In 2002 when Raila Odinga said ‘Kibaki Tosha’, no one actually believed the Luo community could vote for a Kikuyu president. The conflict between the two communities went back right to the establishment of the Kenyan republic. The idea that Raila could convince his community to vote for a man who had actually been present during the moments when Luos had deliberately been disenfranchised from government was unbelievable. Raila seemed completely out of tune with his community.
In 2007 when William Ruto decided to support Raila no one believed he could convince the Kalenjin community to vote with him. The resistance against the direction Ruto was suggesting the Kalenjins take was especially strong because former President Daniel Moi, the man who had shaped the Kalenjin community’s political direction for more than 40 years, was clearly against the idea of a Raila presidency. Ruto appeared to have made a strategic mistake.
In 2012 when Uhuru Kenyatta joined hands to form a political coalition with Ruto, not too many of us took the duo seriously. It was a foregone conclusion in most people’s minds that Kalenjins could not vote for a Kikuyu president with the historical issues that existed between the two communities still outstanding. It was also assumed that the two communities could not work together after what had happened between them in 2007. Uhuru and Ruto looked completely lost, politically. It was so bad that a team of very powerful individuals even managed to temporarily convince Uhuru that he was better off trusting his political future to a Musalia Mudavadi presidency, than believing in a political coalition that was bound to fail.
Now, if Raila had failed to marshal the Luo vote behind Kibaki in 2002 Kibaki would never have made it into the presidency. If Ruto had failed to marshal the Kalenjin vote behind Raila in 2007 Raila would never have become Prime Minister. If the UhuruRuto alliance had failed to marshal the Kalenjins and Kikuyus to work together Uhuru would not be the President today.
Kenya’s political trajectory would also have been dramatically redefined and it is quite possible that the political careers of both the individuals who took the step of pushing their communities against the grain and those they were supporting would have ended at those points.
But they pulled it off. They took a political gamble and it paid off. Uhuru, Ruto and Raila bestride Kenya’s politics like behemoths, because of those epic moments when they stood alone against the tide of their communities. It is what makes me take another look at Governor Salim Mvurya’s decision to lead Kwale to Jubilee; and MP Ababu Namwamba efforts to establish a ‘Mulembe Consciousness’.
But what is of immediate interest to me is Governor Hassan Joho’s meteoric political rise. Governor 001, as he is popularly called, is building his political brand at a terrifying rate. He is smart, ambitious and bold. He also has swag, an independent political identity and looks easy on the eyes; always a good thing for a politician! Plus he is wealthy. His use of caustic political rhetoric to build a national profile is also a tried and true route to national relevance.
Joho clearly wants to be more than Mombasa governor, but he is playing a long ball. To get to where he wants to be he also has to be very calculating. He also needs to prove his political mettle and the most effective way to do this is to take his people somewhere completely unexpected politically; somewhere where it will be very clear that it is his sole effort and his sole effort alone that got them there.
If I were Raila I would be extremely alarmed.