Thursday, October 31, 2013

IS RAILA ODINGA LOSING CONTROL OF ODM?

There is no doubt that Raila Omolo Odinga will be on the Kenya presidential ballot in the 2017. What is in doubt is whether or not his political vehicle - the ODM - will survive its prevailing internal squabbles and emerge strong enough to take up the Jubilee Coalition of Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto four years from now. This doubt is informed by historical facts that have characterised Raila's political career over the years.

Since he left the Forum for the Restoration of Democracy (FORD-KENYA) in a huff after a leadership squabble with the late Kijana Wamalwa in 1994, Raila has commanded three political parties of his own -  the National Development Party (NDP), the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) - and not one succeeded in propelling him to the presidency.

In 2001 he disbanded the NDP to team up with President Daniel Arap Moi's KANU in a deal that temporarily torpedoed his political ambitions. In 2002 he aligned LDP with the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) in an arrangement that allowed Mwai Kibaki to win. In 2007, he failed to win the presidency altogether. He faced a similar fate in 2012 when he linked ODM to the Coalition of Reforms and Democracy (CORD) in a contest against the Jubilee coalition.

Now, as he prepares to take his fourth stab at the highest office in the land, Raila faces multiple problems that would most likely, once again, derail his plans to be commander-in-chief. Firstly, CORD exists only on paper. Its main partner, the Wiper Democratic Movement of Kalonzo Musyoka, is so battered that it cannot even win a parliamentary seat in its own backyard of Ukambani. This was demonstrated recently when Kalembe Ndile failed to win the Makueni seat in a by-election. Kalembe's main opponent was not even a member of a political party: he was an independent candidate.

With the party leader Musyoka now politically vanquished, the WIPER cannot, and should not, be expected to bring any significant number of elective seats to the CORD in the next elections. On the other hand, FORD-KENYA of Moses Wetangula, another principal partner in CORD, has completely failed to make an impact in western Kenya. In fact, the coming senatorial by-election could as well see him washed out of the political landscape altogether.

Secondly, ODM, the flagship of CORD is hopelessly disjointed. Nyanza, which Raila has used for years as his fort is no longer a homogeneous constituency. People who once followed Raila blindly are today independent-thinking voters who disagree, digress and openly rebel against Odingaism. There are no more block votes in Nyanza for Raila to wish for.

When Raila's father, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga fell out with President Jomo Kenyatta in the 1960s, Nyanza suffered isolation for almost three decades until Kibaki came to its rescue in 2002. With Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto likely to be in power for the next ten years, Nyanza people have only two options: stay in the cold for another decade, or do everything possible to avoid another round of insulation. That is why pragmatic Nyanza leaders are choosing the second option and warming up to the Jubilee leadership.

And it' not just Nyanza where ODM is in trouble. There is a dizzying decline of popularity in all its other strongholds. The party has suffered major setbacks in the Rift Valley where its point men, Henry Kosgei and Franklin Bett, have reportedly resigned from their party positions. Western Kenya big guns like Musalia Mudavadi, Eugene Wamalwa and Cyrus Jirongo are no longer endeared to Raila and are teetering towards the government side. Jubilee has overran the region and both Uhuru and Ruto are frequent visitors there. At the Coast, the party's once broad support is shaky. Almost all the elected leaders there have publicly pledged support to the Jubilee government.

The other perceived ODM vote basket has been Nairobi. It is no longer a secret that Governor Evans Kidero who was elected on an ODM ticket is dancing with the enemy. He has built a strong bond with Uhuru and avoided Raila's company on two very important trips to the United States. Independent-minded and with a groundswell of popularity among city denizens, Kidero is perhaps the only person now who can either save Raila in the city or wipe out his support.

ODM's failure to make a mark in Parliament and in the Senate is another factor that is ruining the game for Raila's party. With all the three of its national leaders - Raila, Musyoka and Wetangula - out in the cold, the party's parliamentary leadership is weak, rudderless and confused. Its performance has been dismal, bordering on negligence. This charade of confusion is likely to get worse as ODM MPs "cross" the floor in anticipation of appointments for their kins-people to key government and parastatal positions. That is why I believe it is a matter of time before ODM becomes completely dysfunctional in the legislature.

In the meantime, party legislators cannot even agree on whether or not to support or oppose the deferral proposal relating to the ICC trials; or even how to vote on legislations in the August House.

And then there is the important matter of succession. Younger members of the party have not shied away from declaring their intention to oust the old guard ahead of the 2017 elections. This group of restless, eager and rebellious politicians is spoiling for a fight although the old guard is fighting back. So a battle of wits and ideas is looming.

It is expected that the National Governing Council - the second top-most body - will meet next February to deliberate on the matter. To me, that will be the defining moment. I expect a vacuum-cleaner approach in which the entire leadership - with the exception of Raila who is the de facto owner of the party - will be swept out. Mangled and thunderstruck, ODM would splinter into factions and self-destruct.

At that time, the national icon will be 73 years old and undoubtedly taking his last chance at the presidency. If he fails again, the scion of Jaramogi Oginga Odinga would have to exit. In the absence of a successor with a national appeal, ODM would fizzle away, leaving the field open for Ruto to take over from Uhuru in 2022. This is the gruesome reality.

And that is my say.