Who is going to win the Kenyan election?

Who is going to win the Kenyan Election?
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Who is going to win the Kenyan Election?On March 4 Kenyans will go to the polls to vote in one of the most complicated and high stakes elections ever held in Africa. Complicated, because Kenyans will be elected representatives at multiple levels under a new constitution. High stakes, because the main contenders do not trust each other and because the two of the main players – William Ruto and Uhuru Kenyatta – know that only by winning power can they protect themselves against prosecution on charges of crimes against humanity. Over the last two weeks, the coalitions that will contest the elections have begun to take shape. Here DiA gives you the low down on who is in pole position.

 At times, Kenyan leaders treat their parties like tea bags. Only the poor re-use them. Of the alliances and parties that contested the last elections, the vast majority have been left behind. Mwai Kibaki’s election vehicle in 2007, the Party of National Unity (PNU) has been cast aside. Raila Odinga’s Orange Democratic Party (ODM) remains, but not in its original form – many key leaders have left for pastures new. This is testament to the great instability at the heart of the Kenyan political system. Alliances are formed, but they don’t tend to last long.  The ‘best before’ date on a Kenyan Coalition is about two months after the next election. 

Back in 2007, the ODM was an effective multi-ethnic alliance that brought together Raila Odinga (Luo), William Ruto (Kalenjin), Musalia Mudavadi (Luhya), Charity Ngilu (Kamba) and Najib Balala (with some influence at the Coast). The PNU alliance was led by Mwai Kibaki (Kikuyu), and looked rather anemic in comparison. Kibaki’s main ally Uhuru Kenyatta, son of Kenya’s first president Jomo Kenyatta, also hailed from the Kikuyu community. Kalonzo Musyoka, a prominent Kamba candidate, ran on his own under the banner of ODM-Kenya. Little over four years later, Ruto, Mudavadi and Balala have left the ODM to form a new alliance Kenyatta, while Odinga has recruited Musyoka to be his running-mate for the upcoming polls. To understand why this has happened, and what it means for who will win the polls scheduled for early next year, we need to briefly revisit the last election.

Breakdown of main ethnic groups (approximate %)
Kikuyu (and Embu and Meru) 28
Luhya 14
Luo 13
Kalenjin 12
Kamba 11
Kisii 6

The story of the 2007 election and its violent aftermath has been well told. Flawed polls led to the widespread belief that the PNU had rigged the vote to ensure that Kibaki stayed in power. Shortly after the announcement of the results, violence erupted in a number of parts of the country, which only came to an end with the formation of a power-sharing government. That government successfully negotiated the introduction of a new constitution that reduced the power of the presidency and created a new ‘devolved’ tier of county level government. However, it failed to agree on a way to prosecute leaders accused of orchestrating post-election violence, most notably ODM’s William Ruto and PNU’s Uhuru Kenyatta, both of whom are alleged to have played a role in the funding and organization of militias. As a result, the International Criminal Court (ICC) moved to prosecute the two leaders on charges of crimes against humanity. The proceedings will resume just one day after the presidential run-off election, which is due to be held should no candidate win 50% of the vote in the first round.   

Although it was little commented on at the time, the constitution also introduced a requirement that pre-election coalitions register their main office holders (President, Vice President, Leader of Government Business) and the agreement signed between them. In large part, this was a response to the experience of NaRC, the opposition ‘Rainbow Coalition’ that came to power in 2002 but fragmented shortly after because President Kibaki refused to honor a pre-election pledge to create the position of Prime Minister for his then ally, Raila Odinga.

The deadline for coalitions to be registered was last week, resulting in a period of frenzied political activity not unlike the frantic movements of managers and players that accompanies transfer deadline day in the English Premier League. To outside observers, coalition building in Kenya often seems like the national lottery. All of the same names go into a bowl, swirl around, and are then drawn out in different combinations, seemingly at random. But there is a science to coalition formation, and it is one that Kenyan presidential aspirants have honed to a fine art.

The first major announcement was that Uhuru Kenyatta would contest the election alongside William Ruto. This move surprised many in the international media, because Kenyatta and Ruto had been on opposite sides in the 2007 elections, and the worst ‘ethnic’ violence had occurred between their Kikuyu and Kalenjin communities. But this was old news to anyone well acquainted with Kenya. Kenyatta and Ruto had formed an ‘anti-reform’ alliance shortly after the power-sharing government was formed, and between 2009 and 2011 they repeatedly marshalled their MPs to protect themselves, and their allies, from prosecution on charges of corruption and other illegal activities. Their electoral alliance also made perfect sense: both men are determined win the election so that they follow the example of Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir and use the Presidency to escape ICC prosecution.

