2013 ELECTION: IMPLICATIONS OF A TWO-HORSE RACE Kenya has had only two two-horse presidential races in the multiparty era, both of them highly-charged affairs – the 2002 and 2007 contests – the first one a regime-changing landslide victory for the then incoming President Kibaki and the second one a nail-biting near-photo-finish that ended in disputed results and a vortex of political violence. As Kibaki leaves office another titanic presidential two-horse race seems to be in the offing, pitting two of the most iconic political brands in this country, an Odinga against a Kenyatta. What is likely to happen next?

Prime Minister Raila Odinga has made it clear that he relishes a two-horse race for the March 4, 2013, presidential contest and that he envisages Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta as the other horse. In the PM’s explicit view, all others in the race are nothing but punda.

Raila reiterated his wish after the recent parliamentary and civic by-elections where his Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) captured a constituency seat and six civic seats and Uhuru’s The National Alliance (TNA) took two constituency and five civic seats. Uhuru, until recently the preferred successor of two consecutive presidents – Daniel arap Moi and Mwai Kibaki – has now acquired yet another “preferred” category: that of “preferred opponent”, for the PM, in the presidential race.

Of thoroughbreds and pundas

By punda the PM means something whose inferiority alongside the thoroughbreds that are himself and the DPM is worse than that of a mere nag, the rest of the field are not even, in the parlance of horse-racing, also-rans, they are donkeys, total non-contenders. Think of a VW Beetle jalopy in the same flat-out race as one of the latest and sleekest Mercedes Benz, Range Rover or Jaguar high-end models and you have an idea of how the PM fancies both himself and the DPM vis a vis the rest of the field.

In other words, the Premier views the rest of the field as Mickey Mouse presidential candidatures heading nowhere fast. What’s more, they know that the electorate knows that they know. These are the pundas of the coming contest that the Prime Minister is so adamant are wasting their and Kenyans’ time. What distinguishes a punda from the thoroughbreds of first and second position in Kenya’s presidential races? And has a punda in one race lived to run another day and become a thoroughbred?

The answer to the second question is Yes, and it is one of the biggest ironies of presidential elections in this country that the PM surely knows whereof he speaks, having himself been a certifiable punda – in the 1997 contest, which was the then President Daniel arap Moi’s final race as a contender and Kibaki’s second, unsuccessful, stab at State House.

In that race, Moi of the Kenya African National Union garnered 2,500,856 votes (40.60%); Kibaki of the Democratic Party 1,911,742 (31.00%); Raila of the National Development Party 667,886 (10.80%); Kijana Wamalwa of Ford Kenya 505,704 (8.20%) and Charity Ngilu of the Social Democratic Party 488,600 (7.9%). Kibaki’s trajectory across three general elections, comprising 10 years of trying, was 1,050,617 (19.5%) in the first multiparty presidential race in 1992, where he was placed third behind Moi of Kanu and Kenneth Matiba of FORD-Asili; 1,911,742 (31.00%) in 1997; and the landslide 3,647,658 (61.3%) of 2002 that finally landed him in State House.

Raila’s presidential vote trajectory across three general elections, 1997, 2002 (which he sat out and endorsed Kibaki) and 2007 was the paltry 667,886 (10.80%) of 1997 and then the enormous 4,352,860 (44%) of just 10 years later, in 2007, the second highest number of votes ever registered in a presidential poll in the history of Kenya electioneering.

The pundas of the 2002 contest were Simeon Nyachae of the Forum for the Restoration of Democracy-People at 345,161 (5.9%), James Orengo of the Social Democratic Party at 24,568 (0.4%) and one David Ng’ethe of the Chama Cha Umma, with 10,030 (0.1%). Little wonder, then, that the PM speaks of himself in such seemingly haughty terms, given a scenario in which Kibaki is not only no longer a contender, but seems to be having serious second thoughts about engineering an Uhuru preferred candidature, would appear to leave him with a commanding head start.

Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka led the pundas of the 2007 contest with 879,903 (9%) votes, running on an Orange Democratic Movement-Kenya ticket. The outgoing VP is in next year’s race on a Wiper Democratic Movement (WMD) ticket. It is now largely and remarkably forgotten that Matiba was actually in the 2007 race, on a Saba Saba Asili party ticket, managing only 8,046 (0.081%) of the vote and transmuting himself from the thoroughbred of Election ’92 to one of the seven pundas of ’07.

