Tips For Raila From The DPM’s Nyeri Trip
Deputy Prime Minister Musalia Mudavadi took his presidential campaign to Nyeri County this past weekend. His message there was simple; as the next Head of State his government would ensure that President Kibaki & his family would enjoy a peaceful retirement. He said that he would follow in the footsteps of Moi & Kibaki who ensured that the former Presidents' families and/or the former President were not victimized for their perceived mistakes while in power.
This message resounds powerfully in Nyeri where President Kibaki has been a recognized & respected political leader for close to 50 years. It is also an intensely loaded statement because Hon Mudavadi basically reinforced an unspoken fear in the entire Mt Kenya region; what will happen to the region and its leadership after Kibaki retires. It also does considerable harm to Prime Minister Raila Odinga's campaign in Nyeri and/or the entire Mt Kenya region, and builds on views I shared late last year on why the Prime Minister’s vote-hunting challenges in the Mt Kenya region are completely unique, from those that he faces in other regions of the country.
Every time I say this in the company of people who support Raila's bid for presidency I get the impression some take it as just another one of those ‘kikuyu’ statements that indicate our ethnic chauvinism. They think it is me saying ' those of us from the Mt Kenya region are special and you must treat us as much'. Okay, I do believe we are special; however I am yet to meet any community that doesn’t believe as much about themselves. However on this matter of the Prime Minister and the Mt Kenya region, this lack of understanding of what I mean will not only cost him immense support in the region that he could easily garner, but could ultimately be what costs him the Presidency especially as his rivals are riding on it to gain rapid popularity not only the region, but across the country.
As a supporter of his presidential bid I am excited that the PM’s campaign is doing extremely well in all the other parts of the country. At the Coast, Western, North Eastern, Nairobi and Eastern regions he is easily able to arrange huge public rallies and sell his policies directly to voters. He is also able to arrange meetings with genuine local opinion leaders from each region, discuss whatever they might have against him and/or expect from him, and build compromise platforms that allow them to support his presidential bid. Even at the Rift Valley and in Western regions where it was believed that he would not get any support because of Hon Ruto and Hon Mudavadi, all indications are that he is doing quite well. In the Rift Valley we are even seeing national leaders from the region fighting for senior positions in his party, something no one would have believed would happen a year ago.
But this is not happening in my home region, and the frustration is that it could easily be done. In fact it is sad that whatever little gains he makes in any area within this region every now and again, usually after investing unreasonably more effort than he has to in other regions, quickly get lost nearly once any one of his G7 rivals re-visit the same area; which usually happens after he makes inroads there. This is happening in Meru. This will keep happening until he speaks to the fears and expectations of the region specifically, directly and candidly.
I get the feeling some of the PM’s handlers believe he does not need this Mt Kenya vote; that he can win without it (which he could). I also feel as if there are those who believe that the region will never support an ‘outsider’ and therefore any efforts there are wasted and are better put elsewhere. Then there are those who believe selling the PM in Central could erode his popularity in other regions that believe he is the only one able to challenge national Mt Kenya politics. Unfortunately he does need the region especially if he is to get the 50% plus one vote required for him to be Kenya's next President. I am also convinced that the next President’s primary responsibility will be to unite Kenyans especially across the ethnic divide, within and between all regions. I also hope that at the next election, at least at Presidential level, we will be voting ‘For’ a President, (someone who will unite Kenya, improve on the gains under Kibaki; implement the constitution; fight corruption and impunity, etc) rather than ‘AGAINST’ candidates we dislike, fear or even hate.
This is why I would suggest that TeamRaila focuses on tackling the two key perceptions in the Mt Kenya region that make it difficult for him to engage the region politically. One is the that he is associated with situations where the region has lost lives and property, which suggests that such losses would escalate were he to become the next President. The second is that the region will not gain in any way publicly or privately; and that he would in fact completely marginalize the region and its inhabitants from business, government support and positions.
My suggestion is that rather than do it through political rallies he organizes town hall meetings with recognized independent-minded opinion leaders in the respective counties across the region, and they discuss each issue conclusively. I also believe he needs to do it fast. A good place to start will be to tackle the hidden message in Hon Mudavadi’s statements in Nyeri: what would happen to Retired President Kibaki under his watch