'The Raila that I know': Former electoral agency boss bares it all

Azimio la Umoja leader Raila Odinga and former IEBC chief Issack Hassan (inset). [File, Standard]

The Raila Odinga former electoral commission chief Issack Hassan knows is enigmatic -- in simple terms hard to understand. He is fatherly, stately and forgiving but also a conniving, controlling and commanding person.

In his memoirs “Referee of a Dirty Ugly Game”, Issack recounts countless encounters which left him confused about what to make of the man.

They had crossed each other’s paths many times, and Issack blamed him for his eventual downfall, but whenever they met long after that, Raila appeared to have “moved on” although his troops hang on to the inglorious past.

The outcome of the 2013 presidential election sorely disappointed Raila. Robbed of his 2007 presidential poll victory, he had come down to accept a grand coalition government which was largely skewed in favour of former President Mwai Kibaki.

The country scored a lot during that period, the ultimate price being the birth of a new constitutional dispensation in August 2010.

For all his magnanimity, sacrifice and effort, he naturally hoped the gods and the people of Kenya would reward him in 2013, but alas, Uhuru Kenyatta was declared the winner and Kenya’s fourth President by none other than Issack.

“The results from the total tallies show that Uhuru Kenyatta has won and you the runner-up. It would be a good thing, and helpful for the country if you would concede early to allow the country to…..” Issack recalls telling the former Prime Minister on the eve of the big announcement.

He says a disbelieving Raila cut him short: “No, no, no… are you sure about that? You know my team was not happy that you chased them away from the tallying centre. You have not done the proper audit of the 100 constituencies we listed for the commission.”

He was hanging his hopes on a list of 100 constituencies his team had identified for an audit. But Issack’s team was already done with it.

“The entire country expected that we would go for a second round, and now you are saying that Uhuru has won in the first round. It will be good for you and the commission if we went for a second round,” Issack quotes Raila as saying, after he explained it all.

The polls chief went on to declare Uhuru the president-elect, with Raila making a parallel declaration that democracy was on trial. The next battle would be at the Supreme Court, but before that there was the little matter of sneaking Raila and his running mate Kalonzo Musyoka into Parliament through nomination.

Issack says ODM Secretary General P Anyang’ Nyong’o and James Orengo went to see him over the nominations, in “an attempt to give wiggle room for the two top leaders in the nominations.” He claims he refused to budge, at which Nyong’o went on a tirade:

“You are not going to run our party. This is our party, and we will decide who is going to be on our nomination list. It is not for you to tell us who to nominate.”

At the Supreme Court hearings, Issack’s lawyer Ahmednasir Abdullahi rubbed salt into injury, when in his submissions declared Raila “a perennial loser who never accepted defeat”. He asked the court to mind its “crawling” age, reserve its opportunity to express itself more for the future and to look at the bigger picture at that moment.

After the affirmation of Kenyatta’s victory by the Supreme Court, Raila and his support base picked up themselves but remained bitter with the whole episode. They took every opportunity to hit at Issack and his commission, as well as the Supreme Court.

In particular, the “perennial loser” statement refused to go away, and kept cropping up in rallies, press conferences and discussions. Issack says he had the most difficult time trying to dissociate himself from it, but an opportunity presented itself in March 2015 thousands of feet up in the sky.

He was on his way from New York and Raila on his way from Morocco when they met in Dubai for a connecting flight to Nairobi. Raila invited him to sit next to him and the Grand Mullah remark cropped up:

“Your lawyer Ahmednasir called me a perennial loser. How could he do that?” Raila posed.

Issack apologised to him, saying the reference had escaped him when he went through the affidavit, affirming that it was indeed way out of line. He says in the book published by Big Books Ltd, that Raila seemed pacified and they went on chatting all the way to Nairobi.

“I even did some shopping for him from the inflight duty-free on the plane, as a peace token. I bought a cologne for him and a fragrance for his wife, Ida. I had hoped that we would bury the hatchet and it would allay some of the bile against me from him and the CORD team,” he writes.

He says a week later while in Raila’s office, when Ababu Namwamba brought up the matter once again, reminding Raila that Issack could never be objective after calling him a perennial loser. Raila cut him off, saying Issack had already explained himself on the matter.

“It was a significant moment for me when Raila acknowledged before his team that the matter was now water under the bridge,” he writes in the book.

Before the election, Issack and Raila had run into each other several times. In the lead up to the election, the commission conducted its last biometric voter registration drive. Riding on the anti-International Criminal Court (ICC) campaign, voters in Central, Rift Valley and Eastern regions of the country turned up in droves to register as voters.

