Raila’s surprise call for poll loss audit and the folly of banking on illusory vote blocs

Raila Odinga.

 Azimio la Umoja One Kenya coalition leader Raila Odinga. 

Photo credit: Lucy Wanjiru | Nation Media Group

Earlier in the week, one of the most significant developments in our political landscape was reported. Tucked away in the Daily Nation’s intestines was the headline ‘Raila Odinga orders probe into how he lost 2022 election’. Under it was reported that Odinga indeed commissioned an audit of his campaign’s performance in the last poll, whose mandate extends to identifying such of Odinga’s own and his campaign’s vulnerabilities as may have led to his record-breaking fifth loss in as many presidential contests.

Why is this significant? It is the first time that Odinga has been so straightforward in confronting a defeat. Secondly, his communication entails the implicit admission of defeat, an unprecedented concession. Thirdly, Odinga has expressed intention to proceed beyond this uncharted terrain and explore the extent of his campaign’s responsibility for his woeful fortunes.

The scope of this radical development is vast. Odinga, and therefore his political ecosystem in its entirety, is abandoning an entitled stance that considers his electoral victory inevitable, and defeat an unseemly eventuality precipitated by nefarious machinations of his inevitably unworthy adversaries.

Righteous indignation

This psychology of inevitability, always complemented by the incongruous ideology of grievance in the face of defeat, constitute the principal means by which Odinga has sustained his politics of righteous indignation and deftly used it to delegitimise his hapless rivals through the simultaneous deployment of ‘mapambano’ and ‘nusu mkate’ strategies.

At the heart of this strategic mindset is entitlement, and the perspective that the voter preferences of his constituency are foregone, wholly subject to his unilateral choice and autocratic enforcement. Odinga’s absolute rights in this matter are reflected in his coalitional dynamics, which comprise the fabrication of electoral special purpose vehicles, to control, for a limited duration, pre-aggregated voter choices.

By this perspective, constituencies, inevitably reduced to crude ethnic categories, are arrayed as votes in a budget, and accounted by Odinga’s tribal subalterns. As soon as ethno-regional associates align with Odinga, the tribal vote is declared and putatively secreted in the political equivalent of an escrow account operated in the name of the joint venture to await the occurence of a specific event: a general election. This is precisely how Odinga’s coalitions are configured, from the 2007 Pentagon to its most spectacular iteration, the 2022 Azimio la Umoja.

A rival campaign where voters retain full control of their choice throughout political engagement, and where discourse entails issue-based reasoning and bottom-up agenda-setting on the voter’s terms, was bound to confound Odinga’s plutocratic and top-down proposition. Ultimately, the choice in the last election was between the collective formulation of a platform to articulate citizen aspirations through truly representative leadership on one hand, and the brazenly ethnocentric, fundamentally inegalitarian agenda of chiefly rule, which Odinga’s Azimio championed.

Condescending effusions

Azimio’s entitlement was expressed through deployment of implacable force as well as the smug avocations of inevitability, like “Nobody can stop reggae”, “Wapende wasipende”, “Kama si sasa, ni sasa hivi”, and other presumptive and condescending effusions.

For reasons which utterly escape analysis, there is no evidence that Odinga’s campaign ever seriously considered the question of whether the assumed ethno-regional aggregations would translate in fact into actual votes on election day. It seems fair to conclude that such inquiry would reasonably fall among strategic precautions of the most elementary type.

To the extent that this sort of appropriately skeptical interrogation of Azimio’s philosophy was not undertaken, we must conclude that Azimio, as a political joint venture, was entirely premised on defective considerations, and its vote escrow account accordingly ill-conceived and operated on disastrously illusory mandates. This explains the phenomenon of Azimio’s proudly vouchsafed and arrogantly flaunted pre-aggregated ‘votes’ which nevertheless failed to materialise at the ballot.

A fool’s errand

We may, therefore, conclude without much controversy, that insofar as Azimio was a fool’s errand, this outrageous figment was the fundamental strategic component around which Odinga’s campaign was formulated. Not only is it a miserable lie, such fraudulent propositions are unequivocally inimical to the whole concept of representative democracy.

For a while now, the body language in Azimio suggests that other participants remain disproportionately invested in the possibility of mapambano and associated grievance politics. These participants represent the diabolical moral hazard at the heart of the Azimio campaign. Their experience of Azimio’s loss differs in significant ways from Odinga’s. It is now clear that their conception of opportunity for political mobilisation runs diametrically to Odinga’s urgent quest for accountability as the first order of business.

In calling for the audit, Odinga initiated a sequence of resolute steps leading inexorably to the altar of atonement, where repentance and, therefore, the unconditional confession of responsibility, is a fundamental precondition. This unprecedented move is a tremendously radical departure that catches his confreres – who remain committed to unctuous professions of devotion – off-guard and exposes them as toxic accomplices and enablers of a dangerous deception.

Mr Ng’eno is an advocate of the High Court .