How Raila Lost
Following days of delays including a manual count of the votes, Uhuru Kenyatta was re-elected as President of Kenya on August 11th. He beat his closest rival, Raila Odinga, 54%-44%. A margin of nearly one and a half million votes. For Kenyatta this is a sweet victory. For Raila, this is his fourth failed attempt, and likely marks the end of the former Prime Minister’s frontline political career – one that stretches back to the early 1980s.
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There were few observers who were surprised when Raila rejected the declared results as rigged – however, he and his fellow leaders from the defeated National Super Alliance (NASA) have still not provided any compelling evidence to prove their claims of electoral fraud. The failure of their efforts to mobilise widespread protests over the results by their supporters or gain the support of the international community has now forced them to pursue a judicial course and end their insistence they win their case to the “court of public opinion”. However, their seeming lack of hard evidence to support these allegations looks set to doom their electoral petition to failure.
Kenya’s Shifting Ethnic Balance
The election results reveal much about the shifting balance of ethnic politics in Kenya, and how the use of the right messages on the right issues can break through the tribal divide that has historically shaped the outcome of the country’s elections. During the campaign, NASA’s number crunchers assessed the voting strength of the ethnic groups they believed were nominally aligned with them and declared their alliance “10 Million Strong”. That figure was based on an assumption that they would not only hold the ground they had won in 2013, but through the addition of Governor Isaac Ruto in Rift Valley and former Vice President Musalia Mudavadi from Western, they would add a further million votes to their total.
But those calculations proved incorrect.
The Luhya of Western Province have never voted as a united block, and this election was no different. Although Mudavadi’s new party, the Amani National Congress (ANC) performed well among his own people, NASA lost ground among other Luhya sub-groups with Uhuru making gains in Bungoma County and winning Trans Nzoia County outright. In the Rift Valley, Governor Isaac Ruto – VP William Ruto’s bitter rival for the Kalenjin leadership – flopped. Not only did he fail to win the promised million votes, but he was personally defeated in his own backyard, losing his gubernatorial seat by a landslide to Jubilee.
In Nyanza and Ukambani the story was the same – NASA was in retreat across county after county that they had assumed were strongholds as voters broke with their traditional ethnic political leaders, and chose instead to back a national government that they felt had largely delivered on its key promises.
Performance Tops Poll
For much of the electorate this election result appears to mark a decisive break with the past. Millions of voters seem to have cast their ballots in favour of candidates they believed had performed well in office and rejecting those who had failed to deliver. A look at the results at the county level reinforces this perception.
In the biggest county prize of all – Nairobi, saw a pro-poor message beat the ethnic mobilization of the incumbent. The city’s NASA Governor, Evans Kidero who hails from Odinga’s own Luo tribe which makes up more than a third of the city’s population went down to defeat against the flamboyant populist Mike Sonko, his Kamba makeup barely 5%.
The Road to 2022: Winners & Losers
Every election has winners and losers – but this election produced more than most.
Raila Odinga’s career is effectively over, though it may take him some years to finally recognise this. At 72 years old, he has now lost four Presidential bids. His ability to mobilize the Luo has been broken. In 2008 he was able to call not only the Luo youth onto the streets but also the Kalenjin as well. Yet this week his voters ignored his plea for them to stay at home and boycott work in protest at the election results.
Since the launch of his Orange Democratic Movement over a decade ago, Odinga has been attempting to build a multi-ethnic coalition to defeat what he has portrayed as a Kikuyu political hegemony. However, with this latest defeat, surely even his closest allies are likely to lose faith that he could ever win, and with it their willingness to defer their own ambitions to his.
In particular, former VP Kalonzo Musyoka. He has twice been Raila’s running-mate and is unlikely to forego what will probably be his last opportunity to run for President in 2022. However, Musyoka has not had a good election either. Not only has he personally been defeated a second time, but his Ukambani-based Wiper Democratic Party lost four MPs, and has been reduced from holding four Governorships to just one. Kalonzo was also booed off stage for an 11th hour speech which endorsed his own party candidates over those of the other NASA coalition parties. .
While Odinga and Musyoka are the undoubted losers from this race, two figures other than Uhuru Kenyatta have emerged as winners.
Musalia Mudavadi had a poor election in 2013. Having been denied the ODM nomination, he stood as a third party candidate gaining less than 5% of the vote and was seemingly left in the political wilderness. However, this time around by aligning his ANC with NASA, and loyally supporting Odinga’s efforts, his supporters have managed to gain a significant block of National Assembly and Senate seats. He has emerged as probably the best positioned of all of the opposition leaders for the 2022 Presidential race.
But the man who is really smiling this week is probably William Ruto, Uhuru’s running mate and current VP. At times over the last four years it has seemed as if he was being left in the political cold. But Ruto is a dogged fighter, and arguably the most gifted, if controversial, natural politician in Kenya today. He has beaten the odds, and by remaining loyal to Kenyatta and yet again delivering overwhelming Kalenjin support for Jubilee, he has left the Kikuyu political elite in his debt – a debt they should be wary of reneging on. As it stands he looks like an odds-on favourite for 2022.
Nonetheless, if a week is a long time in politics, then five years is an eternity – and the road to 2022 will be an interesting one.