By Francis Ngige
This change of tack appears to have been inspired by signs of a backlash against negative campaigning and personal attacks. It has renewed hope the race will be as much about solutions to Kenya’s challenges as it is about ethnic alliances and personality cults. However, few of the presidential hopefuls are asking tough questions about their rivals’ plans or grand promises at this stage.
Leaders associated with the informal G7 Alliance have abandoned attacks on Prime Minister Raila Odinga after it began to appear to be working in his favour. Several of them had been pushing a ‘generation change’ argument in their pre-campaign rallies, portraying the 67-year-old PM as out of touch and “living in the rear view mirror”.
Others attacked his reform credentials, accusing him of preaching water and drinking wine. To these tactics, the ODM leader and his allies responded with the charge that his rivals were weak and had chosen to gang up and make personal attacks against the strongest horse in the race. This was such an effective argument, one of the G7-allied hopefuls, Justice Minister Eugene Wamalwa, took to distancing himself from the alleged gang.
These negative campaigning tactics had their roots in an even more unpleasant mud-fight that flared about a year ago, when the PM responded to sustained attacks by his rivals with choice epithets at a rally at Nairobi’s Kamukunji grounds. He accused unnamed political rivals of being land-grabbers, alcoholics and bhang smokers.
Two of them promptly responded in kind at the same venue, leading to calls for civility from various quarters. While the insults were held back in subsequent rallies, the battle has remained about the personal attributes of this and that presidential aspirant, with the front-runner often in the sights of those seeking to weaken his chances at the March 4, electoral contest.
Interestingly, the PM is now under fire from two former aides he fell out with. His opponents, who may yet return to the reform and generational change arguments should the public mood change, are glad to have them do the job.
To prove they want more than just to “stop Raila from ascending to the Presidency”; top G7 leaders are giving potential voters a taste of their plans. Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka, Deputy PMs Musalia Mudavadi and Uhuru Kenyatta, and Eldoret North MP William Ruto are keen to demonstrate how differently the country would be governed under their watch.
In this respect, they are following in the footsteps of other presidential hopefuls like Gichugu MP Martha Karua, former minister Raphael Tuju, Gatanga MP Peter Kenneth, Gachoka’s Mutava Musyimi, and former PS James ole Kiyiapi.
Political strategist Peter Kagwanja says aspirants have no choice but to “travel the ideology route”.
“I told some of the aspirants that the initial plan of anybody, but Raila would backfire since it was giving him ammunition,” he says.