How Raila lost: Why Odinga’s fifth stab at the presidency flopped

Raila Odinga

Azimio la Umoja One Kenya presidential candidate Raila Odinga with his running mate Martha Karua during their final rally at Kasarani stadium on August 6.

Photo credit: Francis Nderitu | Nation Media Group

Failure by former President Uhuru Kenyatta and Narc Kenya leader Martha Karua to deliver sufficient votes in Mt Kenya and President William Ruto’s inroads in Western are among the reasons why Raila Odinga lost the presidency.

Matters were compounded by the strange turnaround that saw the veteran opposition leader lose his traditional base by running as the establishment candidate, while Dr Ruto disowned Jubilee government failures and successfully cast himself as the change champion and voice of the marginalised.

Mr Odinga’s fifth stab at the presidency was also jeopardised by failure to have agents in certain zones, a situation an official in his campaign team blamed on last minute interference with arrangements to deploy agents across the over 46, 000 polling stations.

There was also lack of coordination among the campaign teams—the board chaired by former Laikipia Governor Ndiritu Muriithi and the secretariat headed by Elizabeth Meyo.

Mr Muriithi’s team had governors Anyang’ Nyong’o (Kisumu) and Charity Ngilu (Kitui) and professors Peter Wanyande, Makau Mutua and Karuti Kanyinga.

Others were business mogul Samuel Macharia, former Nyeri Woman Rep Priscilla Nyokabi, Seth Kakusye, Betty Montet, Kanchory Saitaboi and veteran journalist Ben Agina.

Their task was to draft strategies and a manifesto and forward them to Ms Meyo’s team, which included former Jubilee secretary-general Raphael Tuju, Prof Mutua and journalist Dennis Onsarigo, who were charged with executing the plans developed by the board.

Wait-and-see attitude

Some leaders felt that their opinions were not considered and chose a wait-and-see attitude, with a member of Mr Odinga’s family accused of dictating to the strategists.

Sources told the Nation yesterday that the lack of coordination between the two campaign teams resulted in Mr Odinga’s loss.

Some Mt Kenya leaders also cost Mr Odinga the presidency after they refused to campaign for him in his absence. In April, for example, former Meru Governor Kiraitu Murungi, whose Devolution Empowerment Party was in the Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition, told locals that they could elect whoever they wanted for President.

“Vote for whoever you want for President, then vote me as governor. Whoever you [elect] President will allocate me money to develop Meru. If Ruto wins, he will give me money and if it is Raila, he will give me money ...,” he said.

A majority of elected leaders were so immersed in their re-election campaigns that depending on them too much hurt Mr Odinga’s State House quest, argued Kanu secretary-general Nick Salat.

“The current crop of leaders... treat their support for any candidate with a pinch of salt because they will never in any way come out clear and give 100 per cent support,” Mr Salat said in April. “They will be in and out, but we have looked at Raila as a package to the people of Mt Kenya. What are we packaging him to do?”

Countering intimidation

Yesterday, Mr Salat said there were too many centres of power, forcing some leaders not to share their views on how to get to State House. He added that though Azimio had agents across the country, the team had no mechanism for countering intimidation and blackmail in zones dominated by UDA. “Everything was done from top down so somehow it fizzled out before it got to the ground,” Mr Salat said.

“When I went to the polling stations, it got to a point that there was fear [about] being an Azimio agent in areas perceived as UDA strongholds. You are the Azimio [agent for] a person who is vying against our own son. Such intimidation which agents went through goes back to the top... Why did they not anticipate such a situation and have a solution on standby?” he asked.

But Mr Muriithi told the Nation there was no need for blame games, saying the two teams did an “exemplary” job.

“When the results are not the ones desired, people will tend to point fingers and it’s a very unfortunate situation. I’m not aware of any push and pull. What I saw was a very large temporary organisation performing superbly,” he said.

Isolated, with former allies becoming rivals, Mr Odinga, who was supported by President Kenyatta, gave President Ruto an opportunity to take chunks of votes  from the ODM boss’s strongholds of Western, Lower Eastern and Coast.

In the six coastal counties of Mombasa, Kwale, Kilifi, Tana River, Lamu and Taita Taveta, President Ruto garnered 336,478 votes, about 35 per cent, compared to the 287,561 (26 per cent) Jubilee got in the region in 2017.

With the help of the likes of Machakos Governor Alfred Mutua and UDA chairman Johnson Muthama, President Ruto garnered 250,070 votes in Machakos, Kitui and Makueni (24.1 per cent) compared to the 192,646 (16.6 per cent) Jubilee had in 2017.

