Since the attainment of Kenya’s independence in 1963, Raila Odinga stands as the greatest threat to the entrenchment of liberal democracy in the country.
Kenya is one of Africa’s few genuine growing democracies. According to the Ibrahim index of African governance, over the last ten years Kenya has improved in Overall Governance, the 9th largest improvement on the continent. As a result, the country has been ranked position 12 on the continent.
However, the extraordinary democratic and economic transformations the country has achieved are significantly being endangered by Mr. Odinga’s policies and politics.
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While it is true that Mr. Odinga has greatly contributed to the development of liberalism in the country, it can also be argued that his actions have been retrogressive. The national rhetoric he has perpetuated over the years has often been more divisive than conciliatory. A few examples include the 41 against 1 and the 40 against 2 in 2007 and 2013 respectively.
Transfer of power
During the launch of Miguna Miguna’s book ‘Peeling Back the Mask’ a few years ago, Paul Muite speaking at the launch asked:
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“There is some unfinished business about the attempted coup d’état in 1982. I think Kenyans would wish to hear the views of the Prime Minister so that people can be able to properly put into context the democratic credentials, respect for the law and constitutionalism… The Prime Minister should tell Kenyans… was he aware before the elections about this formula of 41 against one? Was he a beneficiary? It is ethnic mobilization. He should tell Kenyans what he knew about it.”
Raila does not respect the principle of ‘peaceful transfer of power’. Several instances of these include the 2013 and 2017 demonstrations where many died, and the failed 1982 coup d’état.
Despite denying his involvement in the latter, he eventually conceded to his central role in the incident in his biography Enigma by Babafemi Badejo. This was done in the full knowledge that no legal action could be taken against him due to the legal statute of limitation.
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Elections are the lifeblood of a liberal democracy that guarantees peace. Rather than taking power through violent means, actors use democratic electoral processes to ascend to power. Pointedly, this ensures the continued cementing of liberal ideals like constitutionalism, human rights, pluralism, and the rule of law.
However, since Mr. Odinga started vying for the Presidency, he has never conceded defeat in electoral contests. Rather, he has been quick to resort to violence as the first means for resolving disputes.
Additionally, the continual assault on the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) by Mr. Odinga and his Opposition brigade, greatly points to a pattern of trying to establish electoral authoritarianism.
The OKOA Referendum and Firimbi Movement saw the conducting of regular demonstrations across the country in 2016 to force the IEBC commissioners out of office. This was based on the perceptions that the IEBC was culpable in his defeat in 2013 and recently this year. Therefore, it is incapable of conducting free and fair elections.
According to Andreas Scheduler, electoral authoritarianism is the attempt by political elites to institutional facades of democracy, including regular multiparty elections, in order to conceal (and reproduce) harsh realities of authoritarian governance.
As a result, leaders devise discriminatory electoral rules, exclude rival forces from entering the electoral arena and circumscribe the flow of public information via the mass media.
By doing this, it violates liberal democratic values of freedom, fairness and integrity in so systematic and profound ways as to render elections instruments of authoritarian rule rather than instruments of democracy.
Raila has been trying to achieve this through several ways. Firstly, through the IPPG model. The disbandment of IEBC has largely been influenced by the role played by the Inter-Party Parliamentary Group (IPPG) in 1997.
IPPG brought together members of the opposition and those of the ruling party KANU. The group was formed after countrywide protests by the opposition as they agitated for reforms during the Moi regime.
The IPPG pushed for electoral reforms, by having political parties nominate commissioners to the former ECK. The opposition was always keen on adopting the IPPG model in reconstituting the IEBC.
Thereafter, the Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (CORD) launched the OKOA Kenya referendum. This was grounded on delegitimizing the IEBC’s capability to carry out credible elections this year.
Through the initiative, CORD called for the amendment of Article 88 of the Constitution, which gives procedures on the composition of IEBC commissioners. The draft Bill proposed that the commission should, “consist of five commissioners nominated by political parties based on their numerical strength in parliament in the previous General Elections and gazetted by the President.”
In the aftermath of OKOA Kenya, Mr. Odinga blamed the election body for bungling the initiative’s attempt to amend the 2010 Constitution by not collating the public’s signatures properly.
Raila Odinga has largely believed that by reconstituting the electoral body with favorable commissioners, it would rid IEBC of the institutional biases that have prevented him from winning elections.
For that reason, ODM has consistently argued that it will be impossible to have free and fair elections in 2017 without radical changes to the electoral body.
Contrastingly, when it came to party primaries in 2017, ODM was frequently accused of manipulating the electoral processes to favor certain individuals. According to the Star Newspaper on May 26, fraud and forgery saw the party send a new list of nominees to the IEBC.
The changes were made after the nomination processes and affected Muhoroni, Nyatike, Nyakach and Kisumu East constituencies. Raila’s party was on the spot on how senior officers at the ODM headquarters are using their juniors to install their preferred candidates.
In this regard, Mr. Odinga’s policies so far have posed a grave threat to the right of Kenyan citizens to cast their preferred votes in a manner that is peaceful and respects the rule of law. Electoral authoritarianism as a strategy of manipulating electoral processes is greatly defining Mr. Odinga’s legacy.
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