time between the elections and the runoff.
On the other hand, a widely known fact variously confirmed by every opinion poll and national intelligence report, is that Mudavadi is the one candidate most widely accepted across Kenya. If the Kamba cannot have Kalonzo, then they would rather have MM, as he is commonly called. If the Kikuyu cannot have Uhuru, they can live with MM. The same goes for the Kalenjin, the Taita, the Meru and everyone else. Indeed, a recent Synovate research showed Mudavadi coming a strong second in virtually all regions, including Central, Eastern and Rift Valley, other than Western, where he was the leading candidate.
And this is the reality that is giving the Raila team sleepless nights.
The first hurdle towards having Uhuru on the ballot comes from The Hague, that small town in the Netherlands where the TNA leader, along with William Ruto, Francis Muthaura and Joshua Sang, will be tried over the Post Election Violence of 2008. Will Kenya’s increasingly activist courts allow him to run while facing these serious criminal charges?
Strategists at the Friends of Raila lobby group think there is a window of hope provided by Section 93 of the constitution which states that “A person is not disqualified (from contesting) under (2) unless all possibility of appeal or review of the relevant sentence or discussion has been exhausted.”
This, they argue, gives some hope against the stringent demands of Chapter 6, the Leadership and Integrity chapter that many thought could be used to keep Uhuru from the ballot.
The Raila plan has also resulted in the flooding of the Western region with Cabinet positions in a bid to strengthen the anti-MM frontline troops, but this has not been without its own problems.
Although the recent appointments saw the number and profile of Luhya ministers increase, many people were peeved that the Banyala community got the bulk of the seats. Alfred Khang’ati and Ababu Namwamba are Banyala, as is Minister Fred Gumo.
Why were Alfred Sambu and Sospeter Ojaamong overlooked?
A major plank in Raila’s Western Kenya strategy lies in Busia, where he starts with a slight advantage considering that more than 10 percent of the population comprises Luos. That easily explains Namwamba and Otuoma’s good fortunes. They are both from Busia.
Then enters presidential aspirant Cyrus Jirongo. In an obvious throwback to the famous Moi tactics of splitting the enemy lines, Raila went ahead and sponsored Jirongo’s presidential bid, and did not even pretend he wasn’t involved. The launch, attended by key allies such as Namwamba, is intended to crowd the space for Mudavadi to weaken his home base. Raila is also understood to have sponsored Charity Ngilu’s candidature in a bid to weaken Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka in Ukambani.
Not surprisingly, whereas Mudavadi had to vacate his Local Government portfolio when he declared his candidature, Ngilu does not have to do the same. No one in ODM is asking her to do so.
Jirongo’s bid appears to have fallen flat and has had absolutely no effect in the Western Kenya politics.
Raila’s challenge in this election is unique. Whereas in the past he has played the reformer card, pegged around the quest for a new constitution, that is no longer a valid card since the new laws are now with us. So what is his compelling agenda this time round?
For other contenders particularly Uhuru and Ruto, this election is about only one issue: the ICC. They would like the voting to be divided along the lines of who wants the four PEV suspects hanged in Europe, and who is willing to put up a fight for them.
The battle lines are clear here. While Raila has stated several times that the four would be behind bars if it were up to him, Kalonzo has been equally unequivocal in his campaign for the four not to go to the Hague, even though many have doubted his real intentions.
Indeed, Kalonzo’s willingness to fight the Hague monster partly explains why Ruto appears to give him his time of day.
There were reports last week that the two, along with APK’s Kiraitu Murungi, who is fed up with Uhuru’s increasingly overconfident and often arrogant stance, were about to agree to a pre-election pact.
The Raila brigade is not particularly worried about Kalonzo, even with Ruto and Kiraitu on his side: He is considered to be the wimp of Kenya political class and unlikely to reach the run-off stage.
On the other hand Mudavadi’s statements during his recent US tour in response to reporters’ questions clearly defined his position on the issue.
In his clearest stand yet on the Hague trials he said:
“We killed each other in 2008. Women were raped; children were molested. It would be cowardly to wish this away. We must accept responsibility collectively. The nation is guilty. To prosecute four people for the sins of 40 million people is therefore preposterous. The four carry our national shame, but they must not carry our national guilt. We must all own up.”
Political observers see the race for the presidency taking a more definite shape in the next one month or so as the flurry of defections and realignments is concluded. Raila’s claims that this is going to be a two-horse race, between him and Uhuru, is seen by observers as another effort to discourage Mudavadi and cheer Uhuru on.
Whether this strategy works or not remains to be seen.