We’re staring at another 2007 post-poll scenario

Former Prime Minister Raila Odinga shake hands with Deputy President William Ruto at Uhuru Gardens.

Former Prime Minister Raila Odinga shake hands with Deputy President William Ruto at Uhuru Gardens during the Madaraka Day celebrations in Nairobi on June 1, 2022.

Photo credit: Sila Kiplagat | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Kenya is staring at the perilous 2007 scenario: A presidential victory without numbers in Parliament.
  • If Ruto wins an unassailable majority in Parliament, nothing will prevent him from decrying the theft of his victory by Odinga’s Azimio and the so-called “Deep State”!
  • Sharing of power to enable an incumbent who falls short of the required absolute majority in Parliament to govern has become the norm rather than the exception.

The 2007 scenario looms large in the minds of Kenyans.

Billed by experts as “one of the most consequential events in Africa in 2022”, the August 9 General Election is, undoubtedly, a two-horse race between former Prime Minister Raila Amolo Odinga (Azimio la Umoja One Kenya coalition party) and Deputy President William Samoei Ruto (Kenya Kwanza).

Poised to shape the outcomes of the election is a new class politics framed as hustlers (poor) versus dynasties (rich) that have replaced ethnic politics.

Together with the devastating economic effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine war, this new political dynamic has given rise to an unsettling economic populism that targets the “bottom billion”.

This ideological shift is coupled with a wind of change in public opinion that favours the election of a president who is neither a Kikuyu nor a Kalenjin, the two communities that have produced all four former presidents.

While a potential victory of Odinga would be a radical departure from this trend, it throws up four discernible election outcome scenarios.

The first scenario is Odinga’s resounding victory in the presidential race.

Cynics say that incumbents or those supported by them in Africa seldom lose elections.

But Odinga has recently emerged as a front-runner for more reasons than President Uhuru Kenyatta’s backing.

Since the alliance with his deputy turned frosty, President Kenyatta has maintained that the next president will be “neither Kikuyu nor Kalenjin”.

Against this backdrop, on December 10, 2021, Odinga declared his intention to run for the presidency and unveiled his Azimio coalition as the vehicle for his fifth shot at Kenya’s highest office.

In the same month, the Mount Kenya Foundation, one of the country’s most influential and wealthy lobbies from the Mountain region, threw its lot behind Odinga. 

Game changer

Odinga’s star rose meteorically after March 12, 2022, when President Kenyatta’s ruling Jubilee Party, together with 26 other political parties, among them the Wiper Democratic Movement (Wiper) and Kanu, joined Azimio and endorsed Odinga as its presidential flag-bearer. Kenyatta publicly endorsed Odinga for the presidency.

But it is the choice of running mate that became the game-changer in the 2022 contest.

Perhaps imprudently, on May 15, 2022, Kenya Kwanza picked Rigathi Gachagua, a political greenhorn on the national stage, as Ruto’s running mate, blunting his earlier edge, particularly in Mount Kenya.

Conversely, the next day, Azimio settled for Martha Karua as Odinga’s running mate, increasing the support base among women voters and in the vote-rich region. 

Truth be told, Odinga’s vote tally had steadily grown over the years even without the mountain region’s support.

Over the past four presidential bids, Odinga’s vote nationally rose from 10.79 per cent in 1997 to 44.07 per cent in 2007 to 43.7 per cent in 2013 and finally to 44.94 per cent by 2017.

Thus, with even less than 10 per cent of support from Mount Kenya, his numbers will hit the magical 50-plus-one mark!

And if Karua receives a massive boost to finish the race in style in the remaining weeks, Azimio can approach the 62.2 per cent Mwai Kibaki and Narc garnered in 2002.

Researchers and sections of social media are putting Odinga way ahead of the pack with 51 per cent against Ruto’s 39 per cent and George Wajackoyah’s seven per cent.

Hook, line and sinker 

I predict that Odinga will reach between 58 per cent and 60 per cent in the remaining weeks.

However, since June 30, UDA strategists have successfully lured President Kenyatta into a fight in a pigsty, tactically turning elections in Mount Kenya into a contest between him and Ruto.

By entering into a war of words with his deputy, the President seems to be swallowing the UDA bait, line, hook and sinker!

The second scenario is that Ruto will win the race for Kenya’s Parliament, both Senate and the National Assembly.

Azimio is facing a real risk of missing the absolute majority it badly needs to govern.

Having been on the campaign trail since 2018, UDA’s candidates are battle-hardened.

The party cared to organise nationwide party nominations, enabling it to choose candidates with a competitive edge. 

Inversely, Jubilee nominations were marred by corruption, nepotism, mediocrity and sheer folly.

An incipient intra- ethnic rivalry within Mount Kenya has wiped Jubilee out of Mount Kenya East (Meru, Embu and Tharaka- Nithi) even as UDA entrenches its hegemony in Mount Kenya West (Central Kenya counties).

Predictably, Ruto will retain much of Jubilee’s 2013 and 2017 parliamentary majority while the seats it is unlikely to get will be shared between Jubilee, fringe parties and independent candidates.

Arising from the two foregoing scenarios, it is déjà vu all over again.

Kenya is staring at the perilous 2007 scenario: A presidential victory without numbers in Parliament.

In December 2007, President Kibaki won the presidency in a disputed election but his Party of National Unity (PNU) garnered a measly 43 seats.

Even though 70 individual MPs and those from loosely affiliated parties backed Kibaki, ODM, which had a solid bloc of 99 seats, claimed that PNU stole its victory.

Sharing power became inevitable. Similarly, if Ruto wins an unassailable majority in Parliament, nothing will prevent him from decrying the theft of his victory by Odinga’s Azimio and the so-called “Deep State”!

A safer variant of this is Azimio’s razor-thin victory in the House, resulting in a hung parliament where no party has an absolute majority.

Sharing of power to enable an incumbent who falls short of the required absolute majority in Parliament to govern has become the norm rather than the exception.

It is no longer a secret that the Uhuru-Raila handshake in March 2018 was meant to enable President Kenyatta, whose Jubilee Party MPs had leaned towards Ruto, to govern with the support of Odinga’s legislators!

So, as I earlier posed in this column: ‘Can Kenya escape a Raila-Ruto handshake after polls?’. 

These scenarios should be a wake-up call for Mount Kenya voters, who go to the coming election badly divided and unable to vote in one basket.

Any post-election power deal with Ruto to enable Raila to govern will drive the region to the margins of national power.

Prof Kagwanja is a former Government Adviser, currently the Chief Executive of Africa Policy Institute and Adjunct Scholar at the University of Nairobi and National Defence University (NDU) Kenya.

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