The 2013 General Election may have been decided in a controversial Supreme Court decision, whose intrigues, Dr Willy Mutunga, the presiding judge has promised to write about, but it shouldn’t have gotten there.
Raila Odinga’s Coalition for Reform and Democracy could have won the elections in the first round, if only they had worked on the campaign slip-ups, fixed strategic blunders, and toned down on the needless chest-thumping of the campaign managers and other party loyalists.
Then there was the International Criminal Court and the “unmasking” of Raila by his former senior aide Miguna Miguna.
Targeting of the youthful population that forms the majority of voters, many of them unemployed and almost hopeless, and to whom the liberation and freedom rhetoric is an unfamiliar old story, was also forgotten, ignored or downplayed. Then there was the angling for campaign largesse for personal gain.
These cocktail of political missteps annoyed some loyalists and alienated the silent voters, but the crucial take-home is that no new voters joined the camp. When the counting was done, the Jubilee Coalition led by Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto, had won with a razor-thin first round victory, going over the statutory 50 per cent mark with 8,419 votes according to IEBC data.
The first strategic mistake that Raila and the CORD brigade did was to fail to mobilise the bulk of their supporters to register — especially in their strongholds. On the other hand, Jubilee worked on the numbers, and when the counting was done, it had 216 MPs in its corner against CORD’s 133.
This time, the National Super Alliance appears to have worked on the numbers right from voter registration. They have the numbers. The next headache is to get all those registered voters to go out and verify that they are on the register and to ensure that they show up to vote on August 8, 2017.
The next item that undermined CORD was the huge ego and overconfidence in the abilities of their candidate and ticket. Raila was Prime Minister, Kalonzo Musyoka was the Vice President. Their opponents were indicted politicians, labelled suspects of crimes against humanity, at the International Criminal Court.
Granted, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission messed up the voting: the electronic voter identification devices failed on election day; the transmission of results too; and there were errors in the tallying with a major bug in the master software and other systemic failures. In hindsight, a more organised campaign, selling the message of hope, promising a better future, wooing voters instead of being overconfident in their leader’s populist and popular persona, would have won the elections with a huge margin.
Then came the International Criminal Court. When the Ocampo Six were named, Uhuru and Ruto knew that the only way to save themselves was to take power. So, when they threw the ICC bait and began prayer rallies, Raila ought to have taken the long view. Yes these were suspects, but why were they selling their “innocence” to the Kenyan public for cases at an international court?
Unfortunately, Raila’s secretariat got clever and fired off a statement in March 2012, more out of anger than out of anything else:
“Crimes against humanity are worse than murder. Yet these suspects of crimes against humanity remain free to traverse the country holding ‘prayer meetings’ – while Kenyan suspects of the lesser crime of murder conduct their prayers only behind the forbidding walls of Kamiti Maximum Security Prison, often for years before their cases are heard,” said Raila’s statement.
The headlines read ‘Uhuru and Ruto belong to jail’. Uhuru and Ruto and their lieutenants hijacked the narrative. First, Ruto who had fought with Raila in the same political corner of ODM in 2007, had been crying over the betrayal in government. Now, here was Raila throwing him under the bus, and saying he belonged to jail. Ruto’s supporters in the Kalenjin nation were mad. Emotions, especially when it comes to betrayal, run deep.
UhuRuto put a spin on Raila’s rhetoric, that he had an agenda to punish people for crimes of whole communities instead of reconciling populations.
“Jubilee presented itself as a party of a grand national reconciliation, and CORD as the party of vengeance,” argued Prof Mahmood Mamdani of Makerere University in an article about the CORD loss.
In the end, that victim card allowed UhuRuto to have a tight stranglehold in their support base. They had the numbers. It didn’t help when the West warned of the “consequences” of choosing suspects of crimes against humanity as national leaders. It mirrored colonial edicts and elicited deep nationalistic sentiments. Some just voted Jubilee just to spite the West.
Then came the failed opportunity to sign on a bitter political player whom UhuRuto had just dumped: Musalia Mudavadi. When Uhuru signed a secret pact with Musalia Mudavadi to fly the presidential flag, and then, while under pressure from his supporters denounced the whole episode as having been hijacked by some devil, it was a golden chance for Raila, Kalonzo and Wetang’ula to strike and try to woo Mudavadi to their side. Raila didn’t, even as his army of followers fell over themselves laughing at Mudavadi’s misfortunes.
Then there’s the campaign packaging. While Uhuru, then a 51-year-old man and Ruto a man in his mid 40s dressed their campaign as young, hip and ‘digital’; Odinga’s strategists dressed the elections as a fight against impunity. UhuRuto gave hope to the youth, Raila and his team, seemed disconnected, and if they had an agenda for the youth it wasn’t well-articulated, yet these are the majority of voters.