Here’s when the rain started beating Raila-ICC factor


Who would have known, only a few months ago, that the first and biggest political casualty of the International Criminal Court (ICC) process in this country would be none other than Prime Minister Raila Odinga himself?

Who would have known, only a few months ago, that by indicting Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto for assorted crimes against humanity, the ICC would inadvertently be building these two men into Kenya’s most formidable political personalities and then propelling them directly into the country’s presidency and vice presidency, respectively?

Who would have known that that television footage of Uhuru and Ruto under siege in some courtroom in The Hague would turn out to be the most powerful – yet completely free – campaign advertising for the Uhuru-Ruto presidential ticket of 2013?

Chess players know very well that in a tight game, one single move involving any of the pieces still on the board, can make or break one’s opponent. The problem is that, very often, the player who has made the decisive move does not always immediately know just how significant his or her move may turn out to be. By the time this reality hits home, one’s king may be in mortal danger.

This, I think, is exactly what happened to Raila Odinga shortly after he became Prime Minister in 2008. In the euphoria that followed his appointment to the second most powerful political office in the land, he made that one decisive move on the country’s political chessboard. He burnt the political bridges that had hitherto connected him to William Ruto, the de facto political leader of the Kalenjin community, the country’s fourth largest.

In retrospect, it is now becoming clear that from the moment Raila drove Ruto from his political stable, his chances of becoming the fourth president of Kenya went up in smoke. In fact, it could turn out that his chances of ever rising to the Presidency actually evaporated the moment he alienated Ruto in 2008.

Presidential cycle

There is a sense, albeit a rather narrow one, in which numbers do not lie. According to the latest presidential poll tally released last week, Uhuru Kenyatta beatRaila Odinga by just over 832,000 votes. Given the relatively transparent manner in which the votes were tallied, it was clearUhuru’s triumph was total.

But where did these extra votes which tipped the balance against Raila come from?

Almost certainly, they came from the Rift Valley, Ruto’s political stronghold. These were the votes that, in effect, Raila lost when he alienated Ruto in 2008. These are the votes which he could never get back in this presidential political cycle.

In a sense, therefore, Raila lost the 2013 presidential elections all the way back in 2008.

Now enter the ICC. Towards the end of 2010, this court indicted both Ruto and Uhuru for assorted crimes against humanity during the 2008 post-election violence.

The court sessions that followed these indictments were broadcast live into Kenyan homes and public places, including those in Ruto’s Rift Valley home base and in Uhuru’s Central Province.

Suddenly, both Uhuru’s and Ruto’s supporters were awakened to the real and immediate danger that was facing their two champions. Concurrently, it began to sink into their collective subconscious that Raila, who had been a principal, along with President Kibaki, in the 2007 presidential elections was about to escape the ICC culpability altogether.

This eventuality, in their thinking, was not the way God arranged such things. If the ICC could not indict Raila, then he had to be punished politically here at home.

From this premise, it was only one small political step forward.

Raila had to be defeated at the next presidential elections, if the ICC could not deal with him decisively. And the simplest and most effective way of doing that was to unite the Kikuyu and Kalenjin voting blocks and then take on Raila with this new joint block as the foundation of a new, rival political block.

The rest is now history.

It is not clear yet if Raila’s political handlers ever realised just how dangerous the ICC card actually was to their presidential ambitions. But from some of the statements Raila himself made at some of the last political campaign rallies, it is quite evident that he never quite understood just how lethal this ICC card was.

At these rallies he urged Kenyans to shun the Jubilee ticket because its principals, Uhuru and Ruto, had been indicted by the ICC.

Jokes aside

During one of the presidential debates, he reminded Uhuru that he could not govern the country through Skype from The Hague.

He did not seem to realise that every time he referred to the ICC in public he was actually solidifying Uhuru and Ruto’s positions within their respective communities and strengthening the opposition voting bloc. He did not seem to realise that, politically, the ICC doze was destroying him.

And so, in a word, what brought Raila’s presidential ambitions crashing to the ground last week? Two things: Raila’s alienation of Ruto in 2008 and the ICC process that indicted Uhuru and Ruto. Politics, as Tom Mboya used to say, is no joke.

The writer is a lecturer and consultant in Nairobi.

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