Monday, April 1, 2013



By Jerry Okungu
Nairobi, Kenya
April 1, 2013

As the CORD team prepared to take the battle for the presidency to the Supreme Court in Kenya, there was equal need for Raila Odinga to do some soul searching and look at his team afresh. He needed to scrutinize his staff at the Prime Minister’s office and obviously at his campaign secretariat.
The other thing that Raila Odinga needed to pay attention to was whether his value as a political product had declined, remained steady or improved. This aspect should have been the major assignment of his campaign team.

When I used to be a business executive in charge of product launches and development, I learnt a very valuable lesson that every consumer product has its cycle. Initially any new product in the market will be very slow to catch and will need a lot of activities and financial muscle to take off. Once it takes off, it will spin to new heights, at times overtaking old products until it reaches its peak. At its peak, two things can happen; it can begin to decline or remain stagnant when no new growth or decline is registered.

At this point in the life of the product, it requires a very sharp marketer and astute strategist to notice the problem and lay down a rescue plan to either sustain the product or give it a shot in the arm to start climbing the charts again.

In my estimation, Raila Odinga the political product was launched in 1992 when he first sought the seat in Lang’ata Constituency and won for the first time. Four years later, his fight for the control of Ford Kenya with the late Kijana Wamalwa made him resign from Ford Kenya and formed his own party. To prove his might, he resigned his parliamentary seat in 1996 and contested the same seat on an NDP ticket and pulled through. This feat made many doubting Thomases look up and notice Raila Odinga the new political brand. When a year later, he contested the presidency on an NDP ticket and came third after Moi and Kibaki, even President Moi had to acknowledge Raila’ political clout. This was the reason Moi made him a partner in the former’s minority government.

Joining Moi’s government and becoming both minister for Energy and KANU Secretary General in early 2002 was a steep rise in Raila as a political product. Coming from where he did; a detainee many times over by the same President Moi, many in his position would have stopped aiming higher and contended with little crumbs from Moi’s table.

However, the biggest breakthrough in Raila Odinga’s political career was when he rebelled against Moi in just less than two months after merging his party with KANU. The rebellion was triggered by Moi’s unilateral decision to hand over power to Uhuru Kenyatta, then a political greenhorn.

When he walked out of KANU, not only did he walk out with NDP legislators. He also took a chunk of the cream of KANU. They included then Vice President George Saitoti, former Secretary General JJ Kamotho, William Ole Ntimama, Moody Awori, Foreign Minister Kalonzo Musyoka, Fred Gumo, Musalia Mudavadi, and Katana Ngala. However, Mudavadi and Ngala later changed their mind and returned to Moi’s KANU. This was the group that he handed over to Kibaki’s NAK that finally dislodged KANU from power after 40 years in power.

Although Raila Odinga’s political equity had grown in leaps and bounds by 2002, he was shy of running for President again fearing that a Luo was unelectable as president then. Because he bought into this myth despite his sterling performance back in 1997, he chose to declare Kibaki “tosha” and together with his brigade threw his weight behind             Mwai Kibaki.

Many observers of Kenyan politics still believe that had Raila run for president in 2002, he would have won the election with a narrow majority since the Kikuyu votes would have been split between Uhuru and Kibaki. Moreover, he had emerged as the undisputed captain of a group of influential politicians from Ukambani, Masailand, Coast region, Western Kenya and Nyanza.

His political clout had to shine even brighter when three years later; he led another rebellion, this time against the Kibaki regime after the latter trashed their pre-election memorandum of understanding and got his mandarins to mutilate the Bomas Constitution. This time round, he included Uhuru Kenyatta, then Leader of Official Opposition into his brigade to defeat the draft.

Between 2005 and 2007 when Raila ran for president a second time, he had reached the peak of his political growth. All indications, especially his assembling of the Pentagon from all corners of Kenya only pointed to one thing; the presidency was his to lose. However, when in December 2007 the votes were counted, he discovered the hard way that winning elections in Kenya took more than numbers and one’s popularity. Other factors were equally critical.

In a hotly contested election such as the just concluded Kenyan one, the party’s campaign secretariat has specific tasks that must be accomplished long before nominations and primaries. For example in the case of ODM, how many rallies did the party conduct countrywide in their strongholds urging their supporters to register in large numbers as voters? After the nomination exercise, how many rallies were conducted countrywide urging voters to come out and vote? How many party operatives were deployed in the villages and slums to carry out door to door campaigns? May be there were, may be there not.

When it became known that IEBC would have over 33000 polling stations countrywide, did the secretariat ensure that it recruited at least two credible and reliable election agents for every polling station to guarantee that the party was not robbed either through double voting or ballot stuffing,? Was there sufficient funding available for election agents and on time? Who was in charge of the disbursement of these funds?

After the chaotic primary elections especially in Nyanza that damaged Raila’s credibility as a democrat, did the campaign secretariat move with speed to do damage control? These are the questions the ODM campaign secretariat cannot run away from. Party members need answers at the next review meeting.

When Raila offered to contest the presidency a third time in 2013, things had changed drastically and a lot of water had passed under the bridge. His lieutenants of 2002 and 2007 were no more. He was a general with no commanders worth talking about. The few that remained with him like William Ole Ntimama, Henry Kosgey, Fred Gumo and many others were tired old men and took a back seat. It was left for him to slog the campaign trail with his new partner Kalonzo Musyoka.
At the Raila Odinga campaign secretariat, high turnover of secretariat heads did more damage to the staff than good.
Consequently, incoherent messages kept coming up making it difficult for the campaign to have impact.  There were too many Raila this Raila that, that only added to the confusion. Disgruntled former staff like Miguna Miguna also gave the candidate bad publicity that had long term effect on the performance of the candidate.

The other issue that the Raila campaign team did not consider or took for granted was the strength of his competitors. They underestimated the influence of Uhuru and Ruto especially in the Rift Valley. More importantly, they forgot to see that the two politicians were Raila’s best students. They had studied him and mastered his campaign skills and strategies. They saw him ruin KANU in 2002, embarrass Kibaki in 2005 and forced a coalition with Kibaki in 2007 when no winner could be determined.

The other factor to consider that contributed to Raila’s poor showing was his ratings at the opinion polls that kept him on top for five years. These ratings could have sent his strategists to sleep thinking that their candidate was unbeatable.

Has Raila Odinga the political product reached his zenith with no other way except to slide down hill? May be; may be not. However, now that the Supreme Court has decided in favour of Uhuru Kenyatta, what next for Raila Odinga? What then are the options open for Agwambo? Should he retire from politics and become an elder statesman?

India’s political icon of all times Mahatma Gandhi never led India. The prophet Moses never reached Canaan. Yet they are still revered in history.

The man has achieved so much and suffered so much for Kenya that it will be difficult to forget him for the next several centuries.
He brought democracy, ended torture chambers and opened up political space that we are currently enjoying. For all these, we shall forever be grateful to Wuod Nya Alego.

For those of us who believed in his political philosophy and still do, I can confidently say that it is not yet over until it is over. The fat lady is yet to take to the stage and belt out her last number!