If Raila Odinga wants to be elected the next President of Kenya, he should expect to be evaluated on his performance as Prime Minister

Personally, from everything I knew professionally in “real time” in Kenya during the last presidential campaign and its aftermath, and everything I have learned since, I am of the opinion that Odinga would have been the President but for the manipulation of the vote totals as ultimately reported.  The lack of any actual investigation of this issue is in itself telling.

Nonetheless, no one is entitled to the Presidency of Kenya.  If the election was stolen on behalf of Kibaki it was stolen from the Kenyan voters, not from Raila personally.  It would appear most likely that a plurality but not a majority of votes went to Odinga in 2007.  In supporting the brokering of a “power sharing” deal following the election our Ambassador Ranneberger was fond of saying that Kibaki and Odinga “needed” each other to govern.  My corollary would be that Kenyans did not “need” either of them to govern.  Both Odinga and Kibaki were credible candidates with plausible cases to be made to the voters based on platform, party and past performance–both were also controversial and had disappointed many who had supported them in various instances in the past.  In my mind at the time, from Nairobi, neither seemed as moved as I would have hoped by the suffering associated with the election debacle and the ensuing violence.

I continue to believe that determining what happened last time and why is a necessary part of trying for a better election process next time in Kenya, and a more effective role for the United States in assisting Kenyans toward that better process.   Nonetheless, Kenyans deciding how to cast their vote in 2012 or 2013 should take account of how Raila has used the power, albeit limited, that he ended up with in the current government.

While there is no confusion about who is President in Kenya, under the “Grand Coalition” Prime Minister Odinga is one of a small  second tier of key actors in Kenyan government–not because of a clearly defined role for the Prime Minister as such, but for the combination of his own stature as the apparent winner of the last race and the perceived front runner in the next, his role as head of ODM as still the largest single party, and his role in consensus appointments with Kibaki on behalf of the “Coalition”.

Kenya has a new constitution approved by a successful referendum–finally, after so many years.  The office of Prime Minister rather than being given a clearly defined role is going away.  Raila may have helped to block some bad appointments and to vindicate a better selection process for the judiciary and election officials–he may have also assented to some other bad appointments.   On corruption, Kenyans will need to be asking whether Raila as Prime Minister has accomplished things to advance reform–or whether he has just been talking the talk like other officeholders.  This is one reason why getting to the bottom of the facts of the  management of the “Kazi Kwa Vijana” programs from the Office of the Prime Minister is important.  What does the stewardship of this program say about what Kenyans could expect from Raila as president?  Likewise, if there is no major scandal here, how do his critics justify baying for his head when there are so many major scandals from this government and its predecessors that have not been addressed and accounted for?

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