Nothing speaks to the changing character of the Kenyan voterthan the election results in Ugenya Constituency, Siaya County last week. Those who know me well know I am a card-carrying citizen of that great county. Outside my county of residence and my home county, I have been to Siaya more times than any other county. I have attended many cultural festivals there, been feted by good friends into the wee hours of many mornings, held several fundraisings there in support of education and generally just enjoyed sights and sounds of Siaya, which I must say has some of the friendliest people in this country; people who also “eat life” with a big spoon. The win by David Ochieng therefore came as no surprise to me.
Naturally, in true Kenyan fashion, many wanted to brand this as a battle of the giants, Raila Vs Ruto. It made better headlines. For ODM, whose doyens started this branding and pushed it to the very end, this was a useful campaign trick, it had worked in previous elections in several places. The “a vote for Ochieng is a vote for Ruto” was a popular campaign mantra until Mr Ochieng won and then ODM started backtracking, saying MDG was a NASA affiliate anyway.
What many non-Ugenyans do not know is that in the 2017 General Election, Ochieng was branded by ODM as a Jubilee mole. He was accused of all manner of sins, including the forbidden one of wanting to deny Jakom the Presidency. Amazingly Ochieng lost that election by a handful of votes, and there is no doubt in my mind that this loss was courtesy of massive rigging. It was no wonder that he was successful in the ensuing petition.
Was not favoured
It is impossible to imagine that in a General Election where people were willing to die to support Jakom’s fight for the Presidency, they also elected a person who obviously was not favoured by the same Jakom. That speaks to two realities, the tremendous work done by the MP in his first term, and most importantly, the sophistication of the Ugenya electorate. Anyone who therefore defines the recent win by Ochieng as simply as a desire for the electorate to support William Ruto, or a vote against Raila Odinga, abuses the intelligence of the Ugenya voter and bastardises the work done by Ochieng in the five years he was MP. I have no doubt in my mind that Ugenya voters would still vote for Raila in a contest between him and Ruto. But when it came to MP, they wanted to vote based on record, not on the infamous “three-piece.”
One of the realities that persons seeking office in Kenya of the future need to come to terms with is that the days of herding Kenyans into a voting basket, including the current “six-piece” are increasingly dimming. I noted this quiet change in the elections for Governors in Central Kenya in 2017. With few exceptions, voters were clear that they wanted persons with a Resource Management record for Governor.
Where they made a different decision, like in Kiambu, their choice was informed by equally important considerations, including one’s record of treating the electorate with some respect. It was clear that while the electorate still demanded money, days when dishing cash in the by-ways got you elected were fast diminishing. Many well monied candidates lost to financial minnows.
In one campaign I was intimately involved in, the candidate who won had a total of three campaign vehicles, it was only in the last week that a sympathetic supporter added a fourth. So, Ochieng got a worthy win and I wish him well. In the days I interacted regularly with Parliament, it was always uplifting to meet Ochieng and Ken Okoth in committee meetings. The duos’ presence promised sober deliberations. How I pray that the Kibra MP will be back to the august House soon so that he and Ochieng can continue giving the sober leadership that has been their hallmark. As to the people of Ugenya, you deserve a bouquet!
- The writer is an Advocate of the High Court of Kenya