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ODM-Kenya House – Start at the Foundation

By Matunda Nyanchama

Toronto Ontario

Saturday, March 17, 2007

ODM-Kenya House – Start at the Foundation

Recent happenings at the Orange Democratic Movement Kenya (ODM-Kenya) party suggest all is not well within the leadership ranks. This is especially with respect to the competition for the top prize in the party: the presidential torch bearer’s spot in the next elections. The controversial “bonding” trip to London, which many candidates boycotted, is only one case in point. Subsequent finger-pointing and accusations of insincerity on the part of others were inevitable. We Kenyans remain to see more of the same. And what good entertainment it would be were it not that this conduct has a bearing on the lives of millions of Kenyans.

Pundits and observers have focused on the differences and rivalry between the two key leading candidates for the top prize, Messrs Raila Odinga and Kalonzo Musyoka. Kalonzo’s detractors suggest that his “stubbornness” is borne out of last year’s Steadman polls that had him leading the rest of the pack in ODM-Kenya. Raila’s doubters argue that he is gunning for a forum that would declare him the presidential candidate, ala “Kibaki Tosha” pronouncement in the lead up to the 2002 elections.

Meanwhile other presidential candidates wait in the wings for the leaders in the pack to fall by the wayside. Their opponents in Narc-Kenya are praying and waiting for the part’s break-up. Some have likened the impending scenario to the FORD break-up in 1992!

Whether ODM-Kenya lives in its current form or not, only time will tell.

At the core of the party’s problems is the major weakness of political parties in Kenya. Here parties are cobbled up haphazardly in reaction to situations. Many take the character of their leaders and (in some cases) founders. And they are for the sole purpose of winning elections. Gunning for power is not a sin; it is only democratic. Indeed, political parties exist for exactly that: winning the right to exercise political power in a country.

In Kenya though, other than gunning for power, political parties exist for little else. Here parties can be founded and abandoned at a whim. Parties join and leave coalitions at the will of their leaders, even as members watch from the sidelines. In doing so, parties bring together strange bed fellows that may have little in common except having a common opponent in government. The resulting mix is borne of expediency and brings together people with apparent clean public records and others with dubious records. This is the case with ODM-Kenya.

The party, like many others in the country was built top down! Its doubtful survival underlines the weakness in its foundation! In a true sense, ODM-Kenya, like other parties in the country, cannot be called as political party, per se! Wikipedia defines a political party as “an organization that seeks to attain political power within a government, usually by participating in electoral campaigns. Parties often espouse a certain ideology, but may also represent a coalition among disparate interests”.

Like other political parties in Kenya, ODM-Kenya has no political ideology to which members and leaders subscribe. Political parties are supposed to be mass movements based on some common set of beliefs and ideas. Ideally, the masses are a party’s bedrock and foundation upon which it seeks power. Unfortunately, this is not the case with Kenyan parties and ODM-Kenya is not an exception. Its membership base is fluid and could go whichever way its “leadership” determines. For example, if there were to be fallout, one can predict that regions and ethnicities will follow their favoured sons/daughters. Thus Nyanza, Eastern, Rift Valley, and Western would go with Raila, Kalonzo, William Ruto and Musalia Mudavadi, respectively.

Like other Kenyan political parties ODM-Kenya has no body of doctrine, myth, or belief that guides its leaders and members, except of course the removal of current government from power come election time. There are no fundamental convictions about the conduct of the country that binds its membership, except gunning for power. It is similar to the NARC of 2002 whose sole focus was Moi’s defeat. In government, NARC discovered that running the country well was more than they had thought about. If they were a learning group, ODM-Kenya would have realized by now that it was not about Moi and his infamous Rift Valley Mafia. And today, it is not about Kibaki and so called Mount Kenya Mafia. Rather, it is the system that has little checks and balances for equity and fair play! And with the defeat of the government in the referendum on the constitution, that system remains intact to date!

Due to lack of idea-based political conviction, ODM-Kenya’s messages to mwananchi have been what the government is not doing; how corrupt the system is and how they intend to defeat the government come election time. There is very little talk on what they would do differently, how they would realize their plans and how those plans would benefit Kenyans. Critical analysis suggests they haven’t distinguished themselves clearly from those in power!

The origins of ODM-Kenya are in the referendum of 2005 in which the government was roundly defeated in a yes-no question on whether to accept the Wako Draft of the constitution. Yes-no issues are simple to deal with and sloganeer about. To premise the party’s ascendancy to power based on such a binary approach is a fundamental flaw and a major weakness of the party. The party could have become a mass movement had it approached its formation based on some key principles that would distinguish it from the government.

As an example, ODM-Kenya says the government is corrupt. This is a fact; what with Anglo Leasing and the subsequent fallout. A cleaner, more believable party would have floored the government on this single issue and sent Mwai Kibaki to retirement in Othaya. Yet this message does not seem to resonate to the degree it ought to. And for reasons that are obvious: among the ODM-Kenya ranks are individuals from the Moi era that were associated with massive corruption and looting of public enterprises. In many Kenyans’ minds, such individuals are only out to regain their lost glory and have a chance to eat as they did in the past.

Some presidential candidates have tabled their manifestos with a lot of fanfare. It is a good start and a trend Kenyans should embrace and should come to expect from leadership contenders. ODM-Kenya, as a party, has no set of commitments, policy issues or program priorities that it would implement should it come to power. It would be good were the party to propose such policies, programs and priorities that would distinguish it from the current government. As it is, no such document or commitment exist at the party level! Moreover, it is not clear that the membership and leadership subscribe to any coherent program as a collective.

ODM-Kenya may yet survive its internal wrangles. Its opportunity to advance political discourse in the country appears limited. This is a sad affair considering the credentials of many in its ranks. The party had an opportunity to do politics differently. It may be the curse of Kenyan politics that promising movements flounder for lack of strong political foundations. And despite the hard work, perpetual global trotting by its leadership and permanent media presence without good foundations parties like ODM-Kenya would make minimal advances in the country’s political discourse and culture.

© March 17, 2007, Matunda Nyanchama


Matunda Nyanchama, an information security professional, is a past President of the Kenyan Community Abroad (KCA). He can be reached at

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