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Kenya: Raila Rising as Teachers Squeeze
Back with a Bang: Raila Odinga
The Return of Raila
Cord and ODM leader Raila Odinga is on the political ascendancy. This is both a function of his incessant activism and the constant bungling of the ruling Jubilee administration. Raila has remained politically visible with well timed attacks on the government and a never ending change-the-constitution drive. Being the cunning politician that he is, Raila has been openly or quietly pushing the constitutional drive under the slogan Okoa Kenya (Save Kenya). He has cleverly roped in issues such as insecurity into the mix to give the drive more credence and relevance. It is not in doubt what he hopes to achieve. The Uhuru Kenyatta administration will not give in to a referendum before the next general election; that would be akin to political suicide. Nevertheless, Raila will have gained sufficient mileage to have a realistic chance of wrestling the presidency from Uhuru.
Talking of Uhuru Kenyatta, his government has been playing into the hands of the opposition through a series of blunders, which have even left even his die-hard Jubilee stalwarts open mouthed.
The Basis of Raila’s Rise
Raila's predictions have uncannily come true time and again. Not only did he predict that the Jubilee coalition would damage the economy and bring Kenya to its knees, he also accurately foretold that the government would be trying to ignore the constitution and drive a conservative agenda. When teachers went on a lengthy strike in September 2015, the government adamantly refused to award them a salary increase ordered by court.
Raila told Kenyans that the Uhuru Kenyatta regime had no intention to obey the law. A clever impeachment motion was in the offing for the president. However, like the referendum push, it achieved its objective of keeping the government on the back banner even though it has never taken off. Nevertheless, Uhuru gave the opposition even more ammunition by admitting that the government could not meet even basic recurrent expenditure. This could have been a tactical move to justify the failure to pay teachers. However, it played right into Raila's hands since he had predicted hard economic times long before.
Having only recently been buoyed by two successive victories in by-elections, in Homa Bay and Kajiado Central, that saw him re-establish his ground as one of the most accomplished politicians in Kenyan history; Raila remains riding high. Meanwhile, almost three years after being sworn in as President, Uhuru is still at sea about what his actual role should be. He has made a series of decisions which he later rescinded publicly or quietly. This has lent credence to the opposition assertions that the dot.com duo: Uhuru and his deputy William Ruto should not be leading any serious country.
Campaigning for Moses Otieno
The Homa Bay Challenge
The Homa Bay by-election was one that Raila’s party ODM was expected to bag easily, and in the end it did so with a wide margin. However, it was not a normal by-election, and by no means easy. The Homa Bay county Senatorial seat fell vacant following the sudden death of one of Raila’s closest allies Gerald Otieno Kajwang. Before his death, Kajwang was a well known Senator who employed humor, song and a radical stance during political rallies. He was a diehard follower of Raila, who never left him even in the most difficult of times.
Homa Bay County is one of the undisputed strongholds of Raila, with all the nine members of the National Assembly (MPs) and the County Governor elected on the ticket of the Raila led ODM party. So victory should have been a guarantee for Raila, but that was not to be.
The now infamous ODM primaries had their toll on the electoral process. After the party failed to carry out a credible nomination exercise, it hurriedly gave a direct ticket to Kajwang’s younger brother Moses Otieno, without any competitive process. Unfortunately, the seat had attracted political and financial big-wigs, who immediately cried foul. To make matters worse, some of the aspirants were themselves former aides to the ODM leader, and had hoped for his support. Subsequently, the aspirants split themselves three ways. Some quit the race in a huff, some defected to other parties opposing ODM in the race, while the rest contested as independent candidates.
The Rangwe Triumvirate
The biggest challenge to Moses Otieno came from the emergent Rangwe triumvirate. At the core of the challenge were two former Rangwe Members of Parliament (MPs) Phillip Okundi, who was the candidate, and Martin Otieno Ogindo, who was his campaigner-in-chief; the third was the current MP George Oner. This triumvirate attracted a lot of disgruntled tycoons from the county operating under the mantra “My Senator, My Choice”. Their aim was to portray ODM as a party that did not care for democracy, and Moses as a candidate imposed on the people. The initial power and influence of this concerted drive attracted the attention of the Jubilee administration which discretely supported the drive, with the sole intention of bloodying Raila’s nose in his political backyard. Also looming large in the background was Nairobi governor Evans Kidero, who incidentally, is another native son of Rangwe. The result was a well funded campaign that initially gave Raila sleepless nights.
Another dimension was added to the situation in the form of defiant MPs from the county and the media. Of the nine MPs, four remained steadfast in the party. They were Gladys Wanga, the county women representative, Joseph Oyugi Magwanga of Kasipul, Peter Kaluma of Homa Bay Town and John Mbadi of Suba, who is also the ODM national chairperson. Two defied the party and supported Okundi. They were George Oner of Rangwe and James Rege of Karachuonyo. The other three swayed one way or the other or remained neutral. They were Agostino Neto of Ndhiwa, Silvance Osele of Kabondo Kasipul and Millie Odhiambo of Mbita.
The media swiftly sensed a top notch contest and weighed in with opinion pieces. The main gist of the press argument was that Okundi was on the verge of showing Raila dust in the contest. Raila however consolidated his remaining troupes and hit the road with a vibrant campaign. In the end, his candidate won by a landslide leaving some of the defiant MPs facing a very bleak future. Naturally, Jubilee had no talking interest in the matter after the result.
