Raila Odinga’s Dilemma in Choosing a Running Mate
By Maurice N. Amutabi
Some in ODM may have said that the departure of Musalia Mudavadi was good riddance. However, if there is anything to do by the events of the last few weeks, it is clear that Raila Odinga and ODM are confused in finding a replacement for Musalia Mudavadi. There have been all kinds of feelers on who should be the likely successor to Musalia Mudavadi as deputy leader in ODM. The name of speaker Kenneth Otiato Marende keeps coming up. The problem is that Raila Odinga cannot name Marende as his running mate before the end of this parliament, otherwise the speaker will be engaging in an illegality if he will not resign from his position. The choice of Marende by ODM is to make sure that the party stops a likely fall out by the Luhya voters who are keen to see who replaces Musalia Mudavadi in ODM.
Pundits point out that by appointing Marende as running mate, ODM will undermine Musalia Mudavadi’s overwhelming popularity in Western Kenya by startling him in Vihiga County while at the same time galvanizing and consolidating the Luhya vote for Raila Odinga and ODM. Marende has earned respect across Kenya largely due to his previous ‘Solomonic’ rulings in parliament. His wisdom appears to have waved in the recent past, where he has tended to defer judgement on sensitive issues to the courts than ruling on them. This has made hs critics and detractots to accuse of him of pandering to ODM interests. In the recent past he has tended to support MPs on some outrageous demands such as severance packages and tax exemption, which has cast him in bad light in the eyes of ordinary Kenyans. Realistically, Marende cannot match Mudavadi’s clout in Western Kenya. Those supporting this view do not realise that Musalia Mudavadi’s father was regarded by many in Western as a fighter for Luhya interested. Musalia Mudavadi is seen by many as the one left behind by his late father to continue the good work of delivering to the people the national cake.
Marende’s position is tenuous. He knows that he has to play a balancing act because if ODM is defeated at the polls, he will not be speaker of the upper or lower house. It is perhaps for this reason that the speaker may avoid responding to such a possibility, at least not for now. When asked about these suggestions of him being Raila Odinga’s running mate, the Speaker Lenneth Marende was no committal, only saying that this was speculation and leaving at that. Although Speaker Marende comes from Vihiga County like Musalia Mudavadi, he does not have as much as experience at the national level as Mudavadi. In 2007, Marende was just re-elected for a second term as MP for Emuhaya. Apart from being wise and articulate, Marende like many lawyers does not like to engage in ordinary campaign platform rhetoric. This paints as rather too serious and separated from ordinary folks, who are the bulk of the voters in this country. National politics require resources and Raila Odinga will expect that his running mate will bring some resources on board. There are some who feel that Marende does not have a lot of resources and this may act against him.
Fred Gumo has also featured in the names being floated as possible running mates to Raila Odinga. Some people are not sure that Gumo would make a good vice president. He lacks a consistent base. His family moved to Trans-Nzoia from Busia many years ago and he does not have a natural constituency among the Luhya. He may be regarded as a foreigner in his ancestral Busia County. He also represents Westlands in parliament where he has held onto his seat by the skin of his teeth in the past two elections. This does not indicate a popular guy by any stretch of imagination. Gumo is a bit rough and unrefined as a politician, which can be a turn off for ordinary people who need persuasion and dialogue. There are some who doubt that Gumo has papers – university degree – to run for vice president. If this is true, it may lock him out on technicality. Gumo is rather vociferous and comes across as arrogant and puffed-up, which is really dangerous for a vice president, who traditionally is supposed to be mild-mannered, composed and laid back. Gumo may not have the majority of backing from Western Kenya and may be a liability to the ODM ticket under Raila Odinga.
Gitobu Imanyara has been on the lips of many ODM strategists as a likely game changer if he were to become Raila Odinga’s running mate. Whereas this will obviously excite a lot of passion and excitement in Mount Kenya, especially in larger Meru, the move is likely to lock out many potential votes from Western Kenya where the departure of Musalia Mudavadi is already causing ripples with many former ODM members defecting to UDF en masse. ODM strategists are therefore slow on this and recasting their eyes in Western Kenya in order to placate the large Luhya vote. Imanyara is a rights fighter and a friend of the hoi polloi. He is a solid politician and one of the most natural and one of the best this country has produced. Unfortunately for him, the politics of Kenya are played along ethnic arithmetic and numbers. It is in the game of numbers that he is left out of ODM’s game plan because Uhuru Kenyatta is likely to inherit the vote bloc that Mwai Kibaki has created in the larger Meru.
The name of Wycliffe Ambetsa Oparanya has also featured among those being bandied around as potential running mate to Raila Odinga. Unlike Marende and Gumo, Oparanya is doing his first term as MP for Buterea and is believed to have gone to parliament largely due to the ODM wave that made rounds in Western Kenya. He is therefore, a junior member of parliament. He also heads a relatively jinior ministry without much clout in government. He is among leaders from Western Kenya who were stationing themselves to inherit the positions left behind by Musalia Mudavadi. Oparanya does not command a lot of grass roots following. He comes across as a gentleman, which is not good for someone who is supposed to be an attack dog for his boss on top of the ticket. Oparanya also went to parliament under a strong challenge from former MP and minister in the Office of the President, Amukoa Anangwe. Anangwe is mentioned as a more stronger and forceful person than Oparanya.
