Blame game over Raila Odinga's 2022 presidential election loss

Azimio leader Raila Odinga. 

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group.

As Azimio la Umoja One Kenya leader Raila Odinga’s supporters come to terms with his presidential loss, blame games have ensued on how his campaigns and vote protection strategies were handled.

Some of the members of the Raila Odinga presidential secretariat, which was tasked with implementing strategic and key decisions, have come under sharp focus as Azimio devotees lick their wounds following the shock loss of the election to President William Ruto. Further still, some key lieutenants of Mr Odinga have pointed the finger at the coalition party’s top decision-making organ – The Council, chaired by former President Uhuru Kenyatta.

Following the former Prime Minister's defeat, bitter exchanges have dominated his camp. Some of the key figures who have suffered attacks, mainly on social media, are Suna East MP Junet Mohamed, who is also the Azimio secretary-general, former Mombasa governor Hassan Joho and Azimio Secretariat CEO Elizabeth Meyo.

Some have also laid blame on Mr Kenyatta, accusing him of being a “lame duck” and failing to secure victory for Mr Odinga, with some faulting the candidate’s daughter, Winnie Odinga, for allegedly bungling the campaign.

Mr Odinga, however, insisted that the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) did not conduct a free and fair election. He also argues that the Supreme Court judgment was not based on facts and law, even though they accepted it. “For these reasons, the outcome of the election remains indeterminate.”

Former Jubilee nominated MP Maina Kamanda believes Mr Kenyatta did little to salvage Mr Odinga’s sinking ship, with the Azimio flag-bearer virtually playing catch-up with his opponent – Dr Ruto.

But a close ally of Mr Odinga who did not wish to be named, defended the former President, saying he was “simply a victim of unfaithful lieutenants”.

“President Kenyatta did all he could, gave Raila the goodwill and even funded his campaigns, including giving cash for voter mobilisation in his Nyanza stronghold, but what did we witness? Nearly 700,000 registered voters who did not turn up to vote.”

The blame game has also not spared his presidential chief agent Saitabao ole Kanchory and head of ICT George Njoroge. A key figure in Mr Odinga’s secretariat has lamented that all members of the team were being accused.

“The term ‘secretariat’ has now become amorphous … all and sundry now stand accused. What then gets lost is why WSR (the President) was able to outmanoeuvre and outflank the system,” the official told the Nation. “The rigging and theft witnessed by those of us who spent Wednesday to Monday in Bomas was so comprehensive, yet it succeeded right under the eyes of ‘system’. The only plausible explanation is that part or parts of the system enabled it.”

The official, however, defended the team, saying it contributed a lot in enabling Mr Odinga to close the gap between him and Dr Ruto, despite the “fraud” that disadvantaged the Azimio flag-bearer.

He also questioned why the IEBC and Dr Ruto’s camp made lack of agents their defence, yet the commission is under obligation to ensure a free and fair election.

“We were tasked with building Jakom’s (Mr Odinga’s) publicity; the rallies; public statements; billboards; radio and TV ads etc. The results of this is what made the candidate close the gap between him and William.”

The official also confessed that Azimio lacked agents, largely in Mt Kenya and Rift Valley because of “open hostility and intimidation”.

“The truth is we were never ever going to have agents in Rift Valley and parts of Mt Kenya. This has been the norm since 2002 when even Narc couldn’t have agents in Kalenjin land; in the 2005 referendum, even the ‘YES’ side couldn’t have agents in Kalenjin land. In 2007’ PNU couldn’t have agents in Kalenjin land. Same trend in 2013 and 2017 when we (Cord/Nasa) were unable to place agents.”

But a barrage of accusations has been levelled against Mr Mohamed, Mr Joho and Ms Meyo, who have been faulted for failing to deploy enough agents across the country, in what the secretariat, however, said were “lies” and “borders on defamation”.

Mr Odinga, through his presidential campaign spokesperson, Prof Makau Mutua, said his team delivered on their mandate and should not be attacked for his presidential loss. The Azimio official said the election was mismanaged by the electoral agency, hence the issue of agent deployment does not hold much water. “For now, I want to address one particular issue that has been misunderstood and is being used maliciously. This is the matter of the recruitment and management of agents. The issue was managed by a dedicated and hardworking team. Our view is that the staff did a largely successful job in a challenging environment.

