Which way for the Orange party and Raila after the Kasarani election debacle?

The aftermath of the chaos at the ODM National Delegates Convention on February 28, 2014. PHOTO | DENISH OCHIENG

What you need to know:

  • While the Jubilee Alliance cleverly vilified the ICC and the international community in order to rally supporters, ODM’s campaign lacked a strong narrative
  • Whereas in 2007 ODM had appeared to be a new and dynamic political force, in 2013 Jubilee was able to claim this ground for itself, claiming to be the “digital” party capable of modernising Kenya – in contrast to its “analogue” rival

The Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) it at its lowest ebb since its formation over a decade ago. The National Delegates Conference represented an important opportunity for the Movement to revive its organisation and regain a sense of purpose. Instead, the Convention ended in chaos, and the prospects for the opposition look bleak. (READ: ODM's day of shame)

Back in 2007, the ODM was one of the most impressive opposition parties on the continent. Under the leadership of Raila Odinga, a group of politicians successfully campaigned against the constitutional draft put forward by President Mwai Kibaki and inflicted an embarrassing defeat on the government in the 2005 referendum.

Subsequently, the “pentagon” of regional leaders that came together around Mr Odinga gave the party a national feel, while the presence of powerful figures such as Mr William Ruto enabled the ODM to mobilise support in a number of provinces.

What was perhaps most impressive about the ODM – compared to most other opposition parties in Kenya – was the quality of its organisation.

The party may have lacked a strong formal structure, but it was able to tap into the personal political machines that Pentagon leaders enjoyed in their home areas. Moreover, by developing specific manifestos tailored to the needs of each of the eight provinces, the party maximised its appeal.

Mr Odinga also appeared to have a distinctive political agenda. The ODM committed itself to reducing corruption, introducing constitutional reform, and addressing past injustices. The appearance of a credible and well-organised opposition seduced many voters, donors, and academics, who hoped that a change of power would lead to much needed political and economic reforms.


The ODM’s fortunes began to wane as soon as voting stopped on December 27, 2007. Although ODM leaders were confident of victory, they had not counted on the determination of the Party of National Unity (PNU) to retain power at all costs.

As the process of counting the votes descended into farce, Mr Odinga went from being the president-in-waiting to being an outraged opposition leader campaigning against perceived electoral manipulation.

His decision to take his supporters to the streets was understandable given President Kibaki’s attempts to control the Judiciary, but meant that the party leadership was implicated in the electoral violence that followed the announcement of the result.

Although Mr Odinga was not personally named by the Waki Commission or by the International Criminal Court in organising clashes in Nairobi, Rift Valley and at the Coast, many Kibaki supporters blame Mr Odinga for not doing more to end the violence.

This distrust fatally undermined Mr Odinga’s ability to present himself as a leader for all Kenyans. Worse still, ODM’s national reach was quickly undermined by the defection of key leaders.

Over the next five years, every single member of the Pentagon that had led the party into the 2007 elections left. After being accused of crimes against humanity by the ICC, Mr Ruto formed a marriage of convenience with Mr Uhuru Kenyatta, which ended up being the foundation of the Jubilee Alliance.

As the electoral prospects of the ODM deteriorated, Mr Najib Balala, Mr Joseph Nyaga and Mrs Charity Ngilu all abandoned Mr Odinga. Mr Musalia Mudavadi also left, complaining that he – and his supporters – had not been sufficiently rewarded for their support for Odinga in 2007.
The fragmentation of the ODM turned the spotlight on Mr Odinga and his leadership style.

Why had so many of his closest allies walked away? Were the rumours true that he was not a good “man manager” and had fallen out with most of the ODM leaders who were not part if his core team? Was the man who once painted himself as the “first among equals” unwilling to share power and resources?

These problems were not insurmountable. Following the power-sharing agreement that was brokered to bring an end to the post-election violence, the ODM had a parliamentary term in which to deliver on its promises.

Had ODM performed well in office, Mr Odinga could have rebuilt the party’s reputation on the basis of service delivery and an ability to get the job done. But the ODM struggled to come to terms with the demands of power sharing.

The passage of a new constitution in 2010 was an important victory, and one that dramatically changed the landscape of Kenyan politics. But in general, ODM failed to make power sharing work.

On the one hand, many of Mr Odinga supporters were disappointed that he had settled for anything less than the presidency, and he found that the role of prime minister was not as influential as he had first hoped.

On the other hand, ODM ministers failed to perform significantly better than their PNU counterparts, either in terms of service delivery or combating corruption.


By the time the 2013 election campaign began in earnest Mr Odinga had four major problems. The first was that the ODM had lost its most effective and energetic leaders.

As the campaign progressed, the ponderous and unimaginative nature of the ODM strategy – which stood in stark contrast to the slick and dynamic campaign designed for the Jubilee Alliance by BTP Advisors – led commentators to question whether the imagination and organisation that had been so striking in 2007 had left with Mr Ruto.

Forming a coalition with Mr Kalonzo Musyoka’s Wiper Democratic Movement (WDM) may have brought important Kamba votes to the ODM, but co-opting Mr Kibaki’s vice president did nothing to improve the party’s credibility. Ford-Kenya became the other partner in the Cord Coalition.

The second problem was that in the eyes of many Kenyans, and many donors, ODM’s poor performance in office had undermined its claim to be the party of reform. Combined with the shambolic party primaries, in which leaders attempted to impose unpopular candidates on party members, this called into question the Movement’s democratic credentials.

In turn, popular frustration with ODM leaders dampened the fervour surrounding the election in pro-Raila areas, which made it harder to get the vote out.

