Generally, politics is the theory and practice of influencing other people with the ultimate goal of attaining and keeping power.
To achieve that, politicians employ a variety of strategies and tactics. They use money, threats, intimidation, flowery language, music, visual aid, dance and other means of communication.
Marketing, self-promotion, negotiation and the exercise of force, including warfare against adversaries, are the most popular tactics used in modern politics.
But in Kenya, where politics isn’t just the means of securing interests, especially that of the individual politicians, their coteries, class and sometimes communities, but also perceived to be the cog that society revolves around, it has also become the most important occupation and entertainment industry.
It explains why political events in Kenya: national and party elections, referenda, rallies, homecomings – name them – have increasingly overtaken religious and cultural activities as the most popular (not necessarily ‘desirable’) national events.
Kenyans spend tens of billions of shillings on transportation, communication and entertainment during national elections. In terms of cost, Kenyan elections are only second to the Nigerian ones in Africa.
So-called successful ‘businessmen,’ ‘technocrats,’ ‘scholars’ and ‘senior civil servants’ all turn to politics before joining their creator.
This is because in Kenya, it’s principally through politics that great fortune is made, mostly illegitimately. Similarly, such fortune requires protection through political power and influence.
That’s why some of Kenya’s most notorious perpetrators of human rights abuses, economic crimes, racketeers and organised criminals – or some who have abused their positions of responsibilities - spend their ill-gotten fortunes to gain and retain power.
The struggle for political power is dangerous, vicious and crude because, in Kenya more than in many other places, politics is warfare. As Sun Tzu stated in the Art of War, warfare is a matter of life and death, a road either to safety or to ruin.
Therefore, when one voluntarily participates in political warfare in Kenya, it is assumed that one is aware of certain rudimentary principles and rules of the game. The first and most important principle is that all warfare is based on deception.
(Of course, it doesn’t have to be this way in an ideal situation. My view is that we must struggle to make our politics less about abuse of power and theft of public resources and more about good governance, good ethics, respect for human rights and service delivery for the people.)
I was therefore astounded that the Governor of Nairobi, Evans Kidero, allowed himself to be baited, duped and humiliated in the most devastating manner by Raila Odinga and his ODM brigade at the so-called Homecoming Rally at Uhuru Park last week.
Just days before Mr Kidero was politically destroyed by Mr Odinga, he had accompanied ODM’s virulent attack dogs at rallies where the Jubilee government was crucified and where he [Kidero] was purportedly endorsed as ‘ODM’s candidate for Nairobi gubernatorial seat’ in the event of a by-election.
As he danced himself lame to ODM’s music of defiance against Jubilee, Kidero believed that he was implementing one of Sun Tzu’s cardinal rules of warfare: “Hold out bait to entice the enemy. Feign disorder and crush him.”
To be safe and secure in a by-election, Kidero probably felt that he needed to feign support of both Jubilee and Cord in Nairobi. Even though he has been cosier to President Uhuru Kenyatta than to Mr Odinga, Kidero was desperate to placate the ODM strongman by pretending that he was as good at hurling anti-Jubilee epithets as Jakoyo Midiwo. He needed to feign support for Baba!
But Kidero had also realised that he couldn’t fully trust and rely on Cord alone. He could win if he got every single Cord vote in Nairobi.
However, he knew that such a miracle would be near impossible to achieve. After all, there is no guarantee that other constituencies within Cord wouldn’t produce candidates to compete with Kidero.
That might have influenced his cooperation with Jubilee. Getting a sizeable slice of the Jubilee vote made good political sense. The old, cunning fox of Kenyan politics, Raila, too, knows this.
Significantly, Raila and his team have never wanted Kidero as Nairobi Governor. Right from the beginning, Raila preferred Margaret Wanjiru.
Had Wanjiru not been disqualified from running because of her academic ineligibility, Mr Odinga would have ensured that Kidero wasn’t the ODM candidate, even if it would have meant using Raila’s much feared goons: “Men in Black.”
The reason wasn’t because both Raila and Kidero are Luos and that Raila felt that Kenyans wouldn’t have elected both a Luo President and Governor of Nairobi.
That was only intended for public consumption. The principle reason — and one neither Mr Odinga nor the Jubilee principals will never openly acknowledge — is because the Governor of Nairobi is effectively number two in the political power structure in Kenya.
Practically speaking (apart from optics and symbolism), he is more influential than the Deputy President of the Republic. This is because Nairobi isn’t just Kenya’s capital city and the largest county; it is also the seat of the national executive power of the republic. Those three factors make the Presidency and the National Executive of the Republic subjects of the Nairobi Governor.
As such, the Governor and the country’s top leadership are forced by the constitution, geography, historical circumstances and practical considerations to live in close proximity and work together.
