BY NGUNJIRI WAMBUGU
Raila Odinga is most probably the only politician in the world who has lost three presidential elections, including two where he was one of the two strongest candidates, and continued uninterruptedly as the most influential politician after whoever defeated him.
One just needs to consider the fate of Morgan Tsvangirai; former Prime Minister in Zimbabwe’s Coalition government; or Laurent Gbagbo in Côte d’Ivoire; to understand how amazing that feat is. The man actually seems to grow stronger after every loss!
The first reason why Raila is so good at moving on after each election loss is that he has learnt how to fall, and then pick himself, forward. Unlike most people believe, Raila seems to always have a fall-back plan which ensures that even a loss moves him beyond his current status. In 2007 Kenya had to amend the constitution to make this a reality.
Post-2013 he has successfully leveraged the new constitution’s devolution structure to present the picture that despite losing the Presidency he is the de facto political leader of 24 of 47 Counties; including the capital city and the second largest commercial county. (I actually suspect his frustration with Nairobi Governor Evans Kidero is because the Governor refuses to put the expansive Nairobi County political machinery at the former PM’s disposal as seems to happen in other CORD-led Counties).
Secondly, Raila always takes control of the narrative of why he lost each election; or more accurately, why he did not lose it. For example Raila continues to insist against all available evidence, and with no contrary evidence himself, that his 2007 victory was stolen.
Despite all odds he has managed to sell this narrative, again, about the 2013 elections; to the point many people locally and internationally speak of a Uhuru Kenyatta’s ‘slight majority’ win despite the fact that Uhuru was ahead of Raila by over 800,000 votes!
This ability to effectively manage post-loss narratives is extremely important in keeping Raila’s political strongholds intact. When a Raila diehard hears ‘Baba’ say ‘Do not give up on supporting me; we did not lose the elections; these thieves stole our victory; but we have learnt; we will not allow them to steal our victory again’ he buckles down for the long haul, does not move on past that election, and does not consider the government in power legitimate; all to Raila’s benefit. This powerful narrative also ensures that no one else challenges Raila’s political supremacy in his strongholds.
The other main reason why Raila does not fade away after losing elections is that how he rides the victim-hood narrative, in between elections. My good friend Professor Peter Kagwanja calls it ‘wedge politics’; a ‘wedge’ being a narrative that separates one part of Kenya from another. Raila used the anti-Kikuyu victimhood narrative to build momentum towards the 2007 general elections.
Against all odds he managed to keep it on track post-2007 election as he needed to keep his strongholds from integrating with Kibaki’s strongholds in preparation for the 2013 elections. Today, as Professor Kagwanja explained very well on his Sunday column, Raila is preying on mutual ethnic animosity, social grievances like insecurity and poverty as well as the complexities of the war on terror; to wedge Kenya’s socio-political divisions even wider, in preparation for the 2017 elections.
This is the man the Jubilee coalition is up against and sometimes I honestly wonder whether they understand him at all. For example when Raila ignites calls for ‘National Dialogue’ countrywide, do they understand that all he wants is a national platform on which to re-engineer himself? When they respond to him, whether in support or against the idea, do they understand they are simply legitimizing him politically to his base? Do they also understand that if they do not take away this ‘national dialogue’ conversation from the former Prime Minister, he will use it to force them to keep legitimizing their administration to Kenyans, until the 2017 elections; and to ensure that this government and most of Kenya, do nothing else in between?
This is why I insist Jubilee must learn to govern politically.
For example, why not work with Governors to host ‘National Dialogue’ forums in each County, on 7th July 2014? First, all our problems, even those being called ‘national’, are local; and some having a different context in different counties so the issues raised at this level will be more legitimate and genuine; and less about political brinkmanship.
Two, everyone comes from a certain County so counties offer the best platform for all stake-holders to be represented; even Uhuru and Ruto can go to their counties for this. Three; each county can summarize its concerns and then present them at THE national dialogue forum, later. Jubilee also needs politicians with the capacity to engage CORD toe to toe; and it cannot be done by the President or his Deputy.
Maybe this why Moses Kuria needs to be the next MP for Gatundu South.
(Wambugu is the Executive Director, Change Associates Trust)