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The pitfalls of ODM presidential nomination

My Turn, Samuel N. Omwenga
Published March 12, 2012

The ongoing debate within the Orange Democratic Party (ODM) regarding the nomination of its candidates, especially at the presidential level is intriguing in many respects.

It is also evidence of how far we have come in the new political dispensation whereby openness and transparency is demanded not just in the country’s general electoral process and governance, but in the nominating process for the parties that precede the general elections.

As the only identifiable national party with countrywide support and appeal, all eyes are on ODM as it grapples with how to go about nominating its candidates for the various elective offices, including at the presidential level.

ODM friends and foes are paying close attention as to the happenings at party, especially in connection with Deuty Prime Minister Musalia Mudavadi’s quest to challenge Prime Minister Raila Odinga for nomination by the party as its flag-bearer.

Those supporting Mudavadi’s quest say this is good for the health of the party because it shows the party believes in openness and transparency in its nomination process as opposed to ramming down the throats of its members nominees who the members may not have any desire or interest to support or vote for.

Those opposed to Mudavadi’s quest cite the simple reason the party previously held elections in which Odinga was elected party leader and Mudavadi his deputy and this having been done, it should follow naturally that Odinga heads the ticket while Mudavadi vies with him as his deputy.

Both sides have credible and meritorious arguments an impartial judge can dispassionately rule in favor of either side and the losing side cannot reasonably argue such a decision is wrong, unfair or unjust.

The problem, however, is almost everyone, including most members and supporters of ODM have made a mistake to think Mudavadi’s quest to challenge Odinga for the ODM nomination is about openness or transparency or even “internal democracy.”

It is not.

When Mudavadi initially sought to challenge Raila for the ODM flag-bearer nomination, it was a genuine desire to have the party lead by example in showing it is open and transparent in the conduct of its affairs, including the nomination process for its various candidates.

However, as things have evolved, several dynamics have come into play.

First, finding no ideological or leadership distinctions he could point to in making the case why he is or can be a better leader than Odinga, Mudavadi initially carefully laid out his quest as one of merely offering ODM members a choice; nothing more, nothing less.

His surrogates, however, and specifically his Luhya friends and supporters have been going around essentially planting the word that Mudavadi is the better general election ODM candidate than Odinga because he does not have “baggage” as they claim odinga does chief of them being he is the target of a vicious “Stop Raila” campaign.

Within this group of eggers on, friends and supporters are the traditional tribalists who simply believe its time a Luhya took a stab at the presidency and not continue playing second fiddle to Odinga.

An even smaller group–probably less than a handful, are survivalists who are more concerned about their individual political fortunes than whatever else is going on at the national level such that if they put their ear to the ground and hear the sound its Mudavadi, then its Muda and vice versa.

Emboldened by these friends and supporters, Mudavadi must have recalculated and now believes he has a shot at the presidency and thus his seriously seeking to challenge Odinga for the ODM nomination.

To be sure, were these friends and supporters not pressuring him as they are, Mudavadi would have probably preferred to simply let Odinga have another stab at the presidency knowing his turn will come in due time.

And therein lies the root-cause of the pressure because these friends and supporters of his must be using the willingness to wait as a weakness any man so challenged may be prompted to act otherwise if anything to dispel the notion he is not man enough.

These factors combined formed the genesis of the now nearly full-steam quest by Mudavadi to challenge Odinga.

Second, as Mudavadi slowly started elbowing his way to the nomination contest, Odinga’s enemies smelled blood and for them, nothing could be more grand a gift than knocking Odinga off ODM nomination and if that means finding any way to prop up Mudavadi, they will oblige.

Contrary to what others have speculated that these very enemies and foes of Odinga have been from the get-go been behind the scenes pulling the levers and directing traffic for Mudavadi in the direction of challenging Odinga, it’s doubtful or at least there is no reason to believe that would have been the case or why it would have been the case.

