Foreign observer missions gave the August 8 elections, which was nullified, a clean bill of health
Diplomats, including British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson and EU president Jean-Claude Juncker, urged the NASA leader to rejoin the race but he refused to budge.
The last two weeks have been a diplomatic nightmare for National Super Alliance (NASA) leader Raila Odinga as he seemed to lose his allies in the West.
But the writing has been on the wall since the Supreme Court ruled on September 1 that the August 8 General Election, in which incumbent Uhuru Kenyatta was declared winner, had been bungled. The court nullified the election and ordered a fresh one which took place last Thursday.
Raila and NASA trained their guns on international observers who had given the election a clean bill of health. They had choice words on the missions, including the one from the Carter Centre in the US led by former Secretary of State John Kerry, the African Union mission led by former South African President Thabo Mbeki and the European Union mission.
The relations between Raila’s alliance and the West deteriorated further when they indirectly accused the US ambassador to Kenya, Robert Godec, of kow-towing to the Jubilee government in order to push for business deals for American companies.
Create a crisis
This was after it emerged that an American firm, Bechtel International Inc, had been awarded a multi-billion shilling project to construct the 473km high-speed expressway between Nairobi and Mombasa.
Things seem to have hit rock-bottom, following the NASA leader’s withdrawal from the repeat presidential election on October 9 and worsened by the High Court ruling the following day reinstating Ekuru Aukot as a presidential candidate.
While it had been assumed Raila’s withdrawal from the race would create a crisis, leading to the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) to postpone the election, the inclusion of Aukot plus all the other candidates threw the NASA leader’s plans to a mess.
Frantic efforts were made by his allies to convince him to get back to the race while some of the issues he had raised were addressed.
The diplomats also reached out to President Kenyatta to implore him not to sign into law the new election laws seen to seal all the loopholes the Supreme Court used to nullify his August 8 election.
Raila’s departure to London soon after his withdrawal ostensibly to explain his reasons for quitting the presidential race at a meeting in Chatham House presented an opportunity for the diplomatic pressure to be sustained.
According to the reputable Indian Ocean Newsletter, Donald Trump’s Secretary of State Rex Tillerson implored the NASA leader to end his demonstrations demanding the resignation of several IEBC officials.
Similarly, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson urged Raila to take part in the election. Raila used the London trip to meet some British officials and explained reasons for his withdrawal to a meeting at Chatham House.
Also joining the fray to ask the NASA leader to rejoin the race was the president of the European Union Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, and his African Union counterpart Moussa Faki Mahamat.
However, the newsletter reports that Raila refused to budge and instead accused Western countries of being partisan and favouring his rival, Kenyatta.
Unlike in the 2007/08 post-election dispute that pitted Raila against former President Mwai Kibaki, the West has been reluctant to demand for talks between Kenyatta and the NASA leader.
During the dispute in which at least 1,300 Kenyans were killed and more than 600,000 displaced after Raila disputed the re-election of Kibaki, top diplomats flew to Nairobi to nudge both sides to go to the negotiation table.
The US president at the time George W Bush even dispatched his Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice to Nairobi to push the two sides to end the violence that was quickly spreading. Others who rushed to Nairobi to talk to Raila included current South African vice-president Cyril Ramaphosa and then Tanzanian President Jakaya Kiwete.
Centre of negotiations
Indeed, it was the West that got the two sides to settle on former United Nations Secretary-General Koffi Annan as the chief negotiator.
At the time, Raila was at the centre of the negotiations as the West wooed him and his coalition, which included William Ruto and Musalia Mudavadi. However, things seem to have changed drastically to the extent that no top diplomat has been to Nairobi despite the worsening political situation.
Last week, as the country moved closer to the October 26 date, the tone of the diplomats from the countries that had cajoled and nudged him to enter into negotiations 10 years ago, had changed.
Reading a statement from 20 of his colleagues, including the 28-nation European Union, the US ambassador called on the political rivals to unite to allow a credible election take place.
It was telling that the statement came hours after IEBC officials were attacked in Kisumu while on training. Raila’s sister Ruth Odinga and Kisumu Senator Fred Outa have been charged in court over the attack.
The diplomats said they had been working behind the scenes to encourage Raila to rejoin the race without success.
Mr Godec said the IEBC had made some efforts to ensure a credible election, including staff changes and technical processes, and urged the NASA flag-bearer and his running mate Kalonzo Musyoka to take part in the poll.
The statement was endorsed by Australia, Austria, Belgium, Britain, the Czech Republic, Denmark, the European Union, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United States.
The envoys also used the opportunity to advise Raila and the IEBC to use courts to resolve any disputes, saying Kenya’s current challenges must be found in its Constitution, not outside it.
By the time the NASA leader hit the road to western Kenya to mobilise his base to boycott the Thursday vote, relations between him and his Western allies had completely broken down.
It was reported that a senior envoy in Nairobi, presumed to be Godec, had been blocked from accessing him through telephone or in person.
Bereft of his Western allies, Raila must be feeling isolated. They have been a good source of finances for his campaign. Have they abandoned him? In the past when the cold war existed, one would have expected Raila to look East. But that route was sealed with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.
– The writer is a journalist and communication specialist based in Mogadishu.