Raila Odinga's misfired silver bullet and the many missteps that robbed him of outright win

Moses Wetang'ula (Ford-Kenya) and Musalia Mudavadi (ANC). [Eric Lungai, Standard]

At the same time, Raila did not make any significant inroads into new terrains, to replace what he lost in Western Kenya. Put differently, his main opponent, Ruto, chipped away at his traditional strongholds in Western Kenya, Kisii, at the Coast and in Nairobi, while keeping intact the territories that, together with President Uhuru, they dominated in the past two elections.

Raila's expected forays into the Mt Kenya region, especially, did not bear much fruit. This was in spite of the effort being fronted by President Uhuru himself, with a battery of loyal MPs in tow. Counted among them were Kanini Kega (Kieni), Ngunjiri Wambugu (Nyeri Town), Sabina Chege (Murang'a Woman Representative) and Jeremiah Kioni (Ndaragwa). Also on the same wagon were practically all governors from the Mt Kenya region, with the exception of Kahiga Mutahi (Nyeri) and Muthomi Njuki (Tharaka Nithi).

Together with other leading figures, like former MPs Peter Kenneth and David Murathe, they got Raila to believe that the Mt Kenya region was his for the taking. The crowning event in the Raila race for the Mountain was the bringing on board of Ms Martha Karua as his running mate. Karua, a biting straight shooter, was expected to buttress the hunt in the Mountain, while also winning over women voters.

It turns out that Karua, previously an ardent Raila critic, brought little mileage to the ticket. There have been murmurs in Azimio that Kalonzo might, after all, have been the better bet. His Akamba Lower Eastern Kenya brought Azimio upwards of one million votes. It is difficult to quantify Karua's contribution to this basket, beyond the knowledge that not even in her own home base of Gichugu, in Kirinyaga, did Raila beat Ruto in a single polling centre. If the running mate was expected to bring political capital to the joint ticket, it clearly failed.

But why? Raila's biggest strength was also his biggest weakness. This was the quicksand in the support that he enjoyed from President Uhuru and other State luminaries, among them Cabinet secretaries. Raila, by default, became the face of incumbency. In the process, he bore the brunt of the cross of incumbency, no matter how much he attempted to pass the buck to the deputy president.

He reeled off long catalogues of the failed promises by the Jubilee Government, and attempted to blame the failure on Ruto. In this, he was also trapped in the awkwardness of promising reform while also being careful not to attack President Uhuru. His efforts to substitute Ruto for Uhuru were not convincing.

Cost of living

Kenya is smarting under a heavy cost of living. Two weeks to the election, the government acknowledged the damage. It announced a reduction in the price of sifted maize flour by 50 per cent. The cushions have been removed after the poll. The monthly raises in the cost of petroleum products were also skipped for the first time in many months in July. Yet, these gestures do not seem to have helped.

On the stumps, Raila has glowingly praised President Uhuru. He has promised to pick up where Uhuru leaves off and to drive the country in the same direction. A country with a hefty sovereign debt burden, just shy of Sh10 trillion, and paying for life through the nose, hates continuity. The Uhuru link has been a self-inflicted shot in the foot for Raila. His communication and messaging team failed to advise him to go easy on the handshake that brought amity between him and Uhuru. The notion that they were working together in government has been bad for him.

Besides, President Uhuru himself acknowledged every so often, in public, that they were in a partnership. The head of state hailed the partnership - saying it was far better than when he worked with his deputy in his first term. Their detractors seized the opportunity to brand the Raila campaign a state project. Uhuru was trying to impose a puppet regime on Kenyans, they claimed.

And when the wealthy Mt Kenya Foundation (MKF) endorsed Raila, this was quickly spinned out of proportion. They were an oligarchy and captors of the Uhuru State, the narrative went. Raila was their joint project with the president, it was said. A hungry electorate did not like the thought that, in a country where most people could hardly afford a square meal a day, this club was raising campaign funds for Raila, by paying as much as Sh 1 million a plate at a special funds raising dinner. The notion of such dinners is a complex construct for the ordinary voter. Styled out of proportion by adversaries, it did not do Raila much good.

President Uhuru Kenyatta. [PSCU, Standard]

Meanwhile, Uhuru embarked on a hostile campaign against Ruto, in which he amplified the theme of corruption. While many bought it, many more wondered why Uhuru made the declamations against a supposedly corrupt deputy, yet no action was taken, despite a clear legal infrastructure for such action being there. The corruption narrative was taken with a pinch of salt, particularly in broadcast media punditry.

Pundits observed that the Uhuru regime had the benefit of the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) Report, but it had failed to implement the recommendations. The TJRC, remains the richest repository of narratives on corruption and injustice in Kenya, since the colonial regime up to 2008. Next to it are the Report of the Ndungu Commission on Illegal and Irregular Allocation of Public Land and the Report of Bosire Commission of Inquiry into the Goldenberg Affair. That the Uhuru government had done nothing with these reports poked holes in the war against corruption. Its questioning by pundits had a backlash effect on Raila's futuristic promises to fight corruption.

Conflicting signals

Away from all this, Raila took a long time before making it clear that he would be a candidate in this election. Throughout the three years of the BBI campaign, he sent conflicting signals to his support base. It was not until early this year that he clearly pronounced himself on his candidacy, in the process slowing down his two deputies in the ODM Party, Oparanya and Hassan Joho, who had indicated towards the end of last year that they would seek their party's presidential ticket. Ruto had meanwhile been on the campaign trail for four years.

Ruto's mobilisation of the Mt Kenya community, in particular, buried Raila's presidential dream. A rich platform of youthful MPs that could not be easily cowed did it for him. Their defiance against what they saw as a sinister project went down well with the electorate. For its part, the Mt Kenya electorate recalled all the negative things Uhuru had previously said about Raila and wondered what had changed. They also read betrayal in Uhuru's migration from his dictum of 'Ten years for me, and ten for Ruto.' The thought that other tribes could not trust them pushed them to reject Raila.

His team endeared him as the Fifth. They meant well. He would be Kenya's fifth president. But it did not come to pass. Instead, he lost a presidential election for the fifth time. How he proceeds from here will be interesting to watch. His running mate, Karua, meanwhile sent a social media message that read, 'It is not done, until it is done.' Kenyans can only wait to see what that means. Meanwhile, a weary Raila support base will be wondering whether there could be one more secret silver bullet in his armoury.