What Next for the Luo Community After Raila Odinga?
The General Election is over and done with and it is now time to critically examine some factors that have negatively and positively steered politics in the Luo community, during the past decade. It is also important to project the way forward for this ethnic group and the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) party, since its leader Raila Amolo Odinga, is currently not an elected politician. This article focuses on the Luo, who are the largest group within ODM, just like the Kikuyu in Uhuru-led The National Alliance (TNA) party and the Kalenjin in Ruto-led United Republican Party (URP).
First and foremost, I was among those who were highly disappointed by the unanimous ruling by the Supreme Court which rejected Raila’s petition on grounds that will soon be made public. However, I was already in doubt of a fair verdict given the praxis of conservative rulings in presidential petitions elsewhere. Moreover, Kenya’s leaning on an adversarial legal system added to my pessimism.
Apart from the above, endogenous factors within Luo Nyanza ensured that Raila lost quite a big chunk of his usually huge votes, despite the allegations of State machinery having been used to guarantee Uhuru’s win. It could be argued for instance, that voter apathy among the Luo contributed to Raila’s failure to capture the presidency. It was a do or die political contest and from observations, Uhuru and Ruto had campaigned vigorously within their strongholds of the Kikuyu and Kalenjin tribes, respectively.
There is no doubt Raila has played a key role in the democratic gains enjoyed by Kenyans today. Nevertheless, there are some factors concerning his personality and that of Luo politicians collectively, which impeded his success in capturing the presidency.
Raila-Ruto breakup: In 2008, Ruto, who was then-Raila’s political bosom buddy and had brought him the Kalenjin voting bloc in the 2007 presidential elections, began complaining that he had not been given a fair share in Raila’s part of the Grand Coalition Government. He had been assured of the premiership had Raila won, and Musalia Mudavadi who had been Raila’s running mate, would have been vice president. However, Raila became Prime Minister in the infamous half bread/carpet Government with Kibaki. It was therefore not easy to share positions fairly, but the reality was, Ruto had done more in the campaigns for Raila than Mudavadi who had been in the political cold since 2002, because of his indecisiveness to join the then Narc Government. Later, Ruto and his Kalenjin MPs broke ranks with ODM and teamed up with Uhuru Kenyatta. With the same charisma and good managerial skills, Ruto marshaled the Kalenjin bloc to vote for Uhuru’s presidency in March 2013, and the rest is history.
Nepotism: Time and again, Raila has favored his close relatives for top Government positions and recently, for elective posts. He perfected the art of Odinganization, just like the Kikuyu ruling class Kikuyunized key Government posts. It could be argued that some Luos silently carried forward memories from the sham ODM nominations in December 2012 to March 2013, and punished Raila for imposing his siblings Oburu Oginga and Ruth Odinga and cousin Jakoyo Midiwo on them, yet they had been resoundingly voted out in their various counties. For the first time ever, Raila was booed at some rallies when he was accompanied by his bunch of Luo MPs that voters had rejected at the nominations, yet through biased petitions by the ODM Elections Board, became winners, while the true winners were declared losers. TNA also practiced nepotism, but in a smarter way. For instance, former Dagoretti MP Beth Mugo who is Uhuru’s first cousin, declared that due to ill health, she would not contest an elective position. However, after the General Election, she was nominated by TNA to the Senate, and so far, there has been no hue and cry.
Sycophancy and non-performance: Were Luo MPs honest enough to mention to Raila when they felt he was making wrong political decisions as PM, or were they mere court jesters who wouldn’t tell him that he was naked (metaphorically)? Many Luo youths did not vote in the recent elections partly because they lacked identity cards (IDs), yet the Immigration minister was Otieno Kajwang’, Raila Odinga’s close ally. Why couldn’t he beg or force government administrators in Luoland to ensure that the youth acquired ID cards? They could not go to the elections and expect to win without the right tools. What about James Orengo, the $6000-suit politician? He is no doubt a brilliant legislator, but his development record as former Ugenya constituency MP was abysmal. Although he dismissed the 2011 report that tagged his CDF kitty as the worst managed in Kenya, he did not report any improvement later on. The report angered a group of youths who called for a scrutiny of CDF accounts in Luo Nyanza constituencies.
Less politics, more development: Can the newly elected Luo legislators move away from the 10-year mode of politicking to an economic development mode? It is true that Kibaki reneged on his signed 2002 MOU with Raila and was later alleged to have stolen his presidency in 2007. However, Luo Nyanza has been associated with politicking and eventually, the goal of securing Raila’s presidency was thwarted by the recent Supreme Court verdict.
