Kenya's 'Mandela' is hoping for a presidential victory that has long eluded him

2017-08-08 10:14
Raila Odinga. (AFP)

Raila Odinga. (AFP)

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Nairobi - Kenyan four-time presidential hopeful, Raila Odinga, is hoping for some Madiba magic. That much is clear from his Facebook page.

On the banner behind his profile picture, faded to the background, is a picture of him meeting a very aged Nelson Mandela, and right next to it, superimposed, a picture of Odinga holding a child.

There’s also the Mandela quote: “A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination.”

Supporters have drawn parallels between Odinga and Mandela, saying that, like Madiba, Odinga was jailed when fighting for freedom (although he spent seven years behind bars, compared to Mandela’s 27), and also that he was responsible for bringing the country a constitution that devolved power and resources when he was prime minister.

It is likely that these elections will be the 72-year-old’s last shot at the presidency, and the stakes are high. He pulled an impressive crowd during the opposition National Super Alliance’s (Nasa) final rally in Nairobi on Saturday, but still, many of his supporters say they believed President Uhuru Kenyatta would win again. This, they say, will be largely due to vote-rigging.

Irregularities and corruption 

Odinga has been speaking about the issue at every turn, even using the bulk of his final rally to talk about his fears of this election being stolen.

He told supporters that Kenyatta’s men raided his party’s tallying centres in Nairobi on Friday – an incident the police curiously denied ever happened. Nasa had set up a number of these to double check election results to prevent any rigging.

He has also been speaking out about irregularities and corruption at the country’s Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), which has created some reason for doubt as it’s been slow to act against some electoral law transgressions.

Odinga had also won a court battle to have election results declared at constituency level and not national level, which he hopes would reduce the chances for tampering.

In the past few days, the opposition has expressed concern about the IEBC’s announcement that network coverage was too bad at some polling stations to transmit results electronically. They fear this could open another opportunity for rigging.

Tribalism 

Odinga believes tampering with poll results was the reason why, up to now, the presidency has eluded him. The closest he got was prime minister, after the 2007 elections results were disputed to such an extent that it brought the country to the brink of a civil war.

For the second time this son of Kenya’s first deputy president is running against the son of its first president. Kenyatta defeated Odinga in a largely peaceful poll in 2013, and he is now running for a second term.

This time around the stakes are higher, and many fear a repeat of the post-election violence a decade ago. Some of it was fuelled by tribalism – Odinga is a Luo while Kenyatta is from the Kikuyu group, and the two have been at odds since the country’s independence in 1963.

In a televised address to the nation on Monday night, hours before the polls opened, Kenyatta invoked the memory of his father, Jomo, saying: “I am encouraged to see the spirit of the Kenyan people every day, the spirit of architects laying the foundation for our nation’s future prosperity – across every corner of our country. I know our forefathers would be proud of all of us as their children.”

He also reassured Kenyans that “the Kenyan spirit is as alive today as it was during the struggle for our independence”.

Odinga used his final address on Monday to again raise fears about vote-rigging and concerns that the deployment of 150 000 members of the security forces was meant to intimidate people.

He also congratulated Kenyatta on his campaign, describing him as a “worthy opponent”, adding: “May the stronger candidate win tomorrow.”

Kenyans are likely to know before the end of this week who that candidate would be.
Read more on:    uhuru kenyatta  |  raila odinga  |  nelson mandela  |  kenya  |  kenya 2017 elections  |  east africa

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