Funyula MP and Sports Minister Paul Otuoma has also featured among the possible replacement for Musalia Mudavadi and running mate to Raila Odinga under the ODM banner in the next elections. The problem is that Otuoma is a first term MP who has not built a lot of clout for himself. Being relatively new and having replaced a very towering political figure in the name of former Vice President Moody Awuori, Otuoma does not seem to have the kind of influence clout and experience to be a running mate in ODM. Otuoma is not a man of means and will not bring sufficient resources to the campaign. He is therefore a rank outsider and stands no chance of becoming Raila Odinga’s running mate.
Since the departure of Musalia Mudavadi, Frankline Bett is the only senior politician in the ranks of ODM to have demanded that he be given the position of running. There are very few people who are willing to play second place as Bett clearly illustrated. The Kalenjin constitute a sign significant voting bloc after the Kikuyu, Luhya and Luo and it is possible that Raila Odinga and ODM strategists may be swayed by this fact, while also hoping that William Ruto will not be a candidate due to the ICC trials. In the absence of William Ruto, the chances of a Raila-Bett ticket would be superb and completive. One of the problems is that the Kipsigis have always voted independent of other Kelenjins and are famous for their independence, demonstrated by the activities of the late Taita Towett. The other problem is that Franklin Bett was an insider in the Moi government and accepting him fully on board will make ODM respond to accusations of the excesses of the Moi and KANU regime. ODM is not prepared to get itself into having to apologise for KANU misdeeds and is the reason that Bett’s application will be rejected.
Sally Kosgei and Henry Kosgey have also featured strongly on list of those likely to become Raila Odinga’s running mate. The same reasons that strike out Franklin are the same that may work against Sally Kosgei having served as an insider in the Moi government as head of the civil service. ODM may suffer a lot of damage of she was to be on the ticket with Raila Odinga. They are both Nandi and do not wield as much as influence as William Ruto and will not likely change the equation to the advantage of ODM during the polls. It is for this strategic reason that they two are less likely to be on the ticket as running mate. At one time Sally Kosgei seemed to oscillate between support for William Ruto and Raila Odinga and even seemed to out her ministerial flag on the line saying that the only advantage it brought was weaving through traffic jams. Her political mileage in ODM diminished as a result. She is unlikely to be selected as Raila Odinga’s running mate. Henry Kosgei has been in courts and he is likely to be barred for running for office because of the integrity clause. He is currently facing charges of misuse of office for authorising the importation of old cars to Kenya when he was minister of Industrialization.
There are those who think that William Ntimama may be selected as Raila Odinga’s running mate in order to attract Maasai voters as well as the Rift Valley voters. Ntimama was a force in the past when he was robust and more energetic. With waning energy and changed political landscape that has more youth; he may be a huge disadvantage to an ODM ticket. Ntimama was also among fervent supporters of the KANU regime and putting on the ODM ticket many attract some brickbats from reformists who will be quick to go back to the archives and dig out statements from Ntimama such as ‘lying low like envelopes’ in order to cast ODM as a non reformist party.
Although Martha Karua and Peter Kenneth have repeatedly stated that they will not be running mates of anyone, there have been suggestions that one of them may end up being Raila Odinga’s running mate. There is no impossibility in politics and an Odinga-Karua ticket, or Odinga-Kenneth tickets will not be out of the ordinary. The only problem for Karua and Kenneth is that with an Uhuru Kenyatta candidacy looming large in Central Kenya, they will be suffocated because the Kikuyu tend to go for one of their own on top of the ticket. It is for this reason that the ODM strategists may not give them any chance.
Joe Nyaga and Charity Ngilu have also been said to feature in ODM calculations for Raila Odinga’s running mate. Joe Nyagah is a solid politician who hails from a minority ethnic group. He is admired for his sobriety and calm demeanour like his father Jeremiah Nyagah. The problem is that Joe Nyagah will not bring the required numbers and so will be Ngilu for the simple reason that Stephen Kalonzo is mostly likely to be on the ballot. None of the two –Nyagah and Ngilu – is likely to be picked as Raila;s running mate.
Wonders will never cease! There are never surprises in politics because among the names being bandied around as potential running mate to Raila Odinga is that of a political green horn Ababu Namwamba, who is the youngest MP from Western. Ababu Namwamba has become very vocal since the departure of Musalia MJudavadi from ODM and some may have thought he was doing so because he saw a chance for a flag by appointment to the cabinet. Of course the desire for a flag for a low ranking and first term MP may not be out of the question, but the fact that ODM could be considering such a green horn as Raila Odinga’s running mate in order to salvage the Luhya vote and mobilize the youth to the side of ODM is not only surprising but rather interesting. It is surprising because those in the know have reported that Ababu Namwamba is not likely to make it back to parliament in Budalang’i, and interesting because it is something you do not think can even be thought about. Ababu Namwamba’s style of politics is elitist and does not appeal to the ordinary people. He will soon learn that sloganeering and abhorrent epithets are only cool in campus politics and among drinking buddies, but not on national political platforms where people are keen to hear about bread and butter issues.
The search for Raila Odinga’s running mate will be on for a while. It is possible that he will delay the appointment of his running mate until September so as to keep all the aspiring running mates inside ODM. He will name the running mate less than six months before elections when he is sure that those left out will have no chance of defecting to other parties, because the election clause states clearly that you can only run on a party to which you have been a member for at least six months before elections. The naming of Musalia Mudavadi’s successor in ODM will most likely end the political careers of some MPs from Western Kenya.
Prof. Amutabi is a political analyst and teaches political science at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa (CUEA).