Magazine article New African

The 10 Mistakes That Odinga Made: Wanjohi Kabukuru Analyses Some of the Mistakes That Lost Raila Odinga the Presidential Race

Magazine article New African

The 10 Mistakes That Odinga Made: Wanjohi Kabukuru Analyses Some of the Mistakes That Lost Raila Odinga the Presidential Race

Article excerpt

JUST HOW DID KENYA'S FLAMBOYANT FORMER PRIME minister and leading presidential contender, Raila Odinga lose the coveted President of Kenya prize? This is a question that for decades to come may be on the lips of political scientists and historians. Being the frontrunner for almost 7 years, it is a big surprise to many that Odinga lost the election. Up to late 2010, Odinga was the man to beat. All pollsters gave him an unassailable lead. Even with the entry into the race of a number of candidates, Odinga topped the polls and he had no equal. His credentials as a champion of democracy could not be disputed.

But the intrusion of the ICC (with the fixation of its former chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno Ocampo, to "make Kenya an example to the world") changed Odinga's presidential matrix. The ICC and its backers, aided by a number of Kenyan human rights NGOs, somehow managed to sway public opinion to the side of Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto. But it is not just the ICC that dented Odinga's chances, some of his own blunders became costly. Below is a small sample of the mistakes:

1 Know your history and audience: That Odinga was a poor student of history and appeared not to have a clue about the message his audience wanted, was obvious during the election campaign. During the presidential debates, he criticised Kenyatta about how he would run the country and still face trial at the ICC.

Odinga's "you can't run a government through Skype" played well into his opponents' hands who had already branded themselves as the "Digital Team" offering new "transformative leadership". Odinga fell pretty well into the trap they had set for him as an "analogue" politician. By the time he realised that the youth vote was swaying towards Kenyatta, it was too late.

2 The faith and emotions connection: Kenyatta comes From a strict Catholic background and Ruto is a passionate Pentecostal Christian. Their ICC predicament was well choreographed in the Biblical term of "tribulations". This charm offensive in the form of "prayer rallies" was not only aimed at winning the election but also winning sympathy. Images of Kenyatta and Ruto freely crying and kneeling in churches in supplication to the Lord, played a key role in connecting them to the voters. It worked and galvanised faith-based support groups. Odinga's no-nonsense tough image of a reformer floundered miserably.

3 Keep away from pollsters: For years, Odinga's campaign relied heavily on pollsters, who continuously painted him as leading in the polls. This costly mistake made Odinga lethargic and made him live in a "make-believe-bubble" based on the assumption that victory was already assured. He should have listened to the senior counsel, Ahmednassir Abdullahi, who chided Kenyan pollsters as lacking credibility and instead of using science, they resorted to "fiction, black magic, and fantasy".

4 A strong ally as a running mate: It pays to have a socially strong, politically connected, and intellectually endowed running mate. Ruto, who was Kenyatta's running mate, personified all these qualities and projected an image of dependability. Of all the running mates in the race, no one equaled Ruto's prowess in foreign policy, his grasp of economic matters, understanding of security, and connection with the grassroots. The same cannot be said of Odinga's running mate, former Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka. Even when they paired, their body language betrayed the unease beneath.

5 Get your foreign policy right: Four weeks to the election, a number of foreign envoys, notably the Dutch, the British, the Americans and the French, came out strongly to urge Kenyans to reject the Jubilee Coalition led by Kenyatta. They threatened "consequences" (read sanctions) if Kenyatta and Ruto were elected. …

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