The choice of Raila Odinga as the NASA presidential candidate and Kalonzo as his running mate did not come as a surprise to many. Among the five principals, it’s only Raila who has the pedigree, a national appeal, financial muscle and depth to mount a serious presidential campaign.
The question on most people’s minds is whether a Raila-Kalonzo ticket offers the best option for dethroning UhuRuto given that this formation was tested in 2013 and fell short. The Deputy President Ruto never shies away from reminding them of this fact. While some questions remain about the 2013 elections, even CORD supporters did not dispute whether Jubilee won in 2013, they only questioned whether Uhuru crossed 50+1.
So is Railaonzo vs UhuRuto 2017 a repeat of 2013 or is it significantly different? There are several key differences.
One: In 2013, the ICC factor was the overriding dynamic driving the campaigns. UhuRuto rode on a strong pan-African, anti-colonial and anti-western sentiments created by the overt push by Western diplomats for the UhuRuto duo to be tried at The Hague. The two leaders galvanized their support base in what was dubbed the Tyranny of numbers. They consistently painted the then Prime Minister Raila as the one behind the ICC push. Today, there is no ICC to rally the people, Uhuru has severally tried to resurrect the issue with little success.
Two: In 2013, both Uhuru and Ruto were seen as the outsiders in government, while Raila and Kalonzo were in government as Prime Minister and Vice President respectively and had to bear the burden of incumbency. Today, UhuRuto have been in charge of the country for the last 4 years while Railonzo have been in the opposition for the same period. On one hand, the Jubilee government is on the judgment scale, NASA can point to specific key failures of the Jubilee administration especially corruption, high cost of living, exclusion, failure to fulfill key campaign pledge’s, among others. On the other hand, Jubilee has the advantage of incumbency and state resources at their disposal which they can use to their advantage.
Three: In terms of the ethnic arithmetic, in 2013, CORD brought together the lower Eastern and Nyanza ethnic blocs through Raila and Kalonzo and also managed to bring on board a significant percentage of the western and coast regions. Jubilee primarily relied on their populous communities and a few pockets of votes from other regions to propel them to statehouse. Today, NASA has succeeded in uniting the Western bloc which last time was divided between Mudavadi and Raila. By bring on board Isaac Rutto, NASA will get a small portion of the Kipsigis vote. This is significant in a closely contested election.
The fact that Mudavadi and Wetangula, both from Western were given positions that are not expressly provided for or protected under the constitution, and the fact that both positions require vetting and approval by parliament, there is every chance that Jubilee will exploit this to tell the people of Western that they have been shortchanged in NASA by being offered non-existent positions that are not guaranteed under the law. The Lower Eastern (Ukambani) people might also question why their son Kalonzo has been forced to shelve his ambitions for the second time in favour of Raila. The recent rebellion witnessed in the region where most of the elected leaders defected to Jubilee, and the recent hardline sentiments expressed by Francis Nyenze might open a window for Jubilee to exploit.
NASA is hoping to ride on a wave of general discontent and disaffection towards the Jubilee government among the Kenyan populace, akin to the NARC wave of 2002 that dethroned KANU and catapulted the united opposition into power.
Besides the names on the ballot remaining the same, the 2017 contest is markedly different from the 2013 one, and the dynamics will be completely different.
May the best team win!