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Sunday, November 18, 2007

A Missed Opportunity By PNU To Bury ODM

There is no doubt that the popularity of ODM and Raila Odinga has slipped significantly over the last few weeks. One of the reasons for this has been what started out clearly as mere propaganda over the Internet to the effect that Raila had signed a secret MOU with Muslim leaders in Kenya to introduce Sharia law into the Coast and North Eastern province Jimbos shortly after the introduction of the majimbo system of governance as proposed by ODM.

It was a ridiculous claim that many readers here quite rightly dismissed. However, one thing led to another and very soon Raila found himself under considerable pressure to reveal the details of his alleged MOU with the Muslims. He actually put more pressure on himself than was necessary by initially denying the existence of any such agreement. He later changed his mind and admitted that an agreement of sorts had been reached between himself and the Muslims, Coming so soon after the famous Kadhi courts battle in the proposed Bomas draft between Christians and Muslims in Kenya, the issue has caused considerable anxiety amongst Christians all over the country and this has without doubt considerably reduced the momentum in the Raila presidential campaign. Several polls have clearly shown his popularity slipping.

It is quite likely that the hiring of the controversial Dick Morris (a gifted but controversial pollster who former President Clinton talks of very highly of in his biography—My Life.) was one of the measures taken by Raila’s handlers to try and reverse the situation. It really isn’t a crisis yet but in politics at this level anything can happen and what starts out as a minor incident can quickly snowball into an election-losing issue.

In fact Dick Morris is one of the main reasons why Bill Clinton earned the nickname “The come back kid.” It was because there were several potentially election-losing issues that came up during his initial presidential campaign and in his re-election bid (mostly from his private life). But with the help of Morris and others Clinton handlers were able to spin him out of trouble every time. In hiring Morris, Raila handlers were probably hoping for the same miracle for their man.

President Kibaki’s handlers no doubt saw the opportunity when they put in the president’s itinerary a prayer service shortly after he presented his papers to the ECK. The idea was to portray him as a staunch Christian in sharp contrast to Raila.

The truth is that the Christian vote in Kenya is enough to make or break a presidential bid and in my view President Kibaki’s handlers did not make enough of the situation. Please excuse my saying so, but they should have gone for the jugular—that is the nature of politics. They really had a good opportunity to completely bury Raila Odinga which they missed. If I was on the president’s team I would have emphasized the need to keep on hammering on the Christian affiliation of the president.

In fact the big effort made by the president to reach out to the Muslims a few weeks back was mainly designed to secure his much required 25 per cent at the Coast province, otherwise the ideal thing to have done would have been to position the president as close to the Christians as possible (without saying anything that would offend our Muslim brothers). That alone would have earned him numerous votes across the country. That is what spin experts like Dick Morris specialize on. The stuff that changes the direction of a political campaign so dramatically that one easily snatches victory right from the jaws of defeat.

Now it is a little late because the Raila team seems to be slowly but surely recovering from that crisis. The focus on the party nominations has diverted public attention from it and chances are that this issue will not emerge again so high in the thoughts of voters because the stage where the campaign has entered now will usher in other pertinent debates and issues covering a very wide range of subjects.

P.S. In politics like in marketing, there is really no point wasting time and resources on lost causes. In my informed view, the Muslim vote is a lost cause for the president, thanks mainly to the Americans and their bullying ways in dealing with terrorism. Too many Muslims have been affected and the wounds are still too raw for the President to change Muslim minds. The President should therefore focus all his energies elsewhere. For instance the influential but few Hindus, who have benefited greatly from the Kibaki economic policies, professionals, many small businesses countrywide who have made a killing from importing with the strong shilling that president Kibaki has emphasized on throughout his administration, to name a few. This would have been the firm bedrock of support that would have helped launch and create a winning presidential campaign. In my view the president should have reduced his public meetings where Raila looks better and is much more gifted in playing to the gallery.

If the president loses this campaign, his handlers will have a lot to answer about the strategy they have employed. If I was one of them and the president kept on over-ruling me, then the right and honorable thing to do is to resign early rather than wait to take blame later for something that you did not agree with.

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