On Thursday February 12, 2015. The people of Homa Bay county exercised their democratic right and voted in Mr. Moses Otieno Kajwang’ of the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) Party as their next senator. The election presented a perfect learning opportunity for the ODM family and the Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (CORD) leader- former Prime Minister Raila Odinga.
A lot was at stake here, a candidate of a party allied to the former prime minister met fierce resistance following his direct nomination to carry the party’s mantle. Mr. Kajwang was handpicked from a group of eight contestants that had expressed their interest to seek the party’s nomination. This breach of democratic principles led to a major walkout by the contestants. Who proceeded to vie the seat on different party tickets.
The walkout triggered major political operations in the county that led to the pseudo rejection of Mr. Kajwang. He was heckled, beaten and peddled with stones; not once, not twice but many times by the very people he sought to lead.
Accusations met counter-accusations; emotions heightened; ODM felt shaken and numbed in its own political bedrock as history threatened to rewrite itself. If this wasn’t a learning moment for the lovers of the party and the party owners, then no lesson would probably be learnt.
ODM’s ultimate dream has always been pegged on winning a presidential election through its founder-Raila Odinga. The notion of a Raila win has influenced many decisions in the party. Democracy has been compromised on various occasions in a bid to give Raila the buttered side of the bread. A case in point, the party has never come out openly to correct its leader even in moments when his decisions are faced with uncertainty. It happened early last year when Mr. Odinga “handpicked” a list of party officials to lead the party after a botched nomination exercise. This move defied the fundamental principle of democracy upon which the party is founded. This pattern was replicated early this year when the party “handpicked” Mr. Kajwang to fly its flag. It is indubitable that the anointment of Mr. Kajwang had the blessings of Mr. Odinga following his closeness with the late senator, Mr. Gerald Otieno Kajwang.
The people of Homabay, while exercising their democratic rights, sought to remind the world that Homabay, politically, is under lock and key and the holder of this key happens to be Raila. Despite the ‘mock rejection’ of Mr. Kajwang, the voters, due to their humility and obedience to the party leader, heeded his call not to disappoint him. More intriguing is the fact that the election was premised on the deaths of the late Senator Otieno Kajwang’ and the late Fidel Odinga as the compass guides towards choosing the right candidate. Sadly, it had nothing to do with the historical sores of debilitating poverty, chronic disease and wanton ignorance that has plagued the county for far too long. For those who seek to review the political decree in this region-there are more bends to negotiate to bring home this dream.
The ODM party operatives forget that the party has not been lucky to field successfully a candidate to occupy the highest office on the land. The party operates under one simple maxim-okwabisecho (we won’t beseech). They believe that the party can survive and realize its dreams by holding a firm fist on dissidents. While this may true in some political cases across the globe, it is unlikely to succeed for ODM in Kenya, having won more enemies than friends in a very short time and given the fluid nature of national politics. Today, ODM’s ‘walk-out’ column has more particulars than its ‘walk-in’ column. This is not the way to win a presidential election.
ODM has consistently made serious political mistakes that have caused it major losses in the last decade. The nomination debacle has come hot on the heels of a party which many regarded (and I hope continues to regard) as the ultimate vehicle to deliver the long denied justice and equal opportunity for all. Millions of poor men and women have pegged their hopes in the party. However, time has proved that the people’s dreams have been invalidated by the consistent and unapologetic mutilation of democracy. The songs that are sung during the day are reversed at night.
Kajwang’s win may have initiated a celebratory mood in light of the odds that he surmounted to win the election. It confirmed to him that politics can be dirty. I am tempted to think that by now, his indebtedness to the party chief is beyond reproach. He will be expected to do just one thing-to forfeit his independence of thought and operate under the whims of the powers that be. He will begin his assignment on the high plane of loyalty and worship at the altar of political expediency. This is the tragedy of dependency. I wish him success!
Going forward, I hope that ODM party will conduct an internal audit of its performance for the last ten years of existence and reassess its standing on the country’s political landscape. The party win in Homabay was expected anyway. However, the daytime rebellion towards Mr. Odinga and his preferred candidate was largely surprising and much telling. It is a sign of changing times and hopefully, vital lessons have been learnt. The party’s old garments of deceit and benign autocracy must be taken to the dustbin. If ODM remains open to access and fair criticism, it will build itself as a political institution with solid structures on succession. Through this, the party will win admiration and the confidence of many dissidents. The party must close its outflow tap immediately or perish. I hope to live to witness the party’s reclamation of lost glory.
The writer is a blogger and commentator on socio-political issues