Plenty of lessons for 2012 from Matuga by-election
Most Kenyans who are not Matuga constituents are puzzled. How did Chrau Ali Mwakwere bounce back so emphatically and win by so many votes? Especially when it is very clear that most Kenyans don’t like the man?
Actually there are a number of fascinating things that came out of this dramatic by-election that give pointers to 2012 and what is already shaping up to be the most exciting political time for ordinary Kenyans.
Mwakwere is a strange guy. For a person who has been a diplomat he shouldn’t have the kind of image problems he has been having so that even some of his own constituents don’t really like him as a person. Very dangerous for a politician. Those who know him well say that he is a very difficult person to deal with. One of his constituents told my contact on the ground that the man’s rich upbringing where