SECTIONS
Premium

Azimio team faces perilous political future after election loss

A section of Azimio MPs led Ugenya MP Opiyo Wandayo (centre) addressed the media at Safari Park Hotel, Nairobi on September 21, 2022. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

That the Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Alliance is tottering on the brink of collapse is not in doubt. What is in doubt is what next for its leaders Raila Odinga, Martha Karua and Kalonzo Musyoka. Also on the raft is former President Uhuru Kenyatta, who was styled as the Azimio chairman and manager of final resort.  

The election loss has left the Uhuru-Raila outfit weak. The future is uncertain. Signs of unease and panic began showing early when on August 13, a precipitate presidential victory celebration, planned for the  Kenyatta International Convention Centre (KICC), was quickly transformed into an introductory meeting for the coalition’s victorious candidates in the August 9 elections.  

The August 13 agenda at KICC, presided over by the coalition’s presidential running mate, Martha Karua, and the presumptive Prime Cabinet Secretary, Kalonzo Musyoka, was a makeshift face saving affair. It was crafted on the wings of the first signs that Azimio was losing the election and that the purpose of the meeting needed to be varied.   

The decision by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) to place forms 34A on a public portal was a master stroke that both shielded the commission from the worst of the usual blows by dissatisfied politicians, but also enabled all keen stakeholders to do their own tallies and know the outcome even before IEBC made the official announcement. At the time of calling for the meeting, indications were that Raila was winning. By the time of the assembly, Azimio kingpins knew that the election was lost.  

While Kalonzo and Karua put on bold faces and told the gathering that they had won the election, their body language, and the tremors and inflection in their voices told a different story. So, too, did the absence of the presidential candidate, Raila. Something was not adding up, and Azimio did not know how to deal with the emerging situation. The overlords have still not come to terms with the defeat.

They do not seem to know how to address the emerged reality, even as the coalition begins sinking into blame games, both at coalition level and within the foremost political party in the formation, the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM).  

The initial apprehension after their own tallies showed that the election was lost and morphed into palpable panic. Panic mutated into reckless intervention, when ODM legislators, newly reelected, threw the national tallying centre, at Bomas of Kenya, into a theatre of chaos on August 15.

They all but stopped chairman Wafula Chebukati of IEBC from announcing the election results, even as four commissioners were hassled to an alternative site in town, to disown the then supposedly not yet known outcome. After the Supreme Court upheld the election of William Ruto on September 5, the panic in the coalition has given way to denial, and denial to anger. 

Now anger is giving way to internal blame games and disintegration that could completely redefine the opposition. From the original hypothesis that IEBC and the Supreme Court had denied them victory, the narrative is steadily shifting to a motley of explanations that touch on internal rifts and fissures, as well as other weaknesses that led to defeat.

The reasons range from culpable internal disorganisation and serious managerial gaps in the campaign effort, to alleged serious conflict of interest and mismanagement of election agents and funds. Senior officials and coordinators in the effort have been accused of possible misappropriation of funds, while others are accused of hubris and misplaced pride and sense of self-importance. Suffice it to say that there were cocktails of selfish interests and agendas that inevitably led to defeat. 

Yet, defeat was the one thing that the coalition was not prepared to deal with. The version of the Azimio agreement seen by this writer does not anticipate defeat at all, and what would happen in the event that the presidential poll was lost. All along, the only destination for Azimio was State House. Assured of State machinery, as symbolized by the so-called deep state, certain victory was the only outcome that the Azimio team was prepared for. Even as the principals now wrestle with the reality that Ruto has been inaugurated as the fifth president and that their options are exhausted, Raila, Kalonzo, Karua and former President Uhuru Kenyatta do not seem to know what to do next.  

Raila is a wounded political old buffalo. While he has taken many blows in the past, this is the one blow that has left him most stunned. He recently announced, after a short absence from the country, that it had been necessary for him to take time out to recover, in Zanzibar. His subsequent verbal assault on the judges of the Supreme Court, however, did not suggest that he had begun recovering. He threatened to mobilize a million supporters, to overthrow the Supreme Court. Newly elected Siaya Governor, James Orengo, for his part, berated the judges, calling them his juniors, and suggesting that they did not know the law.  

