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OPINION: Why Azimio candidate Raila Odinga lost the presidency

Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Presidential Candidate Raila Odinga and Martha Karua. [Photo courtesy, Boniface Mwangi]

“Learning from your mistakes does not happen automatically, it requires thinking and reflection.”
― Oscar Auliq-Ice

Upon reflection on why Rt. Honourable Raila Odinga and Honourable Martha Karua lost the presidential election, I have decided to share a few thoughts about what went wrong based on my close engagement with their campaign teams.

I supported Azimio because it was a chance to elect leaders whose ideals resonated quite well with my own.  I voted for Martha Karua in 2013 and for Raila Odinga in 2017.

In my view, their coming together in the 2022 elections was a double blessing. They were good candidates: certainly not angels but their steady track records as brave patriots who have consistently fought and worked for a better Kenya since the 1990s spoke volumes. They represented hope for real change led by liberators, promising to wage war against corruption and to clean up Kenyan politics by condemning all the rogue elements to the dustbin of history.

My history with Martha Karua

Martha Karua has been a consistent supporter of my activism. She is also a dear friend, and she has on numerous occasions stepped in as my lawyer when the situation called for it.

In 2016 when Deputy President Ruto sued me for defamation, Senior Counsel Martha Karua was part of my defense team. Thanks to her diligence and dedication together with the legal team, we won the case.

In October 2017, as I was leading a protest against the police for the killing of an unarmed Raila Odinga supporters, I was shot in the chest by a tear-gas canister. By 2019, the wound had developed a growth that needed surgery. After the surgery, my medical insurer refused to pay. It was Karua who pursued the matter until they eventually settled the bill.

In 2021, when my family home in Lukenya was bombed and the suspect wanted me jailed for exposing him to the world, Karua went as far as accompanying my wife and I to meet with DCI Director George Kinoti to present our evidence. Once again, without hesitation, she stepped in to represent me in court. The matter is still ongoing.

These are just a few examples of how Martha has consistently shown up for me. How could I possibly not show up for her during her historic bid?

Martha Karua has been a consistent supporter of Boniface Mwangi's activism. [Photo courtesy, Boniface Mwangi]

I need to state from the onset that I was not an employee but a volunteer at the campaign secretariat. My belief in their candidature led me to rally behind the cause.

August 9th rolled in and we voted and waited.

On 15th August 2022 the president-elect William Ruto was declared the winner of the 2022 general election. This win was challenged in the  Supreme Court and we followed the proceedings earnestly.

On 5th September 2022, Ruto’s win was upheld by the Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, within the Azimio fraternity, accusations were traded, blame apportioned. Many were said to have slept on the job and some were cast as traitors.

As the blame game continues and as the controversies surrounding 50 percent +1, Forms 34A, party agents, and the Supreme Court ruling persist, I would like to go on record stating that Azimio's overconfidence and grossly underestimating our opponent cost us the presidential election.

Azimio's overconfidence and grossly underestimating our opponent cost us the presidential election. [Photo courtesy, Boniface Mwangi]

We assumed the victory was ours because  President Uhuru Kenyatta endorsed and actively campaigned for Raila and Karua.

We failed to do the hard work of strategizing, organizing, and mobilizing our base to come out and vote, especially in our strongholds. We failed to protect our agents from the temptation of easy bribes from our opponents. We allowed them to be compromised at the polling stations. We also failed to protect our votes because we had too much faith that the IEBC would conduct a credible, free and fair election.

Many Azimio supporters, including myself, questioned whether we could trust President Uhuru Kenyatta and his people.

The role Uhuru played

The Azimio secretariat on the other hand, saw him as an asset, not a liability. My view was that if Uhuru could betray Ruto, he could do the same to Raila.  I vividly recall that every time Uhuru spoke on behalf of the party, we suffered.

It should be known that Uhuru did not pick Martha Karua to be Raila’s running mate although this is the impression he gave in his utterances leading her to be branded a “project”. It was, in fact, Raila who campaigned hard for Azimio to pick Martha as his running mate. Many will recall that her candidature was well received within the country and across the borders. It was a breath of fresh air and Kenya was well on its way to having its first female Deputy President, not as a token DP but one with an undeniable and solid track record.

Uhuru did not have to go on Gikuyu media stations to lecture and instruct listeners about who to vote for. Had he forgotten that we had endured ten years of hardship, slavery, and looting by the same regime led by him and his deputy, Ruto?

The 'Project' tag

Because of Uhuru’s incessant and ill-advised utterances, Raila and Karua really struggled to shake off the “projects” tag.

Far from being "state projects", Raila and Karua's reformist credentials needed no emphasis. Unfortunately, Uhuru was the chairman of Azimio, a position that I stated publicly that he should resign from. His presence in Azimio made Kenyans believe Raila and Karua would be a continuation of Uhuru’s presidency.

Sadly, Uhuru ended up sabotaging what would otherwise have been a very robust campaign.

I supported Azimio because they made it very clear that their administration would promote the rule of law and ensure there would be no sacred cows in the war against corruption.  

Raila and Karua had a good manifesto, which our team failed to sell effectively.

We failed to connect with voters

The secretariat ignored feedback on how to make the campaign resonate with Kenyans including: withdrawing old men and people facing criminal charges from our rallies, getting more youthful voices on the campaign stage, and having local leadership at the centre stage instead of having one man run the show at all rallies.

Politics is local. Azimio failed to organize locally. We would do rallies and exit immediately with the team we came with. No one remained behind to ensure the message on the ground  had taken root.

We failed because we weren't well organized.