The third challenge was that while securing constitutional reform had represented a significant victory for the ODM, it also denied the party one of its main campaign issues. Having established a supreme court, a devolved system of government, and a stronger legislature, ODM leaders struggled to devise a new set of campaign messages that could capture the public imagination.

While the Jubilee Alliance cleverly vilified the ICC and the international community in order to rally supporters, ODM’s campaign lacked a strong narrative.

The fourth issue was Mr Odinga himself. For so long the inspirational leader of the Opposition, on the campaign trail he looked like a pale shadow of his former self. From a poor performance in the TV debates to a lack of public appearances, he did not lead from the front as he had done in the past.

These problems could have been overcome if Mr Odinga had effectively delegated control of the campaign to an effective team, but his reduced capacity only seemed to make him more insular.

While Jubilee relied on the advice and public relations nous of expensive international consultants, ODM appeared to fall back on the same old network of a core group that had surrounded Mr Odinga for years.

The result was disastrous. Whereas in 2007 ODM had appeared to be a new and dynamic political force, in 2013 Jubilee was able to claim this ground for itself, claiming to be the “digital” party capable of modernising Kenya – in contrast to its “analogue” rival.


These challenges contributed to the electoral victory of Jubilee. Mr Kenyatta had access to greater funding and Jubilee enjoyed the benefits of incumbency.

In this sense, it was not an election fought on a level playing field. Following historical trends, Jubilee strongholds registered to vote at higher levels than their ODM (and Cord) counterparts.

And although it seems clear that Mr Kenyatta won more votes than Mr Odinga, exit polls suggest that the Cord presidential candidate may have been denied a run-off by low-level election rigging.

But when one considers the small margin by which Mr Kenyatta secured a first round victory, it is clear that a more effective campaign would have resulted in a second round of voting.

Defeat must have been particularly hard to take for Mr Odinga because he knew that 2013 represented his last good opportunity to occupy State House.

It was all the more frustrating because the election result was confirmed by the Supreme Court – an institution that would not have existed if it had not been for the ODM, and which ODM leaders believed would deliver a different verdict. The Supreme Court’s decision, and the terse way in which it was delivered, made it clear that constitutional reform was no panacea.

Following the swearing-in of Mr Kenyatta, the ODM floundered. Party activists were naturally deflated, and some wondered whether the struggle for political reform had been worth it.

One of the positives that the party was able to hold on to was that it had performed well in the elections for Governor and Senator. In total, CORD won 47 per cent of the contests for Governor – 7 per cent more than the Jubilee Alliance – including the strategically important governorship of Nairobi. If the party was to revive its flagging fortunes, this was a promising foundation on which to build.


The party now stands at a crossroads. It has failed to get back to its feet following the body blow of losing the 2013 polls. As a result, the new political framework introduced under the 2010 Constitution is being wasted.

Parliament has more powers, but the ODM’s lack of direction and failure to enforce party unity means that these powers are not being used to scrutinise government policies and hold the President to account.

When Jubilee introduced legislation designed to intimidate the media, a move clearly designed to consolidate Mr Kenyatta’s hold on power, many ODM members voted for it.

Part of the problem is the confusion surrounding Mr Odinga’s position. He does not appear to have the energy to lead the party effectively, but he also appears unwilling to hand over power to a successor. In part this may be because there is no obvious candidate.

Rumours have circulated that Dr Evans Kidero will be groomed to replace Mr Odinga, which in many ways would be a good option for ODM.

Not only is Dr Kidero a well-known name, he has followed in the footsteps of Mr Tom Mboya by eschewing the safety of Luoland in favour of establishing a multi-ethnic base in cosmopolitan Nairobi.

But an Odinga-Kidero transition seems unlikely for two reasons. First, it is said that Dr Kidero and Mr Odinga do not get on well, and so it is hard to see Mr Odinga entrusting his political legacy to the Nairobi Governor.

Second, it is not clear where Dr Kidero sees his future. In many ways he appears to be a better fit for the business orientated Jubilee, which is no doubt why President Kenyatta invited him to join his delegation to China.

Dr Kidero is a smart operator and knows that he would not have won his seat if his rivals had not divided the “Jubilee vote”; in the run up to the next election he may come to the conclusion that his best bet is not to take up a senior position within the ODM, but to get co-opted by Jubilee leaders.

This does not mean that there is no way that the ODM can plot a pathway back to power. The fault lines are beginning to show in Jubilee, and it is looking increasingly unlikely that the coalition will make it to the next election.

If Mr Ruto is forced out, or jumps of his own accord, it will transform the prospects for the Opposition. An ODM/URP alliance would hold around half the seats in Parliament, 21 Senators, and 26 Governors – a sufficiently strong platform from which to breathe life into Kenya’s new political institutions and use them to check the power of President Kenyatta.

But ODM can’t simply wait for Jubilee to break down. The party needs to come up with a distinctive new political message. There are important pieces of legislation that the Opposition should be contesting on a daily basis.

Waiting until the end of this parliamentary term for the next elections will be too little too late. A robust democracy requires a strong opposition, and in this sense all Kenyans, Mr Odinga’s supporters or not, should hope that the party can return with a new sense of urgency.

Unfortunately, any hope that this process would begin at Kasarani with the election of new party leaders was dashed when the party’s National Delegates Convention broke down in chaos.

It is sadly ironic that a party that complained so vociferously early this year about the use of multiple voter registers in the general elections should now be accused of the same thing by one of its own. It is also somewhat depressing that a party that claims to stand for democracy has failed to hold credible elections itself.

As one of the party’s delegates put it, “If the ODM wants to call itself a Movement and democratic, this kind of mentality will not take the party anywhere”.

Dr Nic Cheeseman is the Director of the African Studies Centre at the University of Oxford


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