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Opinion: Why ‘the system’ might not make you president.

For you to become the president of Kenya, there are a number of basic tools that you need to have  – charisma, a deep war chest and a core constituency of unwavering supporters who will support you even when you commit the biggest political sins in the rule-book. It also helps when you’re already at the helm of power, because incumbency offers a presidential candidate unique advantages which we shall discuss later. However, there are those who believe you need a fourth ingredient – what a section of our politicians have termed as ‘system’ or ‘deep state.’

Proponents of this bizarre theory give an example of Raila Odinga’s stab at the Presidency in 2007, 2013 and 2017 as an example of when the ‘system’ worked to deny a man victory which they say, was rightfully earned at the ballot: ”Why have we never gone to State House, when we have actually won the election through vote? It is because we were missing something – the system…Some people are saying that system is not important, system is very important,” Oburu Odinga said in a past but recent function. 

However, upon closer inspection, the idea that you need a ‘system’ in the context advanced by the proponents, crumbles like a house of cards because our political history reveals that Kenyans largely identify with an anti-establishment candidate and abhor a ‘system’ candidate. Case in point is 2002, when the outgoing President Moi, knew his time at the seat of power was up, and instinctively, felt it was prudent to control his succession. He eventually settled on Uhuru Kenyatta, who was at that time considered a political novice, as his preferred successor, much to the chagrin of more seasoned politicians like Raila Odinga and George Saitoti.

Raila’s party NDP had merged with KANU ahead of the 2002 elections, and it is reasonable to say he hoped Moi would back his presidency bid. Saitoti, on the other hand, had been Moi’s VP for thirteen years, and hoped that Moi would reward his resilience by supporting him. Moi, on the other hand, had hoped to create an endorsement wave for Uhuru that would give him an edge over his competition. However, the endorsement created a protest wave, which culminated in the famous ‘Kibaki Tosha’ moment, and the NARC revolution carried the day.

In 2013, Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto, decided to make a run for it, with ICC cases looming over their heads following the post-election violence of 2007, and a formidable opponent in the name of Raila Odinga standing in their way. The status quo seemed to bend in favor of Odinga, who was the Prime minister at that time; meaning he enjoyed both local & international support and also some benefits of incumbency. The UhuRuto duo whipped up powerful anti-ICC sentiments, and Kenyans felt that their sons were being sacrificed on the altar of western imperialism & neocolonialism. It was mainly because of this that they chose the duo, despite threats of ‘consequences for their choices.’ 

In actuality, it seems that politicians across the world are realising that the best way to endear themselves to voters is to brand as an anti-system candidate. The new norm is to shun political endorsements from the powers that be, create a prominent social media presence, whip up anti-system rhetoric and appeal to the youth. This is something that DP Ruto understands. His Twitter rants, his new ‘outsider’ status, and his public dares to the ‘system’ to ‘bring it on’, are not the kicks of a dying horse, but well-calculated power moves intended to move a presidential hopeful closer to his dream.

This is why ODM leader Raila Odinga shouldn’t sit pretty. Granted, he is yet to declare his 2022 ambitions, but if his brother’s word is anything to go by, there could well be a future expectation that he will take his chances. Time will tell. For the time being, his strategists should be aware that over-reliance on a ‘system’, whatever that means in the Kenyan context, is akin to strategy suicide. When the time comes and Raila decides to take another stab at the highest seat in the land, he shall have to go back to the people and woo them. They will vote for whomever they choose. 

By Davis Getate