Our team appointed people for their loyalty instead of their professional skills. We trusted incompetent and dishonest people with huge and sensitive responsibilities. We failed to appreciate the goodwill that was offered by many people and failed to bring in expert volunteers. Many of those tasked with huge responsibilities were criminally lazy and failed to match the expectations that we had of them.

Good ideas were ignored

The few technocrats in the secretariat were incapacitated due to their fear of speaking the truth lest they fall out of favor with the powers that be. Good ideas didn't see the light of the day. The best ideas were shelved in favor of those tabled by a few people who were out of touch with reality.
Honest feedback was taken as negative criticism and those who offered were ostracised or seen as possible moles while those out-of-touch with realities were the ones whose ideas that were carried.  

Teams were made of loyalists and sycophants, not of people who could deliver on the expectation of an overwhelming electoral win. Very few volunteers were deployed at the Bomas tallying centre.

Confusion at Bomas

We gave Bomas access badges to incompetent sycophants, politicians, and cronies who were there not to guard the vote but to heckle, disrupt, and take selfies to show that they were at the tallying centre.The events that took place at Bomas were nothing short of a tragic comedy of Azimio’s own making. 

Raila and Karua were let down by the secretariat together with President Uhuru who seconded clueless advisors to the Azimio secretariat, and those men gave terrible advice. They misled them into believing everything was under control and they had a handle on everything when they didn't.

There were too many centres of power where very bad advice was given. None of these people who failed to deliver have been held accountable. Azimio's failure to hire a professional campaign team, giving them clear job descriptions and clear deliverables cost us dearly.

I'm still baffled at the events that followed the elections.

Misleading information

After Election Day, and while with Karua, we received a phone call (while vote tallying was still ongoing) letting us know we had won.  The person who called us is very prominent in Kenya. Throughout the entire week, even as Kenya Kwanza shared their numbers, Raila and Karua were given numbers from Azimio’s secretariat that assured them they had won.

I couldn't imagine that lies would come from a secretariat where the chairman of the coalition was the sitting President of Kenya.  My very boisterous posts were based on these assurances.

When Karua went to KICC to meet Azimio leaders and said we had won, she was basing her statement on the figures and numbers she was given by the Azimio secretariat.

After the Bomas fiasco, came the court case. We were  presented with evidence by the same respected Kenyans in our team– evidence of how we had won. Once again, I was vocal about how we had won. I believed the said evidence. Karua also believed them. Everything I posted was based on the information that was availed to us.

Looking back, it is now obvious that we were fed with misleading information, up until the very last minute. The question arises: was this a long con?

People behaved as if Raila had won

Azimio had too many self-important people doing zero work; sycophants, the presidential candidate’s family, and incompetent people in critical roles. They behaved as if we had won and failed to carry out their assigned roles diligently. They trashed feedback, ignored messages, and never returned calls. The Kenya Kwanza team capitalized on our hubris, organized better, worked harder, and got the controversial win. 

READ: Mutahi Ngunyi said Raila Odinga would president

My heart hurts for Hon. Raila Odinga. He was betrayed in 2007, 2013, and 2017 by people whom he never dealt with or punished. It’s also a lesson to all of us, to punish laziness, incompetence, and betrayal.

Ida Odinga [left] and Martha Karua [right] in a past event. [Photo courtesy, Boniface Mwangi]

There is still some hope, though.

The Azimio Coalition has a majority in the legislature.  Azimio must hold President Ruto’s government to account. The registrar of political parties must come out strongly to rein in political impunity. Politicians elected under Azimio are now defecting. This is unlawful. Ideally, all those elected under the Azimio coalition in breach of the Azimio Coalition should be subjected to a by-election. They should resign, and run on a Kenya Kwanza ticket.

These last-minute decamping is deceitful and a betrayal to the people who elected them. The opposition leaders will need to work together and focus on the mandate the voters gave them and be very disciplined to deliver to the voters’ expectations. Azimio has control in 23 counties. We want to see a difference in governance in their counties.

What next for Raila

Raila is a statesman with vast experience that many can learn from. He can set up the Raila Odinga Leadership Centre to train and prepare the next generation of leaders that can transform Kenya. He remains an inspiration to Kenya, the region, and the continent. A beacon of hope for many. He can now inspire a new generation of active citizens to understand leadership isn’t an entitlement; it is a call of duty and service to your country. These citizens will hold all duty bearers to account and demand transparency, and integrity from their leaders.

6.9 million Kenyans voted for Raila. They’re hurting and they need direction. Some 8 million Kenyans, mostly young people, did not vote in this election. That's more than those who voted for either Raila or Ruto. If galvanized, this could be the “Third Force”. I look forward to being part of this movement, the one that will hold Ruto’s government accountable for every campaign promise he made.

My constitutional right

To those who are disappointed that l supported Raila and Karua, I would like to remind them that Kenya is a multiparty democracy, Article 4(2) declares that the Republic of Kenya is a multi-party democratic state founded on the national values and principles of governance, meaning I have a constitutional right to support a party different from yours. I make no apologies for supporting Azimio. It is my democratic and constitutional right. You should respect my choice, just the same way that I respect yours.

The perception that supporters of Azimio are deemed enemies of the state are unfounded, misinformed, and dangerous.

President Ruto is the president of the Republic of Kenya, not Kenya Kwanza. This means he has a responsibility to all Kenyans including those who didn’t vote for him.  Kenya belongs to all of us and we all have a responsibility to Kenyans to do our best for the nation to thrive. This remains my firm commitment to my country and one that you can hold me to.

Boniface Mwangi is a human rights defender based in Nairobi and was a volunteer in the Azimio Presidential Secretariat during Kenya’s 2022 general election.