Raila Odinga and Martha Kaura campaign poster.
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How Raila followers drunk the Kool-Aid

Raila Odinga’s followers didn’t start drinking Kool-Aid in 2022. To many of them, William Ruto was simply unelectable and victory was palpable, but Ruto delivered a shock win. For Odinga voters and strategists, they face Ruto’s victory with grief, anger, disbelief and perhaps a twinge of envy.

“Dauti”, Victor Ochieng said to me, “you’ve been speaking to the wrong Kikuyus.” That was mid-2020 and that’s when it occurred to me that some of Raila’s followers had already started drinking the Kool-Aid.

Ochieng isn’t your ordinary run-of-the-mill Raila supporter: He’s reflective, intellectual, philosophical and sober – to mean also, he doesn’t drink kong’o, alcohol – and above all, a writer of great discernment.

My friend was disturbed by an article I’d penned in March 2020, in which I’d averred that Kikuyus had fallen in love with William Ruto and in their seemingly indefinite infatuation, they’d vowed to vote for him come 2022 general election. “We must have lunch, because I need to educate you on the politics of Mt Kenya. I doubt you know Kikuyus well enough,” remonstrated my good friend.

The lunch was a three-hour sumptuous affair in which Ochieng laid out his theory of your typical Kikuyu: they never contradict their Muthamaki, they’re deceitful; that is to say, they may sound aggrieved with Uhuru, but it’s only a cultural and political ruse, “be assured they still love him like yesterday. True Kikuyus can never, underline never, vote for William Ruto, true Kikuyus know that Raila means well for them and that he’s their only saviour.”

Kenya’s Deputy President William Samoei Ruto on the campaign trail. Photo credit: William Samoei Ruto/Twitter Official

Given a choice between Raila and Ruto Ochieng postulated, it was a no-brainer who Kikuyus would vote for. He was so convinced of what he was talking about, we didn’t have a discussion, but a soliloquy.  

“Please go now and interview the true Kikuyus.” We agreed to compare notes after six months because my friend was sure six months was enough time for me to have found the real Kikuyus, who would have re-discovered their true political north.

Look at it this way: the lunch-hour lecture I’d received essentially was saying; I know the psyche of the ordinary mugikuyu better than you do. Ponder this; can you imagine me telling Ochieng, “I need to educate you on the people of Sigomre, because I don’t think you know them well.” Sigomre is in Ugenya, Siaya County, where he comes from.

We didn’t exchange notes after six months, but 26 months later. First: “Please share with me some of your recent take on politics.” Ochieng wrote to me. He had even stopped reading me. And then; “I must say this, my political analysis in this country is flawed.” He could as well have added, I was not sober, because I’d drunk Kool-Aid.

Ochieng wasn’t the only Raila follower that I knew that had apparently drunk Kool-Aid. After the March 9, 2018 handshake, I’d had a running debate with an advocate of the High Court of Kenya, until on the eve of August 9, 2022. “This time, we’ve this thing all wrapped up. Who’s Ruto? We’re going to finish him,” boasted Solomon. “Kikuyus don’t have a candidate, we’ve them cornered. Between Raila and Ruto, who do you think the Kikuyus would prefer?” It was a question that non-Kikuyus seemed to already have an answer to.

How is it that someone who has won elections before without the help of Kikuyus, is now assiduously courting them?

Solo’s other argument was that, Raila had apparently won three elections without Kikuyus, “who do they think they are?” But that was only half the story; I told him: “I couldn’t agree more with you, but pray, how is it that someone who has won elections before without the help of Kikuyus, is now assiduously courting them? Why does Raila need to assuage the Kikuyu vote, which according to you, he can do without?” 

Two months to the August 9, 2022 elections we met. “Take it from me, we’ve already bagged it,” said an animated Solo. “We’re just now waiting to swear in Baba. The Kikuyus are with us…don’t be fooled. They have no choice, It’s game shot. What’s your bank? I will guarantee you a loan against my statement.”

Deputy President of Kenya, William Ruto. Photo: World Trade Organization

After the shock defeat at the ballot box announced on August 15, 2022, we met again. “Solo, so what happened?” He was sick in the stomach. “Some mistakes were committed by Baba’s team.” Which ones I begged to hear. His braggadocio had disappeared. Mellow and now less sure of himself, he said, “some people let Baba down. That’s all I’ve to say for now.”

Raila followers didn’t start drinking Kool-Aid in 2022. Sometime in 2012, my long-time friend Patrick Kenyanitto invited me for breakfast, because he wanted us to have a head-to-head man talk. I was then a political writer for a daily newspaper in Nairobi. “What’s your take? Agwambo (Raila’s fond nickname) has already taken this thing.” It was a statement of fact than rhetoric.

