Why Raila Odinga Lost

Why did Raila Odinga, the man to beat in the 2013 Kenyan presidential election, end up losing by up to 7 percentage points? Here are some quick answers:

I. Bad campaign management:

Back in 2009 James Orengo, one of Raila’s closest operatives said this about Mr. Odinga:

“Odinga has done nothing to reorganise his office to make it more effective. Odinga is a poor manager who does not follow up, and he is primarily focused on preparing for his presidential run in 2012, Orengo said. Odinga has avoided bold moves because he is hostage to his difficult political constituency”

The constituency mentioned must comprise of politicians and not the residents of Kibera because Mr. Odinga’s ODM/CORD secretariat was run by old/disconnected politicians. Yes he may have had administrators running the back office but the face of the ODM operation was one Franklin Bett, a veteran politician that elicited a lot of distrust from voters and presided over a sham of a nomination process. President Kenyatta’s Jubilee coalition was the polar opposite. Youthful Johnson Sakaja and Onyango Oloo presented a face of professionalism in the management of TNA affairs.

TNA also had a rather chaotic nomination process, but Sakaja and Oloo seemed to be in charge and gave the impression of being fair arbiters. For instance, they allowed Ferdinand Waititu, a stone thrower, to run against Evans Kidero for the governorship of Nairobi when they could have rigged in Jimnah Mbaru, a much better candidate. Over at ODM Raila Odinga’s brother and sister were fighting nasty nominations in Siaya and Kisumu respectively, which gave people the impression that the party wanted to rig in Raila’s relatives.  

Mr. Odinga’s lack of managerial abilities was also displayed in the choice of his son (Fidel) as controller of the purse for some campaign operations. An ODM operative in the Kidero campaign intimated to me that some of the money was never used and that t-shirts intended for campaigns were kept in storage in readiness for Raila’s swearing in! Mr. Odinga’s wife also ruffled a few feathers during the campaign period. The heavy visibility of his family made it much harder to avoid seeing Mr. Odinga’s campaign as a family affair. 

II. Strategic blunders: 

Raila Odinga’s campaign had several strategic blunders, going back a few years. 

  1. The Mau Forest Issue: 

    If Raila Odinga had garnered at least 20% of the vote in Kalenjin land in the Rift Valley province we may be having a different discussion today. His dismal showing in the Kalenjin heartland was partly because of his strategic myopia with regard to the eviction of squatters in the Mau forest. The cabinet, which at the time included William Ruto, Uhuru Kenyatta and Mwai Kibaki, approved the plans to preserve the Mau forest water tower by evicting those who were squatting in the protected areas. Yet, Raila Odinga managed to allow himself be left holding the political bag for the evictions (Many of those who lost land in the process were actually wealthy land owners with thousands of acres). 

    Come election time four years later, one of the issues that arose was why the poor who were evicted had not been resettled. At the time Mr. Odinga, through James Orengo, was in charge of the lands ministry. Instead of addressing the issue head on politically, the Odinga camp kept saying that treasury (run by Kenyatta then later by his allies) was witholding funds to resettle the evictees, thereby walking right into the political trap. What stopped Orengo, the lands minister, from allocating land to the evictees, thereby forcing treasury to rescind this offer or worse to evict the people from their newly allocated land? 

  2. Voter registration:

    TNA completely outmaneuvered ODM in registering voters in their strongholds. Local political analyst Mutahi Ngunyi (of the tyranny of numbers fame) was partly right when he said Kenyatta won the election on December 18, the day voter registration closed. Again here Odinga could have done better. Many youth in his strongholds did not register for lack of national identification cards. Yet Mr. Odinga controlled the ministry in charge of issuance of IDs through Otieno Kajwang’. Why didn’t Odinga mobilize his base to register?

    My theory is that his lieutenants’ incentives were misaligned with his. While Mr. Odinga needed massive grassroots mobilization, his old and disconnected close associates dreaded this. Many of them were very good at playing politics at the national stage but did very little for their constituents upcountry. Massive voter registration would have undoubtedly meant defeat for this lot (quite a few of them won nominations under dubious circumstances). Mr. Kenyatta on the other hand was less encumbered by old established politicians since he had a brand new popular party (TNA) in which everyone who wanted to be elected in central Kenya had to join.  

    The same Odinga lieutenants also appeared to be ever too eager to pursue their own interests at the expense of the former Prime Minister. Prof. Anyang’ Nyong’o threatened to fire 3,000 nurses close to the election, and called them zombies. One Jakoyo Midiwo, a vocal MP from Nyanza province and Odinga’s nephew, said that ODM had its owners and that Mr. Odinga’s brother (Oburu Odinga) was the designated nominee for governor of Siaya. He advised those who did not like this idea to look for other parties

  3. Giving up the ICC fight:

    Many analysts concluded following the election that Kenyatta and Ruto won partly because of their strategic use of the cases they face at the ICC. I hold the position that the ICC only made it more likely that Uhuru would team up with Ruto. The advantage here could have gone either way. Late last year opinion polls were still showing at least 50% of Kenyans wanting perpetrators of the 2007-08 violence to be prosecuted at the ICC. 

