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Vol 56 No 17

Published 20th August 2015


The opposition fall out

Although the government’s record on security and economic management looks shakier by the day, its opponents are divided and floundering

When the opposition alliance, the Coalition for Reform and Democracy, holds its political retreat to map out strategy at the beginning of September, its leaders will struggle to hold together the unwieldy organisation. The question likely to haunt CORD activists at the meeting is why the opposition has been so ineffective in winning popular support against a government that has failed to tackle worsening corruption and terrorist attacks.

Many of the answers lie in the poor relations and poor communications among the leaders and parties in the alliance. These are Raila Odinga of the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM); Stephen Kalonzo Musyoka of the Wiper Democratic Movement-Kenya (WDM-K); Moses Simiyu Wetangula of the Forum for the Restoration of Democracy-Kenya (Ford-K); and Martha Wangari Karua of the National Alliance Rainbow Coalition (NARC). To say there is a massive deficit of trust between the four main leaders is an understatement. So serious is the rivalry at the top that few believe the current alliance will survive in the run-up to the 2017 elections. Effectively, campaigning will start next year.

In the last elections in 2013, all the opposition parties (apart from Karua's NARC) agreed to support Odinga for a one-term presidency, to be followed by a Musyoka-Wetangula ticket for the presidency in 2017. Now, Odinga's ardent ODM supporters say that pact is obsolete. They want their man to run for the presidency again on the CORD ticket in 2017. According to the young and combative ODM Secretary General, Ababu Namwaba, Odinga 'still has one last bullet in his gun'. In fact, Odinga will be 72 in January 2017; his likely opponent, Uhuru Kenyatta, will be 56.

The ODM's demand for Odinga to stand again has angered the Wetangula and Musyoka camps, partly because Odinga failed to consult them. Since the beginning of August, Odinga has launched his campaign website and started an ODM voters' registration drive. The party claimed all of western Kenya and the coast as ODM zones, thereby locking out Musyoka and Wetangula, who want nationwide primary elections to choose CORD's presidential candidate for 2017.

On 10 August, ODM convened a one- day retreat (dominated by Odinga's most loyal Luo politicians) at Maanzoni Lodge, 60 kilometres east of Nairobi. The aim was to review the state of the coalition and the campaign. Most argued that as the 'Raila brand' had selling power and a large support-base in Nyanza, Western Region and the Coast, Odinga should not have to subject himself to a primary election. ODM militants inveighed against Wiper and Ford-K for not pulling their weight, targeting in particular Wiper's Francis Mwanzia Nyenze, the minority leader in Parliament (AC Vol 39 No 4, Righting the rigging). They lambasted his failure to counter Bare Aden Duale, a former ODM member and the governing Jubilee Coalition's leader in the House, who has effectively defended the government and outpointed CORD (AC Vol 52 No 22, Kenya’s Somali proxies).

It took the moderating voice of Professor Peter Anyang' Nyong'o, former ODM Secretary General and father of Oscar-winning film star Lupita Amondi Nyong'o, to warn his colleagues that their sabre-rattling could drive Wiper and Ford-Kenya out of CORD. That would weaken Odinga's chances at the 2017 presidential polls.

However, Musyoka looks both weak and vulnerable following this attack on Nyenze, his loyal ally, from within the opposition alliance. Four members of parliament from his area have signed a petition to debate the replacement of Musyoka as leader of the Kamba people by Machakos Governor Alfred Mutua, once spokesman for Mwai Kibaki.

Meanwhile Odinga is promoting his new cause: the dangers facing small-scale sugarcane growers (most of whom farm around Odinga's support-base in the west) if Kenya allows importers to source sugar in neighbouring Uganda. News of this trade deal follows a supply agreement signed between Presidents Kenyatta and Yoweri Museveni in Kampala on 11 August. Odinga is trying to turn this into a nationalist cause with which to attack the Jubilee government. That was just one of the business deals made between the two leaders in their bilateral summit: most discussion concerned coordinating the two countries' oil and gas industries and their export routes.

Under the statutes of the East African Community, Kenya and Uganda are in a common market, so the Kampala announcement was unnecessary. In fact, Kenya's expensive and inefficient sugar industry needs protection from imports from the rest of the region, especially Tanzania, Malawi and Zambia, which can produce the stuff at half the price that Kenya does. The perennial sugar deficit in Kenya has long been met by imports under licensing by the Agriculture Ministry and the Kenya Sugar Board. Given the gap between Kenyan and external prices, those import licences have become a source of easy income, a cash-cow for politically-connected importers, which includes some Kenyan sugar factory managers. Such import licences have been a reliable source of grand corruption.

Mismanagement and corruption caused the collapse of Mumias, Kenya's largest sugar company, whose management (some of them now top CORD politicians) were consummate importers of cheap sugar that was then repackaged and sold as Mumias products (AC Vol 56 No 6, Presiding without policy).

Such details won't bother Odinga's campaign. He has consistently attacked Jubilee and its Mount Kenya (Kikuyu) elites for what he describes as a calculated attempt to impoverish western Kenyan cane farmers. As Odinga describes it, Jubilee's deal involves sacrificing the farmers so the country can sell (mainly-Kikuyu produced) dairy products to Uganda.

On 22 August, Odinga was campaigning in Busia, next to Wetangula's constituency, and claiming for himself the role of 'defender of the poor'. Namwaba and the local Senator, controversial former Attorney General Amos Wako, concurred that the impoverishment of their region dates back to the era of Uhuru's father, founding President Jomo Kenyatta in 1963 and that successive governments have continued it ever since. In Kenyan social media, the debate is taking on the ugly tone of the sort of argument witnessed between Kikuyu and Western Kenya before the violent clashes after the general elections of 2007, clashes which took Uhuru and Vice-President William Ruto to the International Criminal Court.

It has been a rocky month for the opposition, which disappointed its supporters by failing to capitalise on United States President Barack Obama's trip to Kenya on 24-26 July (AC Vol 56 No 11, Ethics question for Obama & 56 No 16, Bouquets and brickbats). The main issues of the trip – attacks on corruption and human rights abuses, and calling on US business to invest in Africa – were expected to have worked in the opposition's favour. They didn't.

At a meeting with civic activists at Kenyatta University, Obama made what Kenyans call 'the hypocrisy comment'. He had just come from a hurried 30-minute meeting with the four main opposition leaders: Odinga, Musyoka, Wetangula and Karua. In an off-the-cuff remark, Obama told his audience: 'It is funny though… one of the opposition leaders I have just met with… I will not mention who… said "We really need you to press the Kenya government on some issues". And I said, "I remember when you were in government, you kept on saying, '"Why are you trying to interfere with Kenyan business?… mind your own business!"' Laughter followed.

Kenyans knew that all four opposition leaders had previously lashed out at the USA and Britain for interfering in Kenyan politics. In fact, most of the civic activists there also wanted him to pressure the Kenya government. Obama advised them to engage their government instead. The USA, he added, would listen to both the government and its critics. He had just heard Ciru Gikonyo (a sister of anti-corruption campaigner John Githongo) reel off a list of complaints against Jubilee, ranging from theft of state funds to sabotaging devolution.

However, Kenyans maintain their resilient humour. A wistful joke in Nairobi following the big visit insisted that it is Kenya – not America – that needs Obamacare! 


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