“There is no way the country can vote for a people indicted with International Criminal Court (ICC) criminal charges.” He was referring to Uhuru and Ruto who had been fingered by the Court as the “Ocampo Six”. “In any case, we’re half government, surely, how can we lose the election this time?” 

After the controversial December 2007 post-election violence, a political détente, supervised by the late UN secretary general Kofi Annan offered Raila “half-of-the-bread” and was made a non-executive Prime Minister.

“Above all,” summed up Kenyanitto, “the international community cannot allow the duo to ascend to power, never.” By international community, he meant the US government, the UK government and the European Union (EU).

I warned Kenyanitto…here’s no electorate called international community

I warned Kenyanitto, Raila must not be seen to gloat over the duo’s tribulations because, to their respective supporters, that was a matter of life and death. If they sensed, he wants to send them to the gallows, they’d do all in their might to fight him. Secondly, it’s true, he was in government, but he didn’t control the levers of the state, thirdly, there’s no electorate called international community.

“Take it from me, Raila is our next president,” concluded my friend as we parted. When the general election was held on March 4, 2013 and Raila lost, Kenyanitto groaned, “something had drastically gone wrong somewhere, but we’re going to fix it at the Supreme Court of Kenya.” Raila then running under the banner of Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (CORD) took his grievances to the newly created SCOK’s seven-bench panel.

Retired Chief Justice of Kenya Willy Mutunga Photo: Wikipedia

When the Chief Justice Willy Mutunga-led team didn’t “fix” the problem, my friend went into a depression and didn’t speak to me for the entire first term of Uhuruto’s bromance government.

Jimmy Okeyo was my other friend who was so persuaded that Raila was going to be Kenya’s next president after the 2013 presidential elections. We never had any constructive debate, because he wouldn’t entertain any opposing view. “You’re a pessimist,” he always accused me. “We’re going to prove you wrong with your overbearing pessimism.” 

When SCOK in less than seven minutes upheld the Jubilee Alliance victory, Jim was in disbelief and shock; he accused Willy of conspiring to ensure Raila didn’t become the president. After the shock, he suffered a post traumatic election depression. “I cannot stay in this (Nairobi) town anymore,” Jim said to me, “let me go and stay with my people.” Later than year, Jim relocated to the lakeshore town of Kisumu and for the next two years he operated from Kisumu. He only came back to Nairobi in 2016.

But it’s in the lead-up to 2022 that more Raila followers drunk the Kool-Aid. The 2022 presidential election was a do-or-die for them. It was going to be now or never. And so, my friend Trizah Apondi, a Nairobi restaurateur told me she was travelling to her rural home because that’s where her Baba vote was. 

“After Baba is announced the winner, we’ll have a bash in Ka-Daudi, we must celebrate big, because this time round, it ours for the taking, we’ve waited for too long.” Ka-Daudi village is in Alego-Usonga, Siaya County.

When Ruto, instead of Raila, was announced as the victor, Trizah immediately returned to Nairobi. “You Kikuyus, why didn’t you vote for Baba? She lunged at me. “Why do you hate us so? Why did you cheat Baba? What were all those crowds in Central (Kenya) for? What did we do to you guys? The rhetoric came in quick succession, fast and furious. 

Then the bitterness and incoherence: “Unlike you Kikuyus, we’re loyal, we’re loyal to Baba, we can never disown him, the way you’ve disowned your own (Uhuru Kenyatta). We know why you hate Baba; because he’s uncut, yet your Kikuyu women are always chasing our men to be f….d by them.” She harangued on and on. . .

The premature celebrations were not only going to happen in Ka-Daudi village, but here in Nairobi, they had already begun. On the weekend preceding the presidential election results announcement on August 15, celebrations were already rocking the city centre. On the night of August 12, rowdy groups of Raila supporters took to the central business district streets, after inspecting the rolling of the red carpet outside the steps of Kenyatta International Conventional Centre (KICC), or so they believed, for none other than Raila Amolo Odinga.

One mob that had commandeered a Land Cruiser 4WD crazily drove around the CBD, with young men holding onto any angle they could hang onto, while still blowing vuvuzelas. They were yelling Baba the 5th, Baba the 5th…Yet the clincher for me was, when, in the evening of the following day, I met a senior communications man, who was working for Raila, who was already in a celebratory mood.

“We’ve already started savouring the victory, we’ve taken this thing, all indications show we’re just waiting for the official announcement,” he said, as he entered a wines and spirits kiosk. “Isn’t that a bit too premature,” I cautioned, “why don’t you wait for Monday, is it that far?” 

“No, No Dauti, Monday is the climax, we need to be ready for the big day,” said the man excitedly. “Next time we meet, I shall be telling you, who’ll be in Baba’s government.” We have not yet met.

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