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Why Raila Odinga must nurture competition in ODM

By By Dominic Odipo | January 20th 2014

By Dominic Odipo

The Macmillan English dictionary defines the word charade as an attempt to pretend that a situation is good or satisfactory, when in fact it is not. Is the political situation within the Orange Party good and satisfactory?

The answer to this question is that nobody, not even the party leader, knows. The only way to find out what the real situation is inside the party is to hold a real free and fair internal party election. And such an election cannot be held if there is no serious challenge for the party leadership itself.

 In other words, ODM cannot know how strong it really is internally until it allows one or two of its own members to challenge Raila Odinga for the party leadership. And here we are talking about the party leadership, not the chairmanship.

Sell himself

A serious leadership challenge within ODM would force Raila to defend himself and his policies, and try and convince the party faithful to give him the presidential ticket one more time after losing twice in the presidential sweepstakes. It would also allow Raila’s opponents to sell their policies and visions to the members, and try and convince them that they would do a better job at the helm of the party than Raila has done so far. Make no mistake, any so-called elections within ODM which do not involve a serious challenge for Raila’s position as party leader are mere charades or masquerades, which everybody will see through, including the Jubilee allied parties.

There are two very simple lessons that ODM could easily pick from the world of professional football. The first of these is that when a manager or a coach loses three major matches on the trot he is quickly fired before the house-cleaning process really gets started. It does not matter how he loses those matches, he could lose them through penalty kicks, offsides or even through own goals. It is his job to make sure that his team does not lose by whatever means.

As George Patton, one of the greatest tank battalion commanders that the last World War threw up used to tell his soldiers, you didn’t join the army so that you could die for your country. You joined so that you could make the other fellow die for his country. Similarly, it is a football manager’s job to make sure that the other team loses the game, no matter how.

There is a very simple blueprint which ODM could follow to rejuvenate itself. Let it allow any party member who can collect at least six supporting signatures from ODM MPs or senators to be allowed to challenge Raila for the party leadership in a free and secret ballot vote among all party delegates.

This could be the first step towards testing ODM’s internal strength.  In any case, ODM, which styles itself the party of the Kenyan masses, bears a special responsibility for building internal party democracy in this country, given its dominance at the grassroots and its intellectual resources, not to mention the point that since Jubilee has already totally monopolised the platform of the tyranny of numbers, ODM may need to create a new platform for itself if it is to remain relevant.

Ideas platform

A possible new departure, in this regard, could be the platform of ideas, which no tyranny of numbers could ever hope to defeat. If ODM can quickly move to claim the platform of ideas for itself, and let Jubilee continue to wallow in the tyranny of numbers, it could, overnight, become politically relevant at the national level once again.

Unfortunately, such new ideas will not percolate through the ODM ranks if Raila continues to bestride the party like a Colossus, the way Gaius Julius Caesar once threatened to bestride Early Rome.

And the second lesson that the party could pick from the world of professional football is that before a premier league football team takes on another team in a league match, at the very least its players have to train amongst themselves. In the same way, ODM has to learn how to conduct serious campaigns internally before it takes on the Jubilee Alliance nationally once more.

 As matters now stand on the national political chessboard, the ODM party leader’s king seems to be in great danger of being checkmated for at least another ten years — a great pity given how rich ODM is at the grassroots, intellectually and professionally. It is now critical for ODM policy makers to move to claim and dominate the loftier intellectual grounds upon which Jubilee can hardly compete and, leaving Jubilee on the tyranny of numbers, actualise the Biblical tradition of giving to Caesar what is his. This is a call, not for the deposition of Raila Odinga from the leadership of ODM, but for an infusion of new ideas into the party, given its recent history.

Historically, it has proved near impossible to infuse new ideas into old political parties without changing the leadership first. And so, now, paradoxically,  it would appear that the best way to save ODM might involve the removal of its founder, Raila Amollo Odinga. At the very least, let the party open the way for the infusion of new ideas, with or without Raila at the top. But let there not be a charade instead of a real internal party election.

The writer is a lecturer and consultant in Nairobi.

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