After ANC party leader Musalia Mudavadi and his Ford Kenya counterpart Moses Wetang’ula ditched Raila, Ruto made serious inroads in Western, which had voted overwhelmingly for Mr Odinga since 2007.

Ruto received 630,282 votes in the five Western counties of Busia, Kakamega, Vihiga, Bungoma and Trans Nzoia in his presidential bid, an impressive improvement on the 352,877 he garnered with President Kenyatta in 2017.

Pundits attribute Dr Ruto’s impressive performance in the Western region to the political divorce between Mr Odinga and his former Nasa co-principals.

Mr Mudavadi and Mr Wetang’ula told their people that Mr Odinga had always taken their support for granted, citing how their leaders were purged from key positions in the Senate and National Assembly.

The two also accused Mr Odinga of taking all the goodies from the handshake with President Kenyatta to his Nyanza backyard, citing projects like the refurbishment of the Kisumu Port, among others.

ANC national chairman Kelvin Lunani said: “We supported Raila through Nasa, he got the cake of the purported Nasa, he never shared it, he only took it to his people. As a leader, you look for space to assist your people. In the last five years, we missed it.”

“They wanted us to go and beg the President to get development. That is why we want to be in a government where all communities are respected and the national cake shared equitably.”

Political pundits also blame Mr Odinga’s loss on voter apathy in his strongholds, arguing that a better turnout could have reduced the margin between him and Dr Ruto.

Low voter turnout in Mr Odinga’s Nyanza backyard was his biggest undoing, argued United States International University’s Prof Macharia Munene.

“If we go by what is official, Raila’s people, whoever they are, did not come out to vote as much as they could, even in his home base,” he said. “If you look at the turnout, it could have been better. The general turnout across the country was relatively low. That might have cost him.”

Dismissive reference

Of the 2,161,262 registered voters in the four Nyanza counties of Migori, Homa Bay, Kisumu and Siaya, only 1,559,244 cast their ballots. The turnout in the Rift Valley and Mt Kenya regions was 75.6 and 66 per cent, respectively, compared with 72 per cent in Nyanza.

Mr Odinga’s late entry into the Mt Kenya region did little to dent Dr Ruto’s early capture of the vote-rich region, said Prof Masibo Lumala of Moi University.

“The Mount Kenya Foundation, made up of the who’s who [in that region] presented a very rosy picture for Raila, that all he needed was 30 per cent ... ,” Prof Lumala explained.

“He needed all the votes and he went there when Ruto had gone there over and over ... people had bought Ruto’s messages much earlier and turning up late was a problem,” he added.

In the 10 Mt Kenya counties of Meru, Tharaka Nithi, Embu, Nyeri, Kirinyaga, Murang’a, Kiambu, Laikipia, Nyandarua and Nakuru, Mr Odinga garnered 848,205 votes (22.22 per cent), below Azimio’s 30 per cent target, though a major improvement from 2017, when he received 303,510 votes or 6.9 per cent.

Prof Munene also points out that certain statements made by Mr Odinga and his allies in the last weeks before the election might have scared voters.

One was the dismissive reference to mitumba as Mr Odinga made the case for reviving the Kenyan textile industry.

“Our people are only wearing clothes coming from outside the country that were worn by dead people,” he said.

The statement provoked a swift backlash from mitumba traders and the Ruto campaign was quick to exploit the gaffe. Mr Odinga was forced to quickly embark on damage control,.

Mr Odinga, who previously ran as a defender of the oppressed and voiceless, was this time around the establishment candidate, which President Ruto used to great impact.

President Kenyatta came out openly to campaign for Mr Odinga, allowing Dr Ruto’s camp to paint him as a “project”, which would make him a puppet of the retiring Head of State.

Having lost the presidential race from the opposition ranks in four elections, Mr Odinga mistakenly assumed that state support would make him a winner, argued Prof Lumala. Indeed, early in the campaigns, Mr Odinga’s elder brother, Oburu Oginga, confidently said that victory was assured because of that factor.

‘The opposition leader’

Instead, this helped Dr Ruto to distance himself from the economic downturn and other failures of the Jubilee administration and project himself as the candidate of change.

“Ruto distanced himself from the government that he was serving. He effectively looked like the opposition leader and packaged Raila as the government,” Prof Lumala said

Being presented as a project damaged Mr Odinga’s bid, said Prof Munene.

“He seemed not to have much choice in that because the President kept on saying that he was the one in charge,” he said.