Deputy Prime Minister Wycliffe Musalia Mudavadi of the United Democratic Forum (UDF) and Eldoret North MP William Ruto of the United Republican Party (URP) are declared presidential candidates on their maiden runs. The PM reserves the greatest contempt for their rebellion inside ODM and what he views as their straying into political dead-ends as far as the coming contest is concerned.

Gichugu MP Martha Karua of Narc and Gatanga MP Peter Kenneth of the Kenya National Congress (KNC) are also making their very first presidential bids, as is Raphael Tuju of the Party of Action (PoA). Barring the most unforeseen catastrophic circumstances, for instance the sky falling in and crushing all other contenders, these three are setting themselves up for a fall and will in all likelihood bring up the far distant punda rear and then spend the following five years finding something else to do.

Every presidential race has contenders like these, even in America, only in other political systems they know when to drop out of the race, which is precisely why one Mickey Mouse candidate, the Reverend Mutava Musyimi, did precisely that, diving headlong into TNA and leaving the Democratic Party, President Kibaki’s one-time vehicle, looking like the rudderless structure it really is.

As for Uhuru himself, he has seen it all, with the exception, of course, of the pending Odinga versus Kenyatta scenario in the 50th year of Independence. Uhuru has been in a two-horse race before, when he played the role of the most unpopular presidential candidate yet, despite his almost-2 million vote tally (as Moi’s preferred candidate) in the blistering race with Kibaki of 2002.

To this day, millions of Kenyans are convinced that in the 2002 race they beat Moi, not his merely candidate. They were voting against Moi and his 24-year-long incumbency, which had overstayed its welcome long before its first dozen years. But even in this awkward position Uhuru still garnered 1,836,055 (30.2%) a figure in the neighbourhood of what Kibaki had scored five years earlier in Moi’s final election as a presidential contender in a field without Matiba, who sat out that year’s contest. It is the third highest presidential contest loser tally in the history of the multiparty era after Kibaki’s 1997 figure and Raila’s 2007 figure.

 An Uhuru with Mt Kenya behind him

No one has yet seen an Uhuru in a presidential contest with the Central Kenya vote bloc at his disposal at precisely the point Kibaki has to let go of that bloc, having commanded it for at least 15 years and three consecutive elections, not even Raila. Could he possibly outdo Raila’s phenomenal 10-year leap of 1997 to 2007? Could he produce a number so staggering – comprising the Central Kenya vote bloc and its allies – that it stops the ultimate proponent of a two-horse race in 2013, the PM himself, in his tracks?

Uhuru will have two things going for him in an Odinga versus Kenyatta contest – this time he is a genuinely, even phenomenally, popular candidate in the Mt Kenya region. He has the necessary jet propulsion from his political backyard that has never been his yet. If he campaigns smart and finds like-minded vote blocs around the country that Kibaki barely tapped into in 2007, Uhuru and his TNA could end up – win or lose – with a vote in the five-million region, given a very good turn-out.

TNA’s sterling performance in the November 17 by-elections signaled Uhuru’s unassailable standing in Central and very considerable gravitas in a number of far-flung areas. For a party that is barely five months old to take two out of three parliamentary seats and 38.99% of the votes cast – to well-established ODM’s 33.70% – in the last electoral event before the 11th General Election was no mean feat.

Raila’s near-obsession with a presidential transition poll that is a two-horse race is based on the outgoing PM’s game-plan of giving the voters a very clear choice indeed in the presidential component of Kenya’s biggest and most pivotal General Election ever – and choices don’t come clearer in our political process than an Odinga versus Kenyatta contest.

Some of Uhuru’s handlers, although extremely excited at having finally arrived at the point in time when the Central Kenya vote bloc is no longer Mwai Kibaki’s, are approaching the question of a stark Black-and-White, no-grey-areas-in-between choice, between an Odinga presidency or another Kenyatta presidency, with great caution. Uhuru’s troubles at the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague, where he has confirmed crimes-against-humanity charges arising from the post-election violence of 2007-08, remain his greatest impediment.

