Anxiety as Raila Odinga takes ‘resistance’ rally to Nairobi CBD

Raila leads protest rally at Jeevanjee

What you need to know:

  • Even though the meeting at Jevanjee Gardens has been touted as a ‘prayer rally,’ Nation.Africa has established that Mr Odinga will use it to set the stage for a major push for an overhaul of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), protests over the high cost of living and “inadequate measures by the government to address the drought in the country".

Azimio coalition leader Raila Odinga is set to hold a rally against President William Ruto’s administration in Nairobi's Central Business District (CBD) on Wednesday, with tirade against the electoral agency and the high cost of living expected to take centre stage.

Even though the meeting at Jevanjee Gardens has been touted as a prayer rally, Nation.Africa has established that Mr Odinga will use it to set the stage for a major push for an overhaul of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), protests over the high cost of living and “inadequate measures by the government to address the drought in the country".

Mr Odinga, who initially announced that the prayers would take place at IEBC's offices at Anniversary Towers, is demanding that the entire infrastructure and records of the 2022 election be made public, and that all stakeholders get involved in the reconstitution of the body.

“It will be a major interdenominational prayer rally involving all faiths. Anybody who thinks he has faith anywhere is invited to the meeting [sic],” Mr Junet Mohammed, secretary-general of the Azimio La Umoja-One Kenya Coalition told Nation.Africa.

The coalition is expected to turn the heat on IEBC chief executive Marjan Hussein Marjan in the coming weeks, following the exit of chairman Wafula Chebukati and commissioners Abdi Guliye and Boya Molu.

Mr Odinga believes the three, together with Mr Marjan and other members of the IEBC secretariat, were responsible for the “rigging of the August 9, 2022 elections.”

raila gusii rally

Former premier Raila Odinga arrives at a public rally at Gusii Stadium in Kisii County on February 17, 2023. P

Photo credit: Ondari Ogega | Nation Media Group

'Nothing new'

The ODM leaders’ fresh onslaught against the commission rekindles memories of his protests in the past, which were met by heavy police resistance.

The catfights pitting Mr Odinga against the electoral agency are not new, with insiders at the IEBC implying they could have played out against him in the past elections, including the one held in 2022.

Mr Odinga, who unsuccessfully ran for the country’s top seat for the fifth time last year, has not had a rosy relationship with the commission since the 2013 polls.

In the run up to last year’s polls, the politician, backed by former president Uhuru Kenyatta, unsuccessfully attempted to kick out Mr Chebukati's team through the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) constitutional amendment Bill.

Referring to the BBI, which was halted by the courts for being unconstitutional, Mr Guliye suggested the commission’s acrimony with the proponents of the initiative, even as he appeared to celebrate its failure.

He said that together with former chairman Mr Chebukati and Mr Molu, they weathered many storms at the commission in their six-year stint, including attempts by Mr Odinga’s team to eject them from the agency.

“You all remember the irreducible minimums. I was number one on the list of the people to go,” Prof Guliye said.

He was referring to anti-IEBC protests by Mr Odinga's National Super Alliance (Nasa), following the disputed August 8, 2017 presidential election, and his subsequent withdrawal from the repeat October 26, 2017 presidential election on the claim that the commission lacked merit to organise a credible poll.

Prof Guliye also celebrated that attempts to clear the entire commission through the BBI flopped.

“You also recall the clean slate slogan in the BBI – meaning clearing the entire IEBC commission. Of course it didn’t come to pass,” Prof Guliye jibed.

It remains unclear whether Mr Odinga’s fresh attack will bear fruits.

raila gusii rally

Attendees at an Azimio public rally at Gusii Stadium in Kisii County on February 17, 2023.

Photo credit: Ondari Ogega | Nation Media Group

Had the BBI been successful, the IEBC would have undergone radical changes in its management structure.

Among the key recommendations was the recruitment of a new chairperson, new commissioners and a freshly vetted secretariat ahead of the 2022 General Election.

“The taskforce recommends that we go to the next election with a clean slate to strengthen faith in the IEBC,” the BBI proponents said then.

Mr Molu also weighed in on Prof Guliye’s assertions, noting that he was also a candidate for sacking from the commission, having been “number two in the irreducible minimums” by Mr Odinga.

“I also thank God that we have made it to the end of our six-year journey. For the entire period, removal from office always hung over our heads, but with the grace of God we have made it to this moment. We are thankful that despite all the pressure, we all remain healthy. None of us has ever been admitted to hospital even for a day,” Mr Molu said.

Mr Chebukati said as a commission, they faced difficult moments.

“I could not falter on our oath of office. We had a duty to this country - to start preparing for the 2022 General Election. Secondly, we had a responsibility to ensure preservation of the commission with its long tested experience in election management. We had created a large body of technical competence and practical knowledge that drives the preparation and conduct of elections,” he said.

Forced resignation

The reflection by the former commissioners mirrors an earlier onslaught by Mr Odinga in 2016.

Following what he termed a bungled 2013 presidential election, Mr Odinga set his sights on the nine-member IEBC team which took office in 2011, led by then chairman Isaack Hassan.

The entire commission was forced to resign in 2016 following massive anti-IEBC protests spearheaded by Mr Odinga and his then Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (Cord) team, paving way for Mr Chebukati’s team.