The next move came from Odinga, who declared that he would form an alliance with Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka and his Wiper Democratic Movement (Wiper because he was to ‘wipe’ Kenya free of corruption). Again, this surprised many casual observers, because Odinga and Musyoka had fought tooth and nail, especially during the period when the VP was dispatched by Kibaki to try and quash or defer the ICC proceedings against Ruto and Kenyatta. Surely Musyoka was a Kenyatta man?  But the alliance made sense. Raila had already lost both Ruto and another of his lieutenants from 2007, Mudavadi, who broke away from the ODM to launch his own campaign in the hope of becoming the ‘third force’ of Kenyan politics. Given this, Odinga needed a big name to fill the gap – and according to the opinion polls, no other available leader could have delivered Raila a larger following than Musyoka. Moreover, by bringing together Musyoka and Narc-Kenya leader Charity Ngilu, Odinga was able to consolidate control over the Kamba vote.

For his part, Musyoka recognized that there was not space for him within the Kenyatta and Ruto alliance. Kenyatta is widely known to have been dismissive of Musyoka, and Uhuruto (as Uhuru and Ruto are becoming known) were already in talks with Mudavadi. When that deal was done there would be no major political positions left to be filled. So to secure a position as a Vice Presidential candidate, and so maintain his current status, Musyoka had to cross the floor and join Raila.

The Odinga-Musyoka alliance is a cause of considerable concern to senior figures within the Uhuruto camp. If the polls are to be believed, these two leaders can marshal 41% of the vote on their own. Kenyatta and Ruto responded by putting pen to paper on a widely anticipated deal to integrate Mudavadi into what became known as the ‘Jubilee Alliance’. Capturing another former Odinga ally is a major boost for their hopes because it gives them a broader ethnic appeal and because they can use Mudavadi as a proxy candidate if for any reason they are unable to run (this is important because a case is currently before the courts challenging the legality of their candidacy based under the new constitution).

So where does that leave us? On the basis of an IPSOS-Synovate poll conducted in November 2012, ODM/Wiper is just ahead (the validity and reliability of such polls is always questionable, but it is worth noting that this polling team correctly predicted the result of both the 2005 referendum and the 2007 election – to the extent that we know what the result actually was, of course). Despite this, many commentators believe that the Jubilee Alliance is in the ascendency. There are three reasons for this. The first is symbolic.  All of the regional leaders that formed Odinga’s ‘Pentagon’ in 2007 had defected to the Jubilee Alliance apart from Charity Ngilu. And the rumour in Kenya is that Ngilu is soon to abandon Odinga in favour of the Jubilee Alliance. Although Ngilu is no longer a national political force, if she joins the Jubilee alliance it will split the Kamba vote, which would be a blow for ODM/Wiper. Many also believe that one of Odinga’s strongest allies in the Rift Valley, Henry Kosgey, an influential Kalenjin leader, is planning to abandon the Prime Minister. Kosgey is key to ODM’s hope of splitting the Kalenjin vote and preventing William Ruto from gaining a stranglehold on the Rift Valley. But he is believed to be deeply unhappy with Odinga’s decision to do business with Musyoka. If he leaves Raila to join forces with Ruto, the electoral calculus would swing back in favour of the Jubilee Alliance.

ODM/ Wiper  % Jubilee Alliance  %
Odinga  33 Kenyatta  26
Musyoka  8 Ruto  9
Mudavadi  4
Total 41 Total  39
Other Candidates  %
Peter Kenneth 3
Martha Kaura 2
Eugene Wamalwa 1

Second, many Kenyans believe that Mudavadi is stronger than his poll showing and that he will be able to unite the Luhya vote behind him, adding another 7/8% to the Jubilee total. However, it is not at all clear that this assumption stands up. Historically, the Luhya have rarely, if ever, voted as a block. Besides Mudavadi, two other prominent Luhya leaders will play a significant role in the 2012 election. FORD-Kenya leader Moses Wetangula is part of the ODM alliance. With Wentangula on side, Odinga – who has his own pathways into Western Province – can hope to mobilize a significant Luyha vote. Meanwhile, Eugene Wamalwa has resisted the urge to join one of the main coalitions and currently plans to contest the elections as part of a grouping of smaller parties known as the Pambuzuko Alliance. If Wamalwa maintains his independence, it is far from clear that Mudavadi – who has yet to construct an effective political machine across all parts of Western Province – is worth that much more than the 4% that he is polling. 

