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Who can claim to have wrapped up poll race?

By By Dominic Odipo | June 18th 2012

By Dominic Odipo

Kenyan politics is getting richer and more colourful by the day. It is getting richer and more enthralling not just in its mechanics and contours, but also in its language and lexicon.

As a result, new words and phrases are being invented to describe new political formations and conglomerations.

Take the word “Project”, for example. What exactly does it mean? Is it conservative, progressive or neutral? Is it fluid or stationary?

Does its thrust and meaning depend on the Projector? Like whether that person was former Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere, former President Daniel arap Moi or President Mwai Kibaki?

When President Kibaki went down to Kisumu the other day to formally open the new international airport there, both James Orengo, the Lands Minister and Jakoyo Midiwo, the MP for Gem, publicly pleaded with him to support Raila Odinga’s presidential bid.

“Rudisha mkono”, they said. Say “Raila Tosha”, in reference to the declaration Raila made in 2002 at Uhuru Park in Nairobi that did so much to make Kibaki president.

Were those gentlemen asking the President to turn Raila into his “Project?” And when Kibaki failed to respond, what message did those ODM leaders think he was passing?

Received wisdom within ODM has it that the forces around State House and President Kibaki generally epitomise reaction, corruption, electoral fraud and impunity. If this is the case, then why would such top ODM guns publicly plead with the President to support Raila’s presidential bid?

What business should ODM have seeking the support of those whom, in its view, symbolise reaction, corruption, electoral fraud and impunity? Isn’t there more than just a whiff of grand hypocrisy here?

We go out to seek the support of those whose politics we claim we detest. We singularly fail to get that support. So, overnight, we turn all our guns on those we perceive, rightly or wrongly, to have received such support! Interesting stuff, this!

But there is another contradiction in this ODM-Musalia Mudavadi tiff that cannot have escaped close observers of the Kenyan political landscape.

When Mudavadi finally broke ranks with ODM and declared that he was going to run for the presidency on a different party ticket, the immediate reaction of some top ODM operatives was that the man was so weak and ineffective that his presidential bid would soon degenerate into nothing.

If that is the case, then why is the Mudavadi candidacy generating so much heat within ODM circles?

Why is the party spending so much time, resources and political capital demonising, stalking and stereotyping an opponent whom it claims is so weak that his candidacy does not amount to a thing?

At the center of this Raila-Mudavadi tiff lies one critical question: Where is the majority of the Kikuyu vote likely to go, especially if Uhuru Kenyatta, the community’s most formidable presidential candidate, somehow happens not to be on the ballot paper?

Of donkeys and horses

Apparently, top ODM leaders now fear that, if for some reason Uhuru does not run, then the Kikuyu vote is more likely to swing behind Mudavadi as opposed to Raila. Given the real size of the Kikuyu vote, it is very difficult to see how any of the major candidates could win the presidency without it next year.

From this perspective, quite a few recent ODM actions and statements begin to make sense. If Mudavadi looks like he could win the Kikuyu vote, then paint him as a “Project”, in order to galvanise the non-Kikuyu vote against him.

Second, do everything possible to ensure that Uhuru’s name will be on the ballot paper so that Mudavadi does not get the Kikuyu vote in the first round.

And third, since one cannot yet be sure how these matters will turn out, do everything you can to break up this Kikuyu block vote, including sending representatives to Maina Njenga’s political rallies.

No Kenyan presidential election has ever been quite as exciting as the one we are now gearing up to.

Old myths are being rubbished and old certainties debunked.

The courts are looming so large in the background that none of the leading presidential candidates can say for sure what his next move on the political chess board will be.

And those who might earlier have believed that, somehow, they had a greater claim to the Kenyan Presidency than others are now beginning to realise that there are no certainties left in our politics anymore. That politics, all politics, is just the art of the possible.

When we wrote about this subject in this column two months ago, we said that Musalia Mudavadi could turn out to be Raila Odinga’s most formidable challenger for the Kenyan presidency.

Apparently, the ODM leadership now shares this view. That is why we are hearing very little about donkeys and horses these days.

The writer is a lecturer and consultant in Nairobi.

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