By Macharia Gaitho for Daily Nation
The Orange Democratic Movement has been in the news as jostling picks up ahead of the party elections.
The kind of interest the pulling and shoving has generated indicates that it is not just about who is who in the emerging line-ups; it is about the fate of ODM as a viable political vehicle heading towards the 2017 General Election and, in particular, the prospects of Mr Raila Odinga as the party leader contemplates a fourth, and probably final, presidential bid.
An outfit that loves to shoot itself in the foot, ODM has generated plenty of negative publicity, to the delight of detractors more than keen to read Mr Odinga’s political obituary.
The issue has been Mr Odinga resisting a push by a section of the party aspirants from his Luo Nyanza bedrock to reserve all the key offices for themselves.
It is incredible that in this day and age characters who call themselves Young Turks, a modern, educated and cosmopolitan lot angling to drive ODM to the next level, can offer such retrogressive, backward leadership.
After the demise of former sole legal party, Kanu, as well as Ford, Democratic Party, Ford Kenya, Ford Asili, Narc, Narc Kenya, and a motley of other outfits and offshoots that rose and fell after the advent of political pluralism, ODM is perhaps the only remaining party that can claim anything approaching the status of national political party.
True, it is very much associated with Mr Odinga and Luo political aspirations, but it has representation and following across Kenya that makes it a formidable political organisation. With its Cord alliance partner, the Wiper party of former vice-president Kalonzo Musyoka, it at present offers the only viable challenge to the governing Jubilee coalition of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s The National Party (TNA) and Deputy President William Ruto’s United Republican Party (URP).
Incredible then that, instead of working to build up ODM’s national and nationalist credentials, a bunch of short-sighted politicians is doing the opposite in trying to depict the party as an insular, ethnic outfit.
A look at the cast of characters reveals some politicians simply trying to use the ethnic base to build their own leadership credentials.
Some are simply playing Luo succession politics in the belief that Mr Odinga, approaching the age of three-score and ten, is on his last legs. Others stand for nothing but unprincipled self-seeking pursuit of power and position.
They consorted with the dictatorial and corrupt Kanu when it was in power and are already showing a tendency to traffic with the Jubilee leadership in transactions that can only be designed to weaken ODM.
Mr Odinga reacted firmly and decisively in telling off those seeking ODM leadership on the Luo platform. When he stood firm, a bunch of declared candidates pulled out of the party polls.
Unfortunately, the spate of sullen withdrawals also served to illustrate the grip he has on the party and Luo politics. It demonstrated a dictatorial control reminiscent of the Mama na Baba era in Kanu when President Moi presented pre-determined party lists at those infamous cheering festivals and hero-worship gatherings that comprised the Kanu Delegates Conference.
We still do not know exactly how the lot now being called party rebels was persuaded to step down, but it might have been better for ODM to leave space for all aspirants and let democracy prevail.
How ODM manages the party elections and from then on the critical period leading to 2017 will largely help Kenyans make up their minds whether it offers a serious, disciplined, principled, and democratic alternative.
Mr Odinga does not need reminding that the chaotic party nominations ahead of the last General Election did much to take away the momentum from ODM and the Cord alliance and hand victory to Jubilee.
Another botched exercise, especially with moneyed rivals waiting to throw spanners into the works and reap from the fallout, could well be the final nail in the coffin.
That is the challenge for a party that must demonstrate that it is a government-in-waiting, a credible alternative to TNA, which will not be rocked by internal competition because it is personal political vehicle run by hand-picked officials.
This article first appeared in the Daily Nation. Macharia Gaitho is a senior columnist with the Daily Nation.Â