    Mr. Odinga could have used this to his advantage by going directly to the voters most likely to be sensitive to international trade restrictions – many of whom were in Kenyatta and Ruto’s strongholds (mostly commodity exporters) – and making the case to them that electing the duo would negatively impact their businesses. Instead he completely gave up on this and allowed Kenyatta to own the issue and set the tone on how the ICC would be talked about in the campaigns. As a result in the first debate Mr. Kenyatta masterfully neutralized the ICC cases as an issue by forcing all serious contenders on stage to denounce the trials and pledge to try the suspects of the 2007-08 violence domestically. 

III. Money:

Uhuru Kenyatta is one of the wealthiest people in Africa (probably worth hundreds of millions of dollars). He was therefore able to pour money into his campaign without reserve. Red t-shirts, caps, reflector jackets, lesos, etc were everywhere. ODM on the other hand had the reputation of being stingy throughout the campaign. They had less money to work with and even then managed to mismanage the little they had. Mr. Odinga’s dependence on wealthy party financiers may have also hampered his independence leading to the many strategic blunders he made throughout the campaign. 

IV. Demographics: 

In the final analysis democratic elections are about numbers. And sometimes a candidate just doesn’t have the numbers. Kenyans vote along ethnic lines. And on this score Mr. Kenyatta had a head start. The two core communities of the Jubilee Alliance (Kikuyu and Kalenjin) make up 36.5% of Kenyans. The two core communities in the CORD Alliance (Luo and Kamba) are only 21.1%. Add this to the fact that Mr. Kenyatta completely out-registered Mr. Odinga and also had a better turnout on voting day (I hinted at this here before the election) and it becomes clear why Mr. Kenyatta’s margin of victory was so big.  

Mr. Odinga’s party needs to do a lot of soul searching and be honest in its assessment of the conduct of the last election. They were caught flatfooted, playing the politics of yesteryears – mass rallies and whipping up emotions – instead of meticulously planning and targeting voters for registration, turnout, and with specific messages. Mr. Kenyatta, perhaps because he had a lot more to lose if he lost, or because he had a newer party with immense resources, or both, was able to do these things very well. 

Elections in Kenya will forever be different. And a lot more expensive. 


17 thoughts on “Why Raila Odinga Lost

  1. Hi Ken,

    Interesting post. The nature of our politics being ethnic I think I would focus on the demographic factor and money as main factors. Secondly, I think the issue of voter registration is a lot more complex than you and other analysts make it to be. My reading is that the ICC issue served to boost voter registration and voter turnout in the heartlands of Jubilee. CORD simply did not have the same kind of emotion driving its base. My hunch is that all things being equal more people were interested in registering to vote in Jubilee strongholds. The blame on the immigration minister is a common one but I find it to be unconvincing. For the argument to hold you must assume that voters in both jubilee and cord strongholds had the same enthusiasm to register and to vote and that somehow voters in a majority in CORD strongholds were not able to register. I still believe that the biggest factor remains the ICC and related factors which pushed up registration and voting in Jubilee strongholds. The message of CORD about reforms and implementing the constitution did not in my view drive more voters to the booth.


  2. Reblogged this on Revv22's Blog and commented:
    Without citing massive Irregularities and the advantage/disadvantage of running a campaign as a coalition, Ken Opalo gives a very convincing argument as to why Raila lost to Uhuru…


  3. Without citing massive Irregularities and the advantage/disadvantage of running a campaign as a coalition, Ken Opalo gives a very convincing argument as to why Raila lost to Uhuru…

    The TNA campaign machine was quite organized, highly strategic and focused.. My assessment is that the only time they had to react of the cuff was during the petition hearings where they were partially blind to what evidence was to be presented.

    Perhaps their strategy extended to post inauguration politics-the next couple of weeks will tell


  4. as far as i agree with u in some issues u pin point i also disagreed it true some of railas close allies has to be blame expecially jakoyo nyongo and orengo and some family members but election itself was totally mismanaged from bvr failure to tallying process a ccording to what i saw during petition there was no official registered prepared by iebc and this issue of tyraany of numers was created to hoodwink kenyans


  5. Registration and voting was key – but i think it came down to 2 counties kakamega vs Kiambu both with about 1.6M population kakamega had 500k registered voters versus Kiambu @800K turnout in Kiambu was almost 90% in kakamega 400k people voted.

    The above was key but if you add insecurity in the coast which had an impact on turnout in this CORD stronghold

    But overal, Jubilee should be worried since they Maxed out their bases so they either need to expand their map and maintain enthusiasm.

    I also think we should not absolve IEBC


  6. Opalo falls to the same trap of peddling rumours disguised as analysis. There’s no doubt that Raila had a disorganized campaign yet he managed to carry 5/8 provinces with a tie in 6th province. Why did his opponents(with support of Kibaki admin) have to resort to blatant electoral theft if they had outmaneuvered him in strategy? Or is electoral theft also part of Uhuruto brilliant political strategy? Uhuru is a minority illegitimate president recognized mainly by two political/tribal blocs. For now the rest of Kenya will bide their time. Come 2017 they will reject him as forcefully as they rejected him in 2013 and Kibaki in 2007. Our only prayer is that the IEBC be totally overhauled to remove those criminals disguised as professionals.


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  17. I just wish the Kenyan People the best because me as a Ugandan in need change because it is the fact of life


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