“...the issue of agents was not the cause of a bungled election. We must appreciate that it is not the responsibility of candidates to protect the vote, or conduct a free and fair election. That constitutional duty lies squarely with the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission working in concert with relevant institutions. No one should blame Azimio or our candidates for stolen votes or a fatally flawed election," said Prof Mutua in a statement.

He added that at no point did the Suna East lawmaker handle funds meant for agents as he was with Mr Odinga on the campaign trail throughout. “We have seen shameful and disgusting attacks on some members of our campaign on the question of agents. Defamatory and obviously false allegations of the misappropriation of campaign funds are flying on social media. Specifically, I have seen scurrilous attacks on Junet Mohamed, accusing him of misappropriating funds meant for agents.

“Let me state without equivocation that Mr Mohamed was a campaign lead in the field supporting Raila Odinga. He, at no time, handled funds meant for agents. Nor did he have anything whatsoever to do with the management of agents," said Prof Mutua.

“Those attacking in such brazen and false propaganda must cease and desist forthwith. We acknowledge there is disappointment about how the election was conducted by the IEBC and with the decision of the Supreme Court, but malicious allegations against Mr Mohamed and any of the secretariat staff, including CEO Elizabeth Meyo, who worked so hard and selflessly, should be beneath the dignity of every person. Let us get back to the business of protecting our democracy.”

Activist Boniface Mwangi, an ally of Mr Odinga’s running mate Martha Karua, who was a volunteer in the campaigns, said Azimio had too many self-important people doing no work. “It had sycophants, the presidential candidate’s family, and incompetent people in critical roles. They behaved as if we had won and failed to carry out their assigned roles diligently. They trashed feedback, ignored messages, and never returned calls. The Kenya Kwanza team capitalised on our hubris, organised better, worked harder, and got the controversial win,” Mr Mwangi argued.

Azimio's overconfidence and grossly underestimating its opponent, he argued, cost it the presidential election. “We failed to do the hard work of strategising, organising, and mobilising our base to come out and vote, especially in our strongholds. We failed to protect our agents from the temptation of easy bribes from our opponents. We allowed them to be compromised at the polling stations. We also failed to protect our votes because we had too much faith that the IEBC would conduct a credible, free and fair election.”

Another Azimio official told the Nation that it was not easy to deal with “an opponent who had the support of the electoral body”.

“The challenge we have is when the referee conspires with opposing team to fix a match and then expects you to confront them with the evidence that they know you can’t access,” he said. “Even with a bungled election because of compromised institutions, we did extremely well, and ought to be very proud of our supporters and Kenyans who campaigned across the land and those who voted for us.”

Prof Mutua yesterday said: “Now more than ever, the work of protecting and deepening our democracy must be sustained and heightened. In particular, we must work to clean up and transform institutions that are tasked with safeguarding our democracy. We will be saying more about this in the near future.”

Big egos

 However, lawyer Donald Kipkorir insists that Azimio volunteers who would have performed a sterling job were not given the opportunity to do so. “Truth be said, Azimio was a hotchpotch of big egos, buccaneers, opportunists and pickpockets that built a bubble around Baba (Odinga). Volunteers weren’t called even one day to the secretariat. We never asked for any money nor given any,” tweeted Mr Kipkorir, an ally of Mr Odinga.

The ODM primaries, particularly in Mr Odinga’s Nyanza backyard, have also been said to have had a bearing on the poor turnout in the region. “While Dr Ruto united opponents who had faced off in primaries, Azimio, and particularly in Nyanza, went ahead to attack its own members who were running on coalition tickets outside ODM. This led to voter apathy,” said former Alego Usonga MP Omondi Mulwan, who ran on a Dap-K ticket in the August 9 General Election.

Mr Mulwan lamented that whereas they were all mobilising votes for the presidential candidate, most of them were attacked and fear was sold to their supporters. Former Rarieda MP Nicholas Gumbo, who contested the Siaya governor seat on a United Democratic Movement (UDM) ticket, had his vehicles pelted with stones when he attempted to attend Mr Odinga’s rally in Bondo in the run-up to the August polls. His allies believe such attacks had a negative bearing on the voter turnout.