In the midst of all this, however, the real trouble in the Azimio formation is three fold. First is lack of clear direction on what to do next and how to keep the union intact. The challenge is compounded by the fact that President Ruto and his Kenya Kwanza brigade are raiding the Azimio camp, with tangible results. Ruto has taken the Speaker’s and deputy Speaker’s positions in both houses of Parliament. Kirinyaga’s Governor Ann Waiguru of Kenya Kwanza, has also been elected the Chairperson of the Council of Governors.  Azimio has been beaten hands down, even in forums where, at least on paper, they have more members. 

The second point of concern resides in accusations of betrayal. Some ODM politicians have suggested that their leader, Raila, was all along being taken for a ride. The first off the blocks was Embakasi East MP, Babu Owino, who posted his lamentation about the alleged betrayal on September 5, a few moments before the Supreme Court read out its ruling.

The notion of ‘fixing’ the election is an important one, and perhaps explains best why the election was lost, and the hopelessness in the camp. It was Raila’s elder brother, Dr Oburu Oginga, who first went to town with the boast that this time they had the deep state and the system. Accordingly, while in the past Raila’s election had been allegedly stolen, this time everything was secure. 

Finally, are a motley of concerns about the future. At senior level, there is the question of what next for the principals, and whether they can continue to command the following they have so far had. There are cracks in ODM. Wrangling over positions in parliamentary committees is at once testing Raila’s sustained hold on the party. MPs Babu Owino and Peter Kaluma have exchanged nasty and unmentionable text in social media. Owino and Olekina have accused the party of betrayal, by sidelining them on committees. Kaluma has come out in defence of Raila and the party.  

But the question remains. What next, for Raila ? He was not prepared to be in the Opposition this time. While calling out errant government comes naturally to him, his psychological thrust this time was towards leading the government and letting someone else oppose. It will be an extremely pained Raila in the same old role, a task he might have to undertake halfheartedly. Besides, his troops have shown inertia. While his possible victory had been taken as a matter of course, the defeat failed to stir the usual disbelief and outrage, both after the IEBC and the Supreme Court declarations.  

Raila’s dilemma is magnified by the fact that Ruto beat him when he had everything that he needed to stem the tide, and to cage Ruto. He had the entire State machinery at his disposal, complete with the sitting president. 

Separately, Kalonzo has to work out his political mathematics and think of how he will reinvent himself for sustained relevance. The ended season saw the gauntlet repeatedly thrown down at his feet, by the then governors Prof Kivutha Kibwana (Makueni), Charity Ngilu (Kitui) and Dr Alfred Mutua (Machakos). His entry in Azimio was a face saver of sorts. He is now back to the drawing boards, beaten and bedraggled alongside Raila.

The next five years in the cold could easily morph into ten years, at the end of which he is not likely to be of any significant political premium, to himself or to anybody else. The time might just be now for him to eat humble pie and seek accommodation in Kenya Kwanza, or contend with the political bread of sorrow and waters of affliction for the rest of the trail, beyond 2032. 

 Charity Ngilu, for her part, was most acerbic against Ruto, during the campaigns. Her pronouncements left no room for reengagement and reconstruction, often saying things like she could not even withstand watching Ruto on TV. She used appalling descriptors against him, clearly indicating that she wanted the boats left as permanently burnt. Her options are to either retire completely from politics and public life, or to eat humble pie and seek out the president, if he sees any value in her.  

Riding in the same boat is Karua. She was rich in invective and rhetoric. She was all but assured of an Azimio victory and replacing Ruto in office and residence. Tragically, Karua had no premium beyond blast and polemic.

Not having won a single seat anywhere in the country for her Narc Kenya ticket, the political space will carefully weigh her future worth, even as she weighs her options. A sustained non-competitive role as an activist could still work well for her, either within her party, or in the NGO activism world – or both.  

Finally, there is former President Uhuru Kenyatta. His departure from the political centre stage goes with the Jubilee Party, the 2017 leviathan that dominated both houses of Parliament. The retired president would probably best accept that he has had his dance in the political arena and move into what he would hope will be a quiet retirement.

As a footnote, Cotu Secretary General, Francis Atwoli, demonstrated that he had the gift of the garb in his harsh campaigns against Ruto. His idiom was, however, limited to a few pithy descriptors, which he would hope that Ruto has forgotten – or at least forgiven.

The same goes for four Cabinet Secretaries who have been described as dollar billionaires. For his part, Atwoli has shown political wit by publicly recognizing Ruto and asking the labour force that he leads to rally behind him. A day in politics can be long, they say, and Azimio politics have proved just that. 

The writer is a Strategic Communications Adviser