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Is Raila Odinga victim of Kenya’s political culture and voting patterns?

August 13, 2017 7:40 AM
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Is Raila Odinga victim of Kenya’s political culture and voting patterns?

Let us take a moment and spare a thought for Raila Amolo Odinga. In his own eyes, Baba is a permanent victim of circumstances. He is a 'hapless victim' of the system, the Government, the Constitution, and lately, technology. It is said that a victim of circumstances is a casualty, but a victim of convenience is a narcissist. So which one is he? I want to suggest that he is both. I will explain.

In this election, Raila was convinced that he had 10 million votes in the bag. But when the day of reckoning finally arrived, Raila found himself with a triple tragedy. Tragedy number one - he did not get within smelling distance of his 10 million goal. Tragedy number two, he only got within long driving distance of the constitutionally required 50 per cent + 1 threshold. And tragedy number three, his nemesis in the electoral battle, Uhuru Kenyatta, got both these things. And this is where I think he is a victim of circumstances.

First, Raila is a victim of the system. By the system I mean Kenya's political culture and voting patterns. The fact of the matter is that Kenyans vote along ethnic lines. This means that if, as a candidate, you do not represent a populous ethnic group, you have zero chances of becoming president. The election was going to be won on account of the demographic lay of the land. Unfortunately for Raila his ethnic coalition's starting point was 6.9 million voters whereas that of Kenyatta was 7.9 million voters, making Kenyatta closer to the constitutional threshold of 50 per cent plus one, even before the ballot was cast. So is the system fixed against Raila? Yes it is.

Two, Raila is a victim of the Constitution - even with the commendable 6.7 million votes he obtained; which is 1.4 million more votes than he garnered in the 2013 election, he is doomed to spend the next five years jobless. He is not a Member of Parliament and he will not be the official leader of the opposition. In this regard, The Constitution is harsh. It does not offer the runners up (who commands a significant second majority) a soft landing, it is a zero-sum game situation. The winner wins big and the loser has to sit it out for another five years and try his/her luck next time. This is why the results are not readily acceptable to Raila.

And the results will be no different next time because our Constitution has entrenched what Mutahi Ngunyi calls the 'Tyranny of Numbers'; the most populous ethnic groups will always come together and form a coalition for the sake of meeting the 50 per cent plus one threshold. But Raila is also his own victim; and is going to be a casualty of his own actions and decisions. He will be responsible for adding personal humiliation on top of the electoral embarrassment he has already suffered. Here is why.

After the preliminary results started to trickle in and it was evident that Kenyatta was in the lead, NASA was at a momentary crossroads; their choice was to either protest the results or prepare to concede. And because they chose to protest the results - their second decision was on how to do it.

Out of a range of rigging allegation options, they decided against the usual boring cut and paste accusations like ballot stuffing, voter suppression, gerrymandering, or compromising returning officers. These options did not make the cut for NASA this time because the margin was too wide to collect substantive evidence.

They instead went for the most sophisticated option; large scale manipulation of algorithms in the IEBC electronic system. This turned out to be an excuse easily dismissed by IT gurus and that failed to convince the court of public opinion. Worse still, according to the IEBC, the supporting evidence presented was a sham. I don't know which is worse - someone who wants to be head of state lying about hacking the IEBC system or hiring a quack to fabricate a document to use as the basis for contesting election results?

Additionally, Raila is suffering the fate of the 'boy who cried wolf.' Because the village herds-boy cried wolf so many times, the day the wolf truly attacked his herd, no one came to his rescue. Similarly, Raila's perpetual allegations about theft of votes, the partisan nature of IEBC and all sorts of other claims are hardly believable.

And so, it seems that Raila sabotaged himself. Rather than take the high road and concede or at least give a credible objection to the results, he gave a series of bizarre, clumsy and far fetched stories that only made him appear desperate and power hungry. While Raila is indeed a victim of circumstance, he is also definitely a victim of his narcissism.

—The writer is a PhD candidate in Political Economy at SMC University and a Research Fellow at Fort Hall School of Government. [email protected]


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