By Denis Otingo-Onyango.
Next month, the delegates of the Orange Democratic Movement will gather to elect new leaders and with it comes the poignant opportunity to ‘’rebrand’’ or ‘’reload’’. This is the norm with all political parties seeking to re-engage or re-connect with their core voters whilst focusing in the future.
If this is botchily executed, the party can cement its fate of popularity in the coming nationwide opinion polls to a downward spiral at a very delicate time. We saw Wetangula-Ruto Talks last week, regardless; if it was not Ruto and URP expressing discontent in the Jubilee Coalition; then it was the campaigns for 2017 beginning in earnest.
The rationale for ‘’rebranding’’ a party like ODM will be so crucial in reinforcing the party’s image as the antithesis or opposite of a sitting government that some have dubbed as ‘tribal’ government. ODM will badly need this to distinguish themselves apart having emerged from what many would agree as the most riveting-bitter- divisive ethnic competition in Kenyas elections history. Yet again, the expectations of many marginalized communities were deferred once more; the dream of reaching the ‘Promised Land’ ODM as a party has been promising them from the NARC days.
To add salt to the injury of their feelings, the Jubilee Coalition went public on the national media to gloat about the might of their two communities on how they are going to rule for next 20 years. Even more serious, the social media is awash with rumours that Muhoho Kenyatta is dating the former President Moi’s granddaughter. This will now re-awakens the reality of the statement he [Former President Moi] was thought to have made one day that KANU will rule Kenya for 100yrs.
Why not Ababu Namwamba, Why Agnes Zani? In history of Kenya’s politics, tribalism and ethnic competition has never degenerated to the epic levels we are witnessing today. This is not only evidenced by cabinet secretaries and heads of government parastatals drawn from mainly two communities. But also an elite few who have formed a somewhat ‘’Royal Family’’ that the presidency is their birth right.[The Moi’s,The Kenyattas].
The-should-be response from ODM is an antidote to this socially and ethnically exclusive- type of Jubilee government, is to present a totally ‘’rebranded’’ party that maintains the National Image with a much wider regional or geographical spread. Failure to which, they can risk being pigeon holed as a Western Kenya party or a Movement of a closely related communities synonymous with names such as Ojaamongs, Oparanyas, Otuomas, Orengos, Oburas, Obure, Ongwae etc.
Why Zani? The party’s Coastal constituency can be the key for it in stumping the authority of ODM as the only national party and especially with their 36Mps majority in parliament. Electing Zani will be like acknowledging the coastal grassroots members and consolidating the region in the party’s ranks. This is why it was creepy to see some selfish Luo leaders still presenting this condescending-uncle image, the retrograde attitude towards other tribes in ODM as if to claim exclusive ownership of the party.
They unknowingly illustrated exactly that they are possessed with the phenomenon they everyday try to decry selfish Jubilee government of. Zani might not currently have the clout that can glue the coastal region together, but might be a necessary risk to take. If emboldened and her popularity is re-invigorated; the party might reap a record harvest with her with an image that is like a breath of fresh air.
If Zani’s-impetus is incorporated properly complete with a ‘’rebranding’’ exercise managed by hired experts with let’s say ‘a new logo’ and a new mantra the way the British Labour Party after the defeat by the Conservatives – Only then, can ODM continue to claim being the party for change.
Fighting Corruption With the perception that ODM is the party of the Gladiators of War against corruption against wanton looting of treasury to the purported rigging of elections, one would view Zani as really a novice in this regard. Indeed, staunch supporters of Hon Ababu Namwamba rally behind him because he is juggernaut that has proved to be a thorn in the flesh of the establishment when it comes to fight against corruption.Many would agree that he is most qualified for the position if the focus is for short term political expediency to wage war against the scandals rocking the Jubilee government today.
The government is reeling on the ropes with the Standard Gauge Railway scandal, a graft of gigantic proportions that dwarfs both Anglo Leasing and Goldenberg Scandals. Zani might be least qualified and appears to lacks the capacity to deliver on this front but can be empowered by the Ababu(s) and Mbadi(s) of the party if the focus is on the bigger picture [2017 and beyond].
If the ODM party self-examines in this future context, and should the delegates votes with their heads not heart; there should be good returns as it’s often said that politics is purely a numbers game. If delegates were to approach this with whipped up emotions against anti-corruptions and tribalism, they might vote with their hearts for Ababu which might cause the bottom to fall off on a bigger chunk of the coastal region. With this scenario, the party might as well forget about 2017.
Gender Equality Sticking with ‘rebranding’, historically ODM has always been hugely viewed as a non- chauvinistic party that has empowered women to be as equals in leadership. Without embracing the fact that the time has come for women to rise to the top flight positions and going ahead in depicting that in the party leadership outlook, the ‘’rebranding’’ efforts can spectacularly fail.
The party shouldn’t want to miss the women-renaissance in leadership boat at a time when there are now three female presidents in the continent with the third female being the president of Central Africa Republic who is salvaging a nation where men had previously failed. Kenyan women appear to be in tow with international standards and seem ready for people to start looking for Kenya’s next Angela Merkle, Banda or Sirleaf. In-fact, the outgoing Secretary General can attest to the leadership capabilities of women looking at the accomplishments of his own daughter Lupita Nyongo in the global stage.
Typically and as widely stated, Jubilee Coalition has not been a women-friendly party as evidenced by just very recently Governor Kabogo’s tirade against the Thika MP. The Jubilee leader was alleged to have said that unmarried women should not occupy elective positions and on another previous outburst had allegedly condemned uncircumcised for the same.
Zani appears as a fresh-faced leader with a solid academic background that can be modelled into a champion for Kenyan women who seem disenchanted by the Jubilee government that can be accused of tolerating outrageous treatment of women and gleefully scoffs at offensive remarks against many single parents.
In effect, without Zani one can be inclined to say that the party will fail in its makeover opportunity that can create an allure for change that is again attractive to both young women and men.With her the party can vigorously fight the tag of a movement for “grumpy old men from Western Kenya with names beginning with letter O’’.
Smarting up from the loss of the last presidential election, the party should embark on a course of soul-searching on how they can for the third time take next elections to the extent beyond rigging. It is not as if this hasn’t been done before, Narc did it in 2002. Therefore, ODM should fight to remain the largest party nationally and thereby assume the leading role in CORD.And fittingly so to provide much needed leadership to initiate major changes in orientation, rhetoric, and tactics if the party is ever going to jostle the incumbent government of two tribes lampooned together out of power.
The Writer is a Progressive Politics Activist and Int’l Coordinator of FORA- UK. [The Views Expressed in this Article are my own and not of any organization I’ve listed.