Mr Issack Hassan’s team included Lilian Mahiri-Zaja (vice-chairperson), Yusuf Nzibo, Albert Bwire, Kule Galma Godana, Abdullahi Sharawe, Mohamed Alawi Hassan, Muthoni Wangai and Thomas Letangule.

Mr Bwire says “we offered to resign to stop the continued trend of mass action that led to loss of lives, an economic downturn and sabotage".

The details he says, are in the Joint Parliamentary Committee report dated August 16, 2016.

In the run up to last year’s election, Mr Odinga was hard on the commission, at one time threatening “there will be no election without a manual register as a backup.”

At one time ahead of the 2022 polls, the Azimio boss demanded that the commission furnish his party with a certified copy of the register of voters, a list of all polling stations, the geo-reference for each polling station, the design, essential features and security attributes of ballot papers, and the election results declaration forms.

Mr Odinga’s camp also raised concerns over “ethnic imbalance” in the deployment of returning officers, noting that at least 10 county returning officers, out of the 47, hailed from one ethnic community, while 100 of them at the constituency level also originated from the same ethnic group.

Prof Makau Mutua, Mr Odinga’s spokesperson, while quoting the Constitution, said it “dictates the principal of inclusivity in public job opportunities".

However, President William Ruto, Mr Odinga’s main opponent in last year’s polls, who seemed to enjoy a good relationship with the commission, owing to his numerous defenses against Mr Chebukati, stated that his team had no problem with any Kenyan serving in any capacity so long as the recruitment was competitive and they had the requisite skills and competences.

“If our competitors have a problem with certain Kenyans, who come from certain communities, you can work that out with them. We’ve no problem if they’re replaced. We want every Kenyan given a chance and the measure should not be ethnicity but competence,” Dr Ruto said during a joint presidential candidates consultative meeting with the IEBC in July last year.

Dr Ruto had also, on many occasions, defended the commission against the arrest of three Venezuelan nationals - Jose Camargo, Joel Gustavo and Salvador Javier Sosa - at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA), for allegedly having IEBC election materials, signifying his positive relationship with the commission.

As Mr Odinga took a hardline stance against IEBC, it was clear Dr Ruto had a general soft spot for the commission.

Azimio la Umoja leader Raila Odinga

Azimio la Umoja leader Raila Odinga at Fagilia grounds in Utawala, Nairobi, on December 4, 2022 where he called on Kenyans to come out in large numbers for a December 7 rally at Kamukunji grounds.

Photo credit: Evans Habil | Nation Media Group

Long battle

Mr Odinga’s feud with the electoral body dates back to 1997 when he first made his first stab at the presidency, securing 665,725 votes.

He finished third after Daniel Arap Moi who emerged victorious with 2,445,801 votes and the late former presidents Mwai Kibaki, who got 1,895,527 votes.

Just moments before the declaration of the results by the defunct Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK), Mr Odinga convened a press conference, where he flatly “rejected” them.

“In light of the foregoing and other overwhelming evidence available, that Moi has desperately manipulated the electoral commission to rig the election in his favour in order to declare himself the president, we categorically reject the provisional results of the presidential elections,” he said then.

"We therefore demand that the presidential elections be repeated within 21 days to give Kenyans a chance to elect a president of their choice."

This trendd would emerge nearly three decades later, with a rejection of the presidential results during his fifth attempt to become presient.

Mr Odinga said the figures announced by Mr Chebukati on August 15, 2022 were null and void.

raila cord rally

The then Cord leader Raila Odinga enters his vehicle after police officers lobbed tear gas cannisters to disperse protesters outside IEBC's Anniversary Towers offices in Nairobi on May 16, 2016.

Photo credit: Evans Habil | Nation Media Group

“In our view, there is neither a legally and validly declared winner nor a president-elect. Mr Chebukati’s announcement purporting to announce a winner is a nullity," he said on August 16 last year, a day after the IEBC declared Dr Ruto president-elect.

“He acted with gross impunity and in total disregard of the Constitution and our laws. Azimio rejects the presidential results announced by Mr Chebukati."

But Dr Ruto, in his 256-page affidavit sworn in response to Mr Odinga’s Supreme Court petition,  dismissed the claim, saying the ODM leader is known to “dispute all presidential election outcomes so as to force a handshake that results to a coalition government.”

“The first common feature, that underlies Odinga’s thirty-year pattern of strikingly similar acts after every presidential election, is a disingenuous disputation of presidential election results as a means of forcing the winner to share power through unconventional and extra-constitutional government arrangements, popularly known as 'handshake',” Dr Ruto said.

Mr Odinga’s camp has claimed victory in last year’s poll, alleging he garnered 8,170,353 votes (57.3 percent) against Dr Ruto’s 5,915,973 (41,66 percent).

This reflects a major variation from what the IEBC declared, which put Dr Ruto ahead of Mr Odinga with 7,176,141 votes (50.49 percent) against 6,942,940 (48.85 percent).

Mr Odinga’s outfit now insists the results declared by Mr Chebukati did not reflect the will of the people and promises to give its supporters direction on the matter.

Already, President Ruto has declared six vacancies at the IEBC. In a Gazette notice last Week, he declared the position of the electoral body’s chairperson and five commissioners vacant, which now paves way for their recruitment.