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Uhuru-Raila election battle may polarise nation again

By Makau Mutua | January 10th 2016 at 00:11:05 GMT +0300

My crystal ball is back — and it will shock you. The year 2017 is around the corner, and you know what that means. There’s one more epic duel between the Kenyattas and the Odingas. CORD boss Raila Odinga, the indomitable son of Jaramogi, will once again go mano-a-mano with Kamwana, the scion of the Burning Spear. Every time the two families have squared off, the Odingas have come out with the short end of the stick. Even in 2002, when Mr Kenyatta lost to NARC’s Mwai Kibaki — with Mr Odinga’s pivotal support — the son of Jomo was arguably the winner. That’s because it was that loss which prepared him for his 2013 ascend to State House. Can a third non-traditional candidate unseat both?

There’s never been a quasi-coherent Opposition in Kenya without an Odinga in charge. That’s fact, not fiction. Jaramogi was the doyen — and father — of Opposition politics. His demise left a large vacuum that Raila, his son, filled. But like the father, the younger Mr Odinga risks living out his life never having achieved the ultimate prize — corralling State House. The closest he came was numero dos, as Prime Minister, just like his father, who became Vice President. For the Odingas, the struggle to the pinnacle of state power has been Sisyphean. Theirs is a story with layers of Greek tragedy. But 2017 represents arguably the last good shot Mr Odinga may have at redeeming the family name.

For Mr Kenyatta, life has been a bed of flowers. The man who was born and raised in State House is now its tenant — this time as the country’s CEO. Mr Kenyatta has suffered none of the tribulations that his opposite number — Mr Odinga — has endured. Mr Odinga is one of the longest serving detainees in Kenya’s history. Virtually a decade of his life was lost behind bars. While Mr Odinga was confined, Mr Kenyatta was either in school, or minding the family store. The two are princes, but of different pedigree. That’s why Mr Odinga will likely never regard Mr Kenyatta as his political equal. One toiled in the vineyards of democracy while the other harvested the grapes.

It’s true there are other plausible players in Kenya apart from Mr Kenyatta and Mr Odinga. In fact, there are plenty of more able players — an alternative leadership. I’m not talking about the earthlings already in CORD and Jubilee. None of them will unseat Mr Kenyatta and Mr Odinga from the pinnacle of politics. That’s because hoi polloi adore them, and the elite genuflect around them. URP boss William Ruto thinks of himself as presidential material. So does Amani’s Musalia Mudavadi. Wiper supremo Kalonzo Musyoka is knocking on the door. These traditional hangers-on are doomed. That’s because Mr Odinga and Mr Kenyatta are clogging the middle — like colossi.

I’ve news for the three would-be challengers to Mr Kenyatta and Mr Odinga. These are Mr Ruto, Mr Mudavadi, and Mr Musyoka. They will have to wait for the Kenyatta-Odinga family feud to exhaust itself. I have a strong feeling neither of the three have the patience to spectate another Odinga-Kenyatta slug-fest. They believe they are pretty good pugilists themselves. That’s why one of two things will happen. First, Mr Odinga will either consign Mr Musyoka to second fiddle, or drop him altogether. Mr Musyoka could also walk, and declare independence. Don’t forget he once cut himself loose from former President Daniel arap Moi. Second, Mr Kenyatta could still cut Mr Ruto, or force Mr Ruto to bolt out of the barn. In either scenario, Mr Odinga and Mr Kenyatta may go to war in 2017 without their current lieutenants.

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I know folks in Jubilee want us to believe that Mr Ruto will play Mr Kenyatta’s bride again so that he can be requited in 2022. As they say, it is not happening. Their marriage of convenience has been over for quite some time. They both know it, and can barely function in what is euphemistically called the Presidency.

In CORD, Mr Musyoka keeps saying he will gun for the top seat. Perhaps he hasn’t received the memo. No one is stopping Agwambo from confronting Mr Kenyatta — for the last time – in another —titanic clash. You heard it here. All this begs the question — have the Odingas and the Kenyattas held Kenya hostage to a family feud? Let’s admit it — the answer is in the affirmative. As they say in Kiswahili, “kama ni mbaya ni mbaya” [it’s what it is]. Unfortunately, the contest between the two usually takes ethnic tones as their lackeys and supporters whip up tribal hysteria. Do the two have what it takes to de-ethnicise their expected contest, and go to the mat without the tribe? If not, can Kenya field an alternative candidate?

raila odinga president uhuru kenyatta CORD jubilee
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