The Battle for Kajiado Central
The Kajiado Central constituency seat was in a completely different set-up. It was on even ground, with both ODM and Jubilee having an equal chance of bagging it. The vacancy had been created when the Jubilee administration raided ODM territory and snatched the constituency MP Joseph Ole Nkaisseri, making him the Cabinet Secretary in charge of National Security. This was the government’s reaction to runaway insecurity which hit its peak with a terrorist attack at the up-market Westgate Mall in Nairobi, leaving very many rich people dead. The gun attack was executed by the Somalia based Al Shabaab terror group, which had also carried a series of bomb attacks in poorer parts of the country.
Raila’s first reaction to the raid on his territory, was to demand that the seat be given back to ODM without a contest, since the outgoing MP had won it on an ODM ticket. This demand fell on deaf ears, and the ground was set for a huge contest.
To be fair, the Jubilee team had a great campaign and were defeated by one of the narrowest margins in Kenya’s electoral history. ODMs Elijah Memusi defeated Jubilee’s Patrick Tutui by 16,008 to 15,508 votes, a difference of exactly 500 votes. But defeated they were, and that is what ODM wanted. The party immediately went into partying mood and exercised their newly earned bragging rights to the limit. Moreover, the by election had provided a sort of healing in the ODM ranks since the rebels of Homa Bay had closed ranks with other party members to campaign together.
President Uhuru Kenyatta has been the victim of bad advisors, but he has also frequently suffered from personal misjudgment of circumstances. When he first became President, he set off on a spurious misadventure which he referred to as demystifying the presidency. The main feature of this endeavor was the use of first names, which reduced the Deputy President William Ruto to “William” or even “Bill” and the president reduced to “Uhuru”, or the street version “Uhunye” in some quarters. This soon backfired. The Presidency is serious business, so there is little time for “Uhunye.”
The President’s blunders continued. At first he seemed set to defy summons to appear at the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague, where he had been indicted for crimes against humanity. Eventually, he made a turn-around and decided to go. He set up some comical hand-over ceremony to Ruto, so as to appear at the court as an independent citizen. His die hard followers came out of parliament, where he made the announcement, exclaiming at how humble he was, with some claiming to have been moved to tears.
The rest of the country and the ICC were unimpressed. Raila captured the mood of the country when he dismissed the President as having handed over the motorcade pretending that it was the instruments of power. The ICC prosecutor insisted on accusing the President of being the chief engineer of interference with investigations into his case. The President was set free by the court for lack of substantive evidence, and so home he came. No one referred to the “humble act” of handing over ever again.
President Uhuru Kenyatta
The President versus the Constitution
At one point, Mr. Kenyatta signed into law a bill that gave Senators the power of chairing a funny contraption called the county development boards. To begin with, such boards did not exist in the constitution, but were creations of the Senate itself. Secondly, citizens had elected Governors to run their counties, and Senators to represent those counties in Parliament. The Senators were now on the verge of usurping powers rightfully belonging to the governors. Members of the public reacted with a loud no, and the constitution was on their side. So the boards died a natural death. The main reason the President signed was that he had his own agenda of reigning in the powerful governors. The agenda collapsed disastrously.
Soon enough he was at it again. This time round he came up with a security bill, some of whose articles went contrary to the constitution. The President tried to bulldoze the bill through, but once again he met stiff opposition from the judiciary, the Constitutional Implementation Commission, the media, human rights organizations and the general public. It was not hard to see where the president was coming from; there were incessant terrorist attacks in Kenya which he wished to reign in. However, he was obviously taking advantage of a dire situation to carry forward some of his own vendetta against the media and the opposition.
More recently, the President tried to overrule the High Court by ordering the admission of police recruits into training colleges. The High Court had nullified the selection process of the recruits as having been marred with corruption. In the end, the high court won and the recruits were rejected by the colleges. The President went totally mum over the issue.
Eventually, he did ignore the courts by not giving the striking teachers the 50-60% salary increase they had be awarded by a court ruling. Members of the public were left aghast as the opposition threatened to impeach him. The government then humorously turned to the same courts to reverse the earlier ruling. The court of appeal promptly ordered teachers to resume work, but the rider was that the government had to make arrangements to pay them the ordered increment within three months. The teachers obeyed and the government bought time.
In his defense, Uhuru kept claiming that the national wage bill was too high. He quoted it at 52% of GDP. His figures were dismissed by Raila who placed the bill a whole twenty points lower. Raila produced figures from the government's own National Bureau of statistics. The jury is still out on which of the two figures was correct. However, the general public tended to identify more with Raila's figure, especially because they wanted the month long teacher's strike to end. The most interesting development was that even teachers from the President's own political bedrock parted ways with him on the issue of the strike.
Raila takes Advantage
These blunders by the Jubilee administration have given Raila the opportunity to strike back and hard at his opponents. The main gist of his campaign has been the insecurity in the country. The government has had a tough time trying to balance between controlling internal crime and external terrorism. The result has been press conference after press conference promising Kenyans better action next time. It has degenerated into a song, and the opposition simply loves the tune. They never lose a moment to state that the country’s going to the dogs. This has informed their choice of title, Okoa Kenya.
Moreover, the President has continued to reward his critics with unsolicited ammunition through his bungled handling of important issues like teacher's strike. The recent admission that the government is broke has provided more ammunition to the opposition cannons. This is definitely not just a game anymore.
By the time people understand what is happening, Raila could very well have run away with the Presidency in 2017. Like George Bush said on September 11 1990: "That's not a threat, that's not a boast, that's just the way it's going to be".