The newly elected MP for Nyakach, Aduma Owuor, has said he will introduce a bill to send the Supreme Court judges home, once Parliament reconvenes. This reflects continuity in politicking at the expense of development. There is a lot to be learnt from the Kikuyu community which was marginalized politically during dictator Moi’s leadership, yet they soldiered on with economic superiority by expanding the gains from Jomo Kenyatta’s regime. Under Kibaki’s 10-year rule, they gained more economically and have a record of 12 billionaires in Murang’a County alone. These few super wealthy Kikuyus got all the backing from Government in various procurement deals, projects and in securing loans. On the other hand, Raila also enjoyed immense power as Prime Minister, but did the few wealthy Luos use his influence to bring factories and superhighways to Nyanza? The point is, they had a chance “To Eat” and might have benefited individually, yet had they siphoned the same cash to Luoland, at least poverty levels would have been reduced. Corruption is a culture among senior Government officials and politicians, therefore if it meant bending rules to develop Nyanza, they had a chance, but they did not. I abhor corruption, but if Kibaki himself let the culture flow for 10 years, then why couldn’t Luo politicians use it to improve infrastructure in their areas? They could not even build a fish processing plant or revive KICOMI the clothing factory, and other local projects that had failed due to mismanagement. Fish is now harvested and exported largely from artificial ponds in Kikuyuland. For many years, it was the staple food for Luos, yet currently, it is more expensive in their area than in Nairobi, which is traditionally not a fish eating zone. Very few Luos erected fish ponds when Kibaki’s government brought the offer.
Opposition politics: The CORD alliance, which comprises ODM, Wiper and other affiliate parties, seems to be in one piece so far, though there have been grievances from Ukambani that Senator Johnstone Muthama drove the Kamba out of Government because they joined ODM. However, many will recall that Kalonzo Musyoka, the Wiper party leader, was already out of the picture in the original G7 and his allies sought cooperation with ODM. The most important thing now is for CORD MPs to electrify the National Assembly and Senate by keeping the Uhuru Government on its toes. The process of implementing the new Constitution can only succeed if members of this alliance stay together as the official Opposition and not join Uhuru to give us another five years of a useless Government of National Unity, reminiscent of Kibaki’s, after the 2005 Constitutional referendum. Further, not everyone is supposed to be in Government.
ODM new look: ODM needs fresh blood within its top leadership and the best would be for the old guard to bow out and let the younger generation take over. Secretary-General Anyang’ Nyong’o has become a relic; a public eye-sore who is associated with evil, especially due to the inhumane way he handled the medical sector crises while Medical Services minister. He needs to quit and be replaced by a non-Luo, so as to give ODM a better national outlook.
Decorum, less arrogance: Mama Ida Odinga, Raila’s wife, is under public scrutiny for allegedly interfering with the operations of ODM in the past. It is claimed her turf wars with some former ODM female officials such as Rachael Shebesh, made them quit the party or got them punished internally by losing representation. However, Ida’s reported humiliation of outgoing Agriculture Minister Sally Kosgei in 2011, whom she ordered out of a Rusinga-island bound ferry at Luanda Kotieno, is one that left many ODM supporters shocked. Earlier the same year, it was reported that she had allegedly forced herself to speak during a UN conference in New York on the status of women, instead of then-Gender Minister, Naomi Shaban. Her eldest daughter was also in the spotlight for allegedly grabbing private property in Kisumu town while her son Fidel, was depicted as a public nuisance who was quoted in the local newspapers as having harassed a matatu driver whom he alleged had blocked his pathway as he was driving. Separately, an attendant at the posh Panari Hotel in Nairobi met Fidel’s wrath when he tried to frisk him for security reasons, at the hotel’s entrance.
The opposite was noted of Jimmy, Kibaki’s eldest son, who humbly undertook security check during a visit there. As for Raila Odinga, he should personally direct the management of Molasses Sugar Factory which he partly owns, to tell ordinary Kenyans who bought shares in the company, to ascertain their ownership. A lot of negative stories have been published about this and the best is to clarify the issue once and for all. He should also not accept the ongoing plot to get him back to Parliament because as former PM, it would be embarrassing to debate with MPs the age of his children. He can still preach democratic values as a private citizen. Lastly, Luos should hold their MPs and Senators to account by demanding wealth creation and economic development, instead of listening to their usual empty rhetoric.