Nairobi is also the financial hub of East and Central Africa. It hosts the headquarters of major regional and international banks, financial institutions, embassies, UN bodies, et cetera. It is considered the doorway to the Horn of Africa. The West considers Nairobi a vital centre in the global fight against terrorism.
In many countries around the world, whoever is the mayor or governor of such a major urban centre, county, state or region would inevitably attract much publicity and attention.
Often, such a person would be a potential candidate for the country’s top leadership. Thus past mayors or governors of Moscow, New York, California and Mexico City have risen to the pinnacle of their respective country’s leadership.
It is this possibility that made Raila to oppose Kidero’s gubernatorial candidature. Mr Odinga correctly saw — and still sees — Kidero as a threat. A threat to both the position Raila holds in ODM and as the Luo Paramount Chief.
The fact that Kidero’s wife is the daughter of the late Tom Mboya has not helped matters. Mboya wasn’t just a brilliant and charismatic leader; he was Jaramogi Oginga Odinga main rival among the Luo of Nyanza.
Thus, from the onset, Raila couldn’t allow Kidero — or any other Luo — to consolidate his position in Nairobi. But Kidero worsened his position by openly courting Jubilee, which I am sure isn’t out of genuine love or because he has to work with them. Kidero, like Raila, is extremely ambitious and calculating. He views himself as a potential Chief Executive of the Republic.
Consequently, since becoming governor, he has been in a senseless hurry to pave his way to the big house (but doing so without proper and carefully thought-out strategies).
And to do that within the shortest possible period, he felt that he needed the good will and support of the President and his political constituencies.
Yet, Kidero also realised that his ultimate ambition can only come to fruition if he has a political base, hence, his desperation to cultivate one in Nyanza.
That is why Kidero ought to have struck the iron when it was still hot. It is also why he should either have kept away from Baba’s homecoming last Saturday or organised a team of about a thousand hecklers and strategically placed them near the dais to drown out Mr Odinga’s Men in Black. Dithering isn’t a quality successful generals are made of.
When Mr Odinga limped away from the theatre of political warfare at Kasarani about three months ago, he was wounded and bleeding badly. He tactically retreated and fled to the USA in the aftermath of a near fatal encounter with ODM’s Team Fresh. He did that instead of permitting his public humiliation and defeat at the hands of Hassan Joho and Ababu Namwamba. But that was the time when people like Kidero should have swiftly applied Sun Tzu’s principles and decapitated Mr Odinga politically.
To have sat on their fat tails for three long months as Mr Odinga recuperated, recharged, re-strategized and regrouped from Boston is a demonstration of their cowardice and lack of political foresight.
They should as well forget their grand ambitions. (Partial blame must be apportioned to Jubilee for needlessly exposing Kidero’s neck for Agwambo’s guillotine, unless, of course, their dalliance with him was deliberately intended for that purpose.)
On February 12, I warned Kidero, Dalmas Otieno and James Orengo that they had a clear choice in the unfolding succession politics in ODM: either to fight for their rights or shut up.
A general in the political theatre of warfare in Kenya must either be decisive or forfeit his or her place in any senior position of leadership. My view is that Kidero’s goose has been cooked.
Desperation for a grand coalition government, the same old propaganda and noise
Like most Kenyans, I watched the Raila Odinga Homecoming party at Uhuru Park live on TV and noticed a few interesting things that deserve comment.
First, we must give Cord and Raila propaganda machine full marks for an excellent job at marketing the event, which was greatly facilitated by David Kimaiyo’s asinine and illegal threat of cancellation. However, the turnout was far less than the much-hyped one-million strong.
According to media estimates, there were about 100,000 people, most of them ferried into the city from the countryside. Had Cord managed to gather one million people at Uhuru Park as they had threatened, I’m sure Jubilee, the country and the rest of the world would have sat up and taken notice. Unfortunately for Raila, the gathering turned out to be just another noisy and typical ODM jamboree.
Second, there was no apparent order and organisation at the dais. It wasn’t easy to know who the MC was. Everyone seemed either to be speaking or struggling to speak at the same time. There was unnecessary jostling and scrambling for both the podium and the microphone throughout.
Third, I didn’t notice Prof Peter Anyang’ Nyong’o even though Raila had purportedly appointed him the acting Cord and ODM leader in his absence.
Wouldn’t it have been appropriate for Nyong’o to have officially handed back the baton to Raila at the event or they had managed to do it through osmosis?
Fourth, Cord’s leadership in the National Assembly was evidently missing. A well organised coalition – which Cord is obviously not – would have paraded Kitui West MP, Francis Nyenze and Gem MP, Jakoyo Midiwo, before showcasing other casts. Interestingly, not a single woman was accorded prominence at the podium.
None spoke. Only nominated Senator Elizabeth Ongoro managed to elbow her way near Baba but even she remained unacknowledged.
