Observer report shows how hustler narrative sank Raila

Azimio la Umoja leaders Raila Odinga (left) and Martha Karua during a past event in Donholm, Nairobi. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

The introduction of class "us versus them" politics in the aftermath of 2018 political handshake between former President Uhuru Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga has been cited as a defining factor of this year's General Election.

In its final report on the election, Elections Observation Group (Elog) says the handshake generated far-reaching political narratives and realignments, which significantly shaped the election.

The report, "From the Ballot to the Portal", notes that the hustler narrative shifted politics from the traditional ethnic basis through which leaders have always mobilised support.

"It (hustler narrative) was mostly popular amongst the unemployed and those in the informal and blue-collar sectors. The proponents of the populist narrative crafted it into a strategic campaign platform in the form of a bottom-up economic model," notes the report.

The brand of politics reverberated across the country and had potential to cause horrendous political and socio-economic upheavals, the report says, and adds it manifested as a political movement and brand campaign insignia.

According to the report, the privileged were portrayed as the cause of the "hustlers" struggles. They were depicted as aloof towards these burdens.

Widespread poverty

"It became a key pillar of the 2022 campaign rhetoric and messaging. It was also embraced as a form of political agitation and rebellion by the underprivileged populace against the privileged elites and political dynasties in society," it says.

Elog notes that the mantra resonated with many Kenyans due to widespread poverty, entrenched inequality and the impacts of Covid-19.

Others factors like unresolved historical injustices, general sense of insecurity across the country, perceived "deep state" support of one political side, prevalence of hate speech, fake news and mis/disinformation added swell to its potency.

Pitted against it, the Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition presidential candidate did not stand a chance, the report implies. While Raila concentrated his campaign messaging on unity, cohesion and trashing the hustler narrative, he was labelled a project and "deep state" surrogate.

The antecedents of the two main rivals, the report also says, made the election stiff and tense. While Raila, at 77, was making his fourth "last bullet" bid, Kenya Kwanza candidate William Ruto, at 55, was making his first stab at it.

"The two are very well known for their brand of abrasive politics and as astute political mobilizers with great mastery of Kenyan political nuances and dynamics," the report notes.

As Ruto placed a bet on his hustlers, Raila placed his on his traditional base as well as the backing of Kenyatta, and presumably that of state machinery.

The understanding the two had of each other, having worked together, as well as the impact of an electoral loss on each one of them defined their respective political strategies. It informed the timing and unleashing of their strategic campaign manoeuvres.

For Ruto, a win at all costs was necessary on account of the innate desire to protect his political career and his vast economic interests and wealth from potential political saboteurs.

For Raila, the contest was a do-or-die on account of his advanced age and previous election losses, but also due to the fear of existential peril to his and Kenyatta's political and economic interests.

"The environment was not only dramatic, but it also evinced all the characteristics of a perfect election storm," it says, adding that the totality of these factors conspired to generate a combustible environment for the election.

Elog reiterates its preliminary findings that the results declared by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) reflected what they had projected. They also concluded beyond the election campaign framing, they did not take note of any serious, systematic or pattern of planned mischief on the part of IEBC or parties to the election.

IEBC reforms

They decried the historic low voter turn-out, proliferation of fake news, return of violence in some areas and the chaos at the Bomas of Kenya national tallying centre. The report credits the maturity of voters for staying above the divisions exhibited by IEBC commissioners, saying Kenya would have otherwise plunged into chaos.

The group is rooting for an "independent post-elections review and evaluation" of the electoral processes, including the role of key players. It also supported Supreme Court's recommendation for an urgent review of IEBC's corporate governance structure.

"Elog also observes that due to the continuous assault on the independence of the commission, there is a need to revisit debate on the model of the electoral management body to embrace a more politically inclusive and representative structure."

The report also chides the media and IEBC for stopping tallying during results transmission.

The group also makes an array of recommendations on legal and operational matters, drawing on their observation and outcome of the polls.

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