Running mate headache for Azimio la Umoja as leaders dig in

Wiper Women League Chair Rose Museo addresses media at the command centre in Karen on matters endorsement Martha Karua by a section of Azimio-OKA Alliance women leaders on April 19, 2022. [Dennis Kavisu, Standard]

Azimio la Umoja One Kenya leaders are scratching their heads over the individual to pick for the position of running mate so as to formulate a winning team for the presidency.

Despite setting up a national committee to determine a fitting running mate, a tug of war within Azimio has seen individuals and groups try to influence the process.

A solid running mate must be able to marshal votes and have a national appeal.

“You need someone who can bring you votes,” says Machakos Governor Alfred Mutua who has also expressed interest in the running mate position.

With lessons taken from the fallout between President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto, a shared vision of purpose and values is also critical between the flag-bearer and the running mate.

In the past elections, Mr Odinga has received few votes from Mt Kenya and Azimio is now keen to shore up the support from the region.

Central Organisation of Trade Unions (Cotu) Secretary General Francis Atwoli says that President Kenyatta’s experience should be lesson for any presidential candidate.

“I would want him (Raila) to pick an honest person who respects hierarchy and not someone who would be appointed today and starts campaigning tomorrow. He needs someone who will give him enough peace to deliver to Kenyans,” said Mr Atwoli.

The Cotu boss believes that Mr Odinga has the ability to select a running mate.

“Nobody should choose a running mate for Raila. If you do so and he gets another Ruto, (a deputy who is not shy about publicicing his plans of succeeding his boss) you will be blamed. Uhuru must be castigating whoever advised him to pick Ruto as his deputy,” said Mr Atwoli.

Governance expert Tom Mboya explains that Kenya’s history of mobilising voters around ethnic lines becomes a key consideration in selecting a running mate.

Political commentator Herman Manyora, agrees with Mr Mboya that Mr Kenyatta is a big part of that equation and his influence needs to be felt.

Mr Manyora explains that the president brings “the software” which includes the political infrastructure and the influence he has over Mt Kenya electorate. 

“They want to know Uhuru is not a bystander. How is he going to convince them to vote for Raila if he doesn’t have any say?” poses Manyora.

He believes that the ODM leader enjoys goodwill from the president and in the game of politics, such favour cannot be ignored.

“It is important to understand that the running mate issue must be something Uhuru can sell to his side which includes the whole system that stands behind him and not just voters,” said Mr Manyora.

Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka has presented himself as the “obvious” candidate for the post having been a two-time running mate to Mr Odinga. He commands a significant following in Ukambani- he secured 87 per cent of votes in the 2007elections with Mr Odinga getting only 1.5 per cent in the region- and also has experience having served as vice president, Cabinet minister and a principal in three coalitions.

Even though Mr Musyoka has checked all the critical boxes necessary to bag the running mate post, there is still a shadow of doubt in what he called an obvious choice.

“You can’t do the same things expecting different results,” says Dr Mutua alluding to the fact that Raila has lost twice with Mr Musyoka as his running mate. “Choosing the same people offers nothing exciting and that’s why we need fresh people in that position,” argues the Machakos governor.

The gender factor has also come up in the process with the women’s league within Azimio calling for the selection of a woman as running mate.

“We are going to start lobbying because everything for women is lobbying, everything for positions is lobbying. We are going to start that serious conversation in Azimio that we think the number two for Raila Odinga should be Martha Karua,” said Gender Chief Administrative Secretary Rachel Shebesh on Monday.

If anything is certain, numbers, experience in politics and an exquisite track record may just not be enough to scoop the running mate position in Azimio.