The ODM parliamentary candidate for Mathare had to physically struggle to reach the dais and was only introduced to the crowd by Raila as an afterthought. It exposed the entire event as having been intended only for one person. Well, well…
Cutting off their faces to despise their noses
Fifth, by the staged and choreographed public humiliation of Mr Kidero (the frenzied ODM supporters wouldn’t have done that without prior planning and if Raila had openly acknowledged Kidero and told them to accord him respect), Cord seemed determined to despise its face by cutting off its nose.
At the moment, Mr Kidero happens to be the most senior Cord leader (even if in name only) occupying a senior public office. He is more senior than Senator Moses Wetangula.
His successes or failures will be considered those of Cord. Moreover, his position gives Cord an important platform for the articulation of its agenda. Consequently, to openly undermine him entails that Cord isn’t prepared for national leadership any time soon.
Pathetic begging for nusu mkate
Sixth, after all the propaganda, expectations and heat, the so-called grand homecoming party ended in anti-climax with Mr Odinga essentially begging Jubilee for another half-loaf (nusu mkate) – a chance to form a ‘grand coalition government,’ which he cleverly couched as “national dialogue forum,” but which Kalonzo Musyoka bluntly called “an inclusive government.”
A 60-day notice was vaguely issued without a clear statement of what would happen if Jubilee does nothing within that period. (I’m pleased that both the President and the Deputy President have welcomed the idea of a national dialogue but dismissed the misguidedly proposed coalition government and forced a quick reversal from Mr Odinga. It has turned out to be a poorly-thoughtout trial balloon.
Countrywide rallies to ferment chaos not a strategy to remove Jubilee
Mr Odinga also announced that Cord will hold national rallies. The agenda of the rallies wasn’t disclosed. Nothing new there, either. Is this supposed to be the precursor of the Kenyan Spring? If so, it, too, will fail.
A successful revolution must have a base. If Cord and Raila Odinga were serious about removing Jubilee from power through popular upheaval, it would have mobilised one million people and used them to occupy Uhuru Park from last Saturday. Mr Odinga, would, for the first time, lead from the front.
However, because neither Cord nor Mr Odinga are committed to any ideals and haven’t unveiled a clear substantive policy blueprint for the transformation of Kenya, we must reject their proposed chaotic rallies throughout the country.
They have unveiled no fresh ideas. They haven’t made any strong and pragmatic demands on the Jubilee coalition. I didn’t hear any actual practical plans on how to end corruption, tribalism and insecurity, starting with the corrupt Cord leadership. It was just the same old, tired, half-baked propaganda and noise.
Foreign involvement not a panacea
The Cord team had threatened and intimidated Jubilee for weeks before Raila’s return. They had promised major, earth-shattering announcements; some sort of a blueprint for the country.
Yet, after listening to their confusion last Saturday, I have concluded that their entire message consisted of the same old Cord song of “We demand the disbandment of the electoral commission” without a coherent roadmap on how they wish to get to their destination.
To add colour, they have lazily thrown around the idea of hiring foreigners to run our elections as if foreigners cannot rig elections. (Don’t they remember the UN and foreign involvement in Patrice Lumumba’s barbaric assassination and the destruction of the Congo? How about Thomas Sankara and the subversion of the Burkinabe revolution?)
The US Sojourn was a great flop
And seventh, having keenly followed Raila’s so-called visit to the USA, I cannot help but mention that it is quite strange that a leader of his stature could have stayed there for three long months without being accorded even one minute of photo-op with a single policy maker – not a junior Congressman, mayor, or a Washington, DC insider.
Trust me, if Raila had gotten to 1,000 metres of The White House, we would have seen acres of coverage of it in the Kenyan dailies with concocted stories and photo-shopped images with his ‘cousin’s' family.
The fact that Raila couldn’t flash any pictures at us means that his US visit was a devastating failure. It must have dented his prestige, ego and political relevance.
Even more bizarre, Mr Odinga never managed to secure an interview – and not a single mention – in any mainstream US newspaper or magazine.
Not a word in The Boston Globe. In America, only appearances in the prestigious and influential The New York Times and Washington Post counts.
Any foreign dignitary who had been completely ignored by the local and national American media during three months of loitering in the United States cannot therefore claim to be making a heroic return.
To be blunt, Mr Odinga’s US visit was a thunderous failure. Only Mutahi Ngunyi seems intent on creating myths and grand conspiracies out of it in order to scare the equally confused Jubilee team.
It was apparent that Raila might have used his three months’ absence to physically reenergise and divert attention from serious internal challenges facing ODM. After all, he has finally managed to banish Kidero.
And the so-called Team Fresh looked as confused on the podium as the rest of the Cordless cast. However, what we saw live on TV was certainly not someone – and team - ready to take charge of the onerous responsibilities of leadership in this country. That, you can take to the bank!
Mr Miguna Miguna is a lawyer and author of Peeling Back the Mask: A Quest for Justice in Kenya and Kidneys for the King: Deforming the Status Quo in Kenya