In comparison, Issack says, Western, Coastal and North Eastern regions which were ODM strongholds recorded low turnout.

The sudden rise in numbers in the non ODM regions sent panic in Raila’s camp, with an eventual call by the PM to Issack:

“You need to extend the deadline by two more weeks and allocate more BVR kits to the Western part of the country within this time.”

Issack said he rejected the proposal. It did not help that soon thereafter with the voter registration drive closed, political analyst Prof Mutahi Ngunyi kept harping on his “tyranny of numbers” theory in which he concluded that the registration drive had already produced a winner.

“No matter what strategy he (Raila) applies now, it is late for him because the election was won a long time ago. His only strategy for now is to try and keep these guys from winning in round one. He needs to ensure that CORD supporters come out and vote to the last man,” Ngunyi wrote.

This sort of analysis was not helping much with a pre-election atmosphere, and especially now that Issack had rebuffed Raila’s overtures to extend the registration drive. They had one more run-in with Raila in the aftermath of party primaries.

Raila’s henchmen wanted Suna East party nominee Junet Mohamed replaced, yet it is the party which had submitted the name. Raila’s Chief of Staff Caroli Omondi was the first one to call, saying the party could not have him as its candidate.

“Chairman, we are going to send you a different name, as unfortunately, Junet messed things up by rigging the election,” he said.

Soon thereafter, Nyong’o called, wanting the same. When the two failed, the Prime Minister who was away in Davos, Switzerland, for the World Economic Forum called Issack:

“Chairman, I am calling with regard to the party primaries in Suna East. I am made to understand that there were irregularities in the manner through which Junet got his nomination certificate. I hear people there are not happy and may burn mosques and other properties. We need to stop him from being the party candidate,” Issack writes in his memoirs.

Junet also rushed to see him to assert his victory. He was surprised to hear that his party leader had supported the move. His name was retained, but Issack advised him to “resolve the matter” with Raila when he got back to the country.

Junet would later hit it up well with Raila, becoming one of the powerful allies in his inner sanctum. In the book, Issack credits Raila for commanding a solid following of people across the country, including professionals who deeply respected him.

In one small anecdote, he says a chairman of a parastatal- Dr Hanningtone Gaya confronted him for addressing Raila by his first name: “What is wrong with you? He is not your equal!”

At the height of his pressure to quit, Issack was walking towards County Hall where a joint committee to decide their fate was meeting. He decided to call his friend Reverend Stephen Mburu who resided in London for help in getting receipts from a hotel he had spent at in order to rebut the Chickengate scandal claims.

The pressure to quit had gained a bipartisan support of Jubilee and CORD leadership but Issack and his team were hanging on to clear their names, and to commit the political class to grant them a dignified exit package.

“Chairman, you will not believe this. Do you know who is in my car right now? The former Prime Minister, Raila Odinga and his daughter Winnie. They are in London,” Mburu explained.

They had missed their flight and they spent at Mburu’s during which he interceded for Issack, asking the PM and his troops to leave him alone. Mburu then handed over the phone to Raila during which they proceeded to discuss the exit package- clearing of names, dignified exit and benefits.

“Only that?” Raila exclaimed.

“Yes, only that,” Issack responded.

In quick succession, Raila talked to Junet who talked to Orengo, one of the co-chairs of the committee, who in turn talked to his counterpart Kiraitu Murungi. Issack says suddenly the atmosphere at County Hall turned for good, and conversation cordial.

“It was quite a turning point… things suddenly began falling into place,” he says.

Much later when he was out of the commission, and Raila had lost the 2017 election, Raila continued to be cordial to him despite their past. Over the “handshake period” he bumped onto Junet and jokingly asked him to advise Raila to devolve the handshake to the commission. He says he made a call to him on the spot.

“His response surprised me. I had assumed he was still angry with me and was apprehensive of how he would receive my call. On answering his phone, Raila saluted me cheerfully, as an elderly man to a younger one; habari kijana yangu?” he writes.

Raila agreed to a handshake and asked him to see him in his office the following week.

“I felt embarrassed about what I had believed of him, as one capable of punishing me, yet he was magnanimous and welcoming. He did not appear to be holding any grudges. After all, he had made up with his biggest political enemy, on whose account I had taken a lot of flak.”

Tomorrow, Issack spills the beans on his interactions with former President Uhuru Kenyatta, including their several rendezvous at night to consult over his fate.