To have schemed such a plot would have required a level of brilliance and boldness no one can make a convincing case exists among them.

That’s not to say they can’t or don’t know how to plot and scheme; they do but this is a matter of degree or sophistication.

A more convincing case is, if these enemies and foes of Odinga ever became or are a part of a plot to block Odinga at the nomination level, such scheming must have been borne after Mudavadi’s genuine quest to offer himself as a candidate for nomination and consistent with the party’s openness and transparency.

Indeed, it may as well be the case that the real schemers and plotters have yet to play their hand as the conditions are not ripe–but they are hovering above as the hawks they are to take advantage of any opening they get.

Third, Odinga delivered a devastating blow to Uhuru Kenyatta in 2002 in favor of President Mwai Kibaki.

Although an easy case can be made that Uhuru would personally love to exact revenge for the defeat by doing everything he can to stop Odinga from being elected as president, an even more convincing case can be made there are others who greatly invested in the Uhuru project such that they would love to exact their own revenge against Odinga independent of Uhuru.

To all these enemies and foes of Odinga, using Mudavadi to knock Odinga out at the ODM nomination level would be ideal and there are any number of ways they can do this, not the least of which is what Mudavadi is already suggesting and that is, pushing for local nomination elections as opposed to voting at the National Delegates Convention.

Holding of local nomination elections will offer Odinga’s enemies and foes the perfect opportunity to create havoc in ODM that may as well knock him out as they wish.

Interestingly, knocking Odinga off the ODM nomination will bring with it an added bonus of crippling ODM and making it that much easy for these same distractors to have their preferred candidate elected than they otherwise would.

In other words, the thinking of these enemies and foes of Odinga must be once they succeed in having Mudavadi nominated, they will easily find ways to have him handily defeated at the general elections in favor of their preferred candidate and it doesn’t take much to figure why that would not be Mudavadi himself.

Complicating all these matters, is the fact that genuine ODM members, friends and supporters are genuinely conflicted as to what to make of Mudavadi’s quest.

As noted above, there are those who believe Mudavadi should challenge Odinga for the nomination as a matter of healthy competition but even among those who so believe, there is a level of angst or fear that the process could be hijacked by Odinga’s enemies and foes under the scenario described above and that cannot be good for anyone other than the enemies and foes.

All these point to only one solution for both Odinga and Mudavadi for the sake of ODM and their friends and supporters.

Notwithstanding what pressure Mudavadi is under, the two must sit down and agree on a way forward that does not jeopardize the goodwill the party has earned over the years, let alone their friendship.

Most importantly, the two must agree on a strategy that would keep the enemies at bay while ensuring one of them a pathway to State House.

In doing so, they must put aside the views, counsel or concerns of their advisers and supporters for in the end, its really about the two of them and one must have just landed from outer space not to know between the two of these gentlemen, they can craft a solution to get out of this uneasy and somewhat uncomfortable situation they find themselves in along with ODM and its friends and supporters.

On the other hand, those these two leaders lend an ear to their views or value their opinion need also step-back and look at things from the larger picture and more importantly, let them be realistic as to what’s really at stake and if they do this, everyone should be on the same page in no time and provide leadership so others can follow for in the end, the ultimate goal must be to ensure that ODM emerges from all this even stronger and ready to sweep the country yet again.

That’s an objective that can be easily accomplished if people allow common sense to prevail.

Indeed, the best thing these two leaders could do at this time is to simply take time off the daily political grind and allow everyone to take a breather while at the same time quietly finding and crafting the solution as suggested above while their supporters and friends must focus on popularizing the party, including registration of new members–an exercise that must be undertaken regardless of who in the end heads the ticket.

Finally, but not least, as these two leaders try and find a way out of this somewhat of a sticky situation, it is in Mudavadi’s interest to accommodate more than Odinga for both historical and realistic reasons.

Party loyalty demands no less.


Samwel N. Omwenga is a lawyer and political analyst in the US. Reach him at somwenga@gmail.com

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