The case begins in earnest barely a month after the General Election. Ruto also has a date at The Hague, also beginning in April. In a two-horse race the Odinga campaign would go out of its way to portray the Kenyatta campaign as damaged goods heading straight for a rendezvous with The Hague. But Uhuru’s grassroots supporters do not appear to pay much heed to this unfolding scenario.

Nonetheless, Uhuru’s handlers kept a wary eye on Chief Justice Willy Mutunga’s recent official tour of the United States, where he was introduced at a series of high-level speaking engagements as the certifier of the next presidential contest in Kenya. Speaking at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., on September 7, Mutunga addressed the ICC issue in the following highly significant terms:

“We do not view the development of jurisprudence as a Kenya-centric undertaking. It is not even Afro-centric. Whereas some jurisdictions have elected not to be part of the international legal system in one way or another, the Constitution commits Kenya to international law and emerging principles of practice. International law and legal norms form part of Kenya’s stock of statute. That is why the Judiciary is keen to create jurisprudence that can be used at home, just as easily as it can be exported abroad because Kenya is but a staging post for the rule of law.

There will be need to engage in discourses on the place of international law, considering the emerging contests it has tended to provoke. There is need to view the International Criminal Court in this broad context and acknowledge it as a complex question”. Given the extraordinary integrity and suitability cases against all five top contenders for the presidency – Raila, Kalonzo, Uhuru, Mudavadi and Ruto – Uhuru could face another hurdle (alongside Ruto), that of being barred from contestation by the Mutunga Supreme Court.

However, if the Court decides to allow all five to run then all eyes will be on how the PM intends to make a contest against Uhuru as stark a choice as possible, given that The Hague is unstoppable. Raila’s strategy for what will most likely be Kenya’s biggest-ever presidential election turn-out is being studied 24/7 throughout the political spectrum, including by the punda factor.

So far, there are many more questions than answers. What does Raila have in mind? Will he make it another PNU versus ODM scenario; reform versus anti-reform; for constitutional implementation versus anti-constitutional implementation? And can he distil it all as the ultimate showdown – Odinga versus Kenyatta? What dynamics will he unleash? Will he go for a 2002 situation (the first real two-horse race in Presidential polls in Kenya) where it was Kanu versus Narc, or the 2007 race, where it was PNU versus ODM?

 Raila thrives under crises and mutiny

With so many prospective pundas having left Raila’s side (Mudavadi, Ruto, Najib Balala, Rachel Shebesh, and counting) and other potential political constellations now in the making, for instance the so-called ANC, who is hurting more, Odinga or Kenyatta? Those who say Kenyatta point to his ICC albatross. Those who say Raila claim he has haemorrhaged too much support in losing the likes of Mudavadi and Ruto.

Raila’s remarks at the late Prof George Saitoti’s funeral, to the effect that he had a secret working relationship with him, were particularly telling. Maybe they had a two-horse scheme going, to be unveiled with strategic timing and maximum element-of-surprise impacts. Talk of the G7 Alliance coming together as the Alliance National Coalition (ANC) has done the rounds on the political grapevine in recent weeks. This seems to be an arrangement outside TNA’s and Uhuru’s orbit. The emergence of the ANC, supported as it is by such Saitoti orphans as former Presidential election strategist Peter Kagwanja, could be a continuation of Odinga strategies that have yet to clarify.

After all, Raila thrives best under conditions of crises and mutiny. He knows how to pick up the apparently disenfranchised and the rebels right in the heartlands of his greatest rivals and to galvanise them into unprecedented collaborations, in other words, how to convene power (ask Moi and his handlers at the point at which Kanu imploded in 2002, or the outgoing Kibaki and his 2007 team).

Had Saitoti lived and felt that the outgoing power elite had behaved as badly towards him as Moi’s, he would have been easy pickings for Raila, the Convener of Power away from the centres of establishment power. The PM will almost certainly swoop down on the ANC and Alliance Party of Kenya (APK) if they are not accommodated by TNA.

Inside the Kenyatta camp, the most gnawing fear is that the two-horse race scenario could potentially build Raila, already a larger-than-life figure, into an unassailable position and cause serious negotiating problems for Uhuru and his allies long before Election Day. Uhuru should be negotiating like mad with Kalonzo, Mudavadi, Ruto and Balala, all of whom walked away from the PM who has clearly embarked on a strategy meant to demean and diminish them. What is giving him pause?



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