Finally, those who are looking ahead at what might happen in the next few weeks point out that the minor candidates that are yet to join one of the major campaigns are less likely to be able to deliver their support to ODM/Wiper. Martha Karua, for example, picks up most of her support among the Kikuyu community. It is unlikely that her voters could be persuaded to vote for Odinga given the main ethnic fault lines between the two coalitions.  Peter Kenneth is also a Kikuyu leader, but his campaign has focused on and he receives cross-ethnic support from a section of the middle class. It seems likely that many of his supporters would refuse to vote for a Kenyatta/Ruto ticket, and so his vote may end up being split between ODM/Wiper and Jubilee. But Kenneth is contesting the elections to position himself for next time round, when he hopes to emerge as the consensus candidate for the Kikuyu community. He is therefore unlikely to jeopardize his chances by supporting Odinga against Kibaki and Kenyatta – the current Kikuyu political heavyweights. For his part, Wamalwa has stated that he will support Mudavadi if his fellow Luhya receives the presidential nomination from Jubilee. So while Jubilee Alliance could yet expand, it is hard to see where ODM/Wiper will secure more votes. 

But it is a mistake to think that Odina cannot win, because the Jubilee Alliance has its own weaknesses. Wamalwa’s comment that he will support Mudavadi if he becomes the Jubilee presidential candidate is telling. Unlike ODM/Wiper, the Jubilee Alliance has yet to decide how to divide the top jobs. While Uhuru Kenyatta has made it clear that he expects to be the coalition’s flag bearer, there is a faction of the Kikuyu elite – believed to include President Kibaki himself – who feel that Mudavadi is the best man for the job. Most obviously, as the only one of the three Jubilee leaders not charged with crimes against humanity, and a leader of a community that has never held the presidency, Mudavadi is a viable compromise candidate. If you find the idea that prominent Kikuyus including the President are helping to fund the campaign of a prominent Luhya candidate surprising, remember that Kibaki supported the right of Vice President Daniel arap Moi, a Kalenjin, to accede the top job following the death of Jomo Kenyatta in 1978, against the wishes of many Kikuyu leaders. But Uhuru is less happy about the idea of playing second-fiddle to the Deputy Prime Minister, first because he wants the presidency for himself, and second because he does not trust anyone else to protect him from the ICC.

Significantly, the Jubilee alliance is likely to lose support any way that it carves up the political cake. This is because while the ‘ethnic calculus’ can tell us much about the logic of coalition formation, Kenyan politics cannot be treated as an ethnic census. Most communities do not actually vote as blocks and instead support two or three leaders, who often members of different coalitions. This is well illustrated by the example of the Luhya community discussed above.  Mudavadi stands a far greater chance of being able to unite the Luhya vote behind him as a high-profile presidential candidate, not least because Wamalwa has pledged to support his candidacy. But as a running mate to Kenyatta without Wamalwa’s support, he is likely to struggle. At the same time, if Jubilee opts for Mudavandi and so does not run a Kikuyu presidential candidate, some members of that community may become more inclined to vote for Martha Karua and Peter Kenneth. If Uhuru gets his way, the problem does not go away. It is still unclear whether Ruto’s Kalenjin supporters can really stomach voting for a Kikuyu presidential candidate given the animosity between the two communities. Of those who said that they would vote for Ruto in the next presidential election, only 58% said that Kenyatta was their next favourite candidate.

This suggests that the 2013 elections will share some important similarities with the 2007 polls. Now, as then, things are boiling down to a two horse race. Now, as then, the race is too close to call. Now, as then, the main problem for the government is how to form an integrated campaign that will be able to overcome Odinga’s political nous. Now, as then, those who control the state are determined not to lose power. All this makes it seem very likely that now, as then, some leaders will be reluctant to leave the outcome of the election to the electorate to decide. For an update on the electoral system and the prospects for a credible process check www.democracyinafrica.org for our next update on Kenya next week. 

For the opinion poll quote in this piece go to http://www.ipsos.co.ke/downloads/



3 thoughts on “Who is going to win the Kenyan election?

  1. This analysis is centred on the ethnic blocks which misses some of what is going on. The author mentions towards the end “Kenyan politics cannot be treated as an ethnic census” but the beginning of the article displays a map of ethnic regions and when looking back at the 2007 election, there is simply a table of ethnic percentages of the country.

    The identity crisis of the Kalenjin in the face of supporting a Kikuyu candidate is stronger than this article makes out, and this may have a devastating impact on the Jubilee Alliance as Ruto starts to fail as “Lord of the Rift”.

    Also, it should be noted that Uhuru Kenyatta’s public stance has not been “anti-reform” but just as much pro-reform as Odinga. Of course behind closed doors we can speculate that he wants to avoid the ICC and corruption charges (and therefore label him anti-reform) but his supporters believe him to be innocent and this is what he frames himself as. He has followed the ICC process saying it will prove his innocence.

    Nevertheless, thank you for the excellent article.

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