The race to succeed President Kibaki promises to be an interesting one. All the pointers indicate that it will be a close race between the Raila-Kalonzo-Wetangula and co. faction vs. the Uhuru-Ruto-Mudavadi and co. faction. Prime Minister Raila is expected to be at the top of the ticket under an umbrella special purpose vehicle called CORD (Coalition for Reforms and Democracy). Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta leads his own SPV called the Jubilee Alliance. Below I give a little background information before delving into the state of the race.
The 2011 Kenyan constitution mandates that the winning presidential candidate garner 50% + 1 of the votes cast and at least 25% of the votes in at least half of Kenya’s 47 counties. In addition, presidential candidates and their veep candidates must run on a joint ticket. Previously, the presidential candidate could promise the veep slot to any number of ethnic chiefs. The constitution also limits the president’s ability to buy support by limiting the number of cabinet slots to 22 (necessitating the creation of minimum winning coalitions).
This situation has forced Kenya’s politicians to form alliances that cross ethnic lines, a change from the past when nearly all the major ethnic groups produced their own presidential candidates. The logic of minimum winning coalitions has set in, with two main camps forming ahead of the polls – Mr. Odinga has insisted all year on the stump that this is a two horse race between him and a straw man non-reformer, and that any other candidates are mere donkeys.
In this cycle the big five (Kikuyu, Luhya, Luo, Kamba and Kalenjin, together making over 70%) are all in either CORD or the Jubilee Alliance. Continuing the Luo-Kikuyu feud that has characterized Kenya’s political history since 1966, this election will pit the son of Kenya’s first president (Kenyatta) vs. that of the first vice president (Odinga). CORD’s formateur is Odinga (a Luo) who leads the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM). Jubilee’s is Kenyatta (a Kikuyu) who is leader of The National Alliance (TNA).
It is likely that CORD will field Odinga as the presidential candidate and Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka (a Kamba) as his running mate. Jubilee is likely to field Kenyatta as the the presidential candidate and William Ruto (a Kalenjin) as his running mate. This would leave the Luhya as a big five swing group. Such a scenario favors Odinga, who is already widely popular in Western Province (Luhya-land) and sections of Rift Valley Province (Kalenjin-land). This scenario is likely, but not set in stone.
The ICC Question:
Mr. Kenyatta and Mr. Ruto are facing charges at the ICC over the post election violence that rocked Kenya in 2007-08. Back then they were in opposing parties – Mr. Ruto with Odinga in ODM and Mr. Kenyatta with Kibaki in PNU. They are both suspected to have funded gangs of rival ethnic groups (Kalenjin and Kikuyu) that committed heinous crimes including murder, rape, and arson. The international community has sent a strong signal – through Kofi Annan’s statements, threats of sanctions and the EU’s travel ban on the duo – that the two should not run for office.
The Kikuyu business elite (including cash crop farmers and horticulturalists who would be hardest hit by international sanctions) have thus been trying to prevail on Mr. Kenyatta to forgo his presidential run in favor of Mr. Musalia Mudavadi (a Luhya) – evidence suggests that this was the carrot that Uhuru and Ruto used to lure Mr. Mudavadi into their coalition. If Uhuru steps down for Mudavadi then a good chunk of the Luhya vote would depart CORD for Jubilee. But it may create room for the lesser presidential candidates from Kenyatta’s region – Martha Karua and Peter Kenneth – to get a sizable chunk of the Kikuyu vote. Plus it is unclear if Mudavadi can weather the accusations of being Kenyatta’s project on top of campaigning against the formidable Mr. Odinga. Kenyatta’s last presidential bid faltered partly because he was seen as Moi’s project.
The State of the Race:
Ipsos Synovate, a local polling company, just released a poll of adults 18+ on their preferred candidates for president. Mr. Odinga leads the pack with 34% of the respondents saying he is their preferred candidate. Mr. Kenyatta is second with 27%. Mudavadi, the other likely Jubilee candidate polls at 5%. Musyoka and Ruto poll at 3% and 2% respectively. It is important to note that it is only Mr. Odinga and Mr. Kenyatta who are presently outperforming their ethnic group size in the polls (by 21% and 2% respectively). 22% of Kenyans remain undecided. Notice that the number of undecideds is highest in provinces that lack a presidential front-runner, i.e. all except Central (Kenyatta) and Nyanza (Odinga).
click on image to enlarge.
If Odinga eventually faces off with Kenyatta the key swing region that will determine the outcome of the election will be the Rift Valley Province. Mr. Odinga will have Nyanza, North Eastern, Western, Coast and half of Nairobi in the bag. Mr. Kenyatta will have Central, (possibly) the Rift Valley and half of Nairobi locked in. In this scenario (let’s call it scenario 1), for Mr. Kenyatta to win he would have to run the numbers in both the Mt. Kenya region (which as a whole has about 24% of voters, according to the 2009 census) and the Rift Valley Province (with 25% of voters) and get a good showing in Nairobi. For Mr. Odinga to stop him he would need to have a respectable showing in the Rift Valley – something that he can given the fact that he has managed to keep key leaders from the region in his party, ODM. In Scenario 1 Odinga will be the favorite to win.
If Jubilee nominates Mudavadi to face Odinga, then things will get interesting (It would also potentially make for a de-ethnicized presidenital race). Key questions will be:
- Whether the Kikuyu would vote for Mudavadi, given that the ticket would not have a Kikuyu (with Ruto as running mate). Would they opt for other Kikuyu presidential aspirants in Martha Karua and Peter Kenneth?
- Whether Mudavadi would manage to unite the Luhya bloc behind him. Luhya leaders have traditionally had a hard time uniting the region to vote as a bloc. Can Mudavadi overcome the sub-ethnic divisions of the Luhya?
- Whether Mudavadi will be able to effectively fight the inevitable portrayal of his candidacy by the opposition as Uhuru Kenyatta’s (or Kibaki’s) project. Can Mudavadi be his own man?
If the Rift Valley, Mt. Kenya (Central and sections of Eastern) and Western vote go to Mudavadi en masse, it is hard to see how Odinga can make it to State House. In this scenario, turnout would be key. Jubilee would win by a landslide. But while this situation is likely, it’ll still be a huge gamble for Jubilee to nominate Mudavadi.
Mr. Odinga has more national appeal than his former ODM assistant Mudavadi. The latter lacks a strong political base in his home region of Western Province. Add to that the fact that he will leave the gates with the imprint of “project” on his forehead, not to mention the uncertainty over how Mt. Kenya region would vote and the election becomes a real tossup ex ante. Nominating Mudavadi to head the Jubilee ticket would be a high risk gamble for Uhuru and Ruto that would either pay off big come March 4th or hand Odinga victory on a silver platter.
The Jubilee Alliance will nominate its candidate (either Uhuru or Mudavadi) next week. CORD will name its presidential candidate (very likely to be Mr. Odinga) on the 22nd. I expect minor defections and realignments that will have a non-trivial impact on the race before then. All in all right now Odinga is a slight favorite to become the fourth president of Kenya.