Kenya: Odinga’s crucial Kibra by-election approaches

By Morris Kiruga, in Nairobi
Posted on Friday, 6 September 2019 14:58, updated on Tuesday, 8 October 2019 14:45

Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga of the National Super Alliance (NASA) is pictured before taking a symbolic presidential oath of office in Nairobi, Kenya January 30, 2018. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

A by-election in a Nairobi constituency is widening the rifts inside Kenya’s governing party. This comes as the main opposition party prepares to defend a seat, historically linked to its leader. 

The parliamentary seat for Kibra Constituency fell vacant in July after the death of its 41-year-old member of parliament. The by-election for his replacement is scheduled for November 7th.

  • The late MP Ken Okoth had won praise for his efforts to improve conditions for his constituency, covering Kibera slums.
  • He was also an outspoken advocate for decriminalizing medical marijuana.
  • Before 2013, when Kibra was part of the larger Lang’ata constituency, opposition leader Raila Odinga was its MP. Lang’ata was Odinga’s stronghold for over two decades until the electoral rules changed, preventing presidential candidates from serving as MPs.

For the opposition party, losing the Kibra seat would reduce its numbers in parliament and its already waning power in Nairobi. The future Kibra Constituency MP will need to meet the high expectations set by the late MP.

  • The governing Jubilee Party will have a tough time promoting Mariga, but a win could cement its hold on Nairobi.
  • It could also strike a blow to the political truce between Kenyatta and Odinga.

Kibra has 118,276 registered voters, and is one of Nairobi’s 17 constituencies.

  • Currently, the governing Jubilee Party holds nine; Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) holds six; the ODM’s coalition ally, Wiper Democratic Movement has one.
  • During the 2017 elections, ODM lost the Nairobi governor seat, reducing its hold on the city’s electoral politics.

Last month, at least 24 people were running on the ODM ticket for the Kibera Constituency.

Only 11 have been cleared for the party’s nomination exercise scheduled for September 7th.

Popular reggae DJ, Chrispinus ‘Kriss Darlin’ Odhiambo knelt before Odinga at a public gathering, seeking his endorsement.

  • “I’ve heard there are many young people in Parliament, who are fighting Baba, allow me to go there and fight with them,” he said.

He was fired by his employer, NTV, as a result of his application.

Odinga’s close ally and campaign manager in 2013, Eliud Owalo resigned from ODM last month. He promptly joined the Amani National Congress, led by Musalia Mudavadi.

Odinga’s other coalition ally, Ford Kenya, also has a candidate in the race.

When the seat became vacant, observers expected the Jubilee Party to stay clear of the electoral race to ease pressure on Odinga. Both parties avoid contesting elections in areas where the other has influence.

  • The governing party named 32-year-old footballer, Macdonald Mariga as its candidate for the seat.
  • Mariga played for Inter Milan FC in March 2010, becoming the first Kenyan in the UEFA Champions League.
  • He won the governing party’s nomination, edging out 15 other contenders.
  • This decision is seen as another sign of the growing rift between President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy, William Ruto.

A losing candidate, Morris Kinyanjui wrote to the governing party, calling the process “unfair, deceptive and shrouded in secrecy but also contrary to the provisions of the Jubilee Party Constitution”. He pointed out that Mariga is neither a resident nor a voter in Kibra. “His candidature will be an impossible sell to the people of Kibra given the caliber of MP we had in the immediate past,” according to Kinyanjui.

Several Jubilee legislators blame Ruto for the governing party’s change of mind. They’re promising to openly campaign for the opposition’s candidate.

Bottom Line: It is not entirely implausible that a third candidate unrelated to either party could win, but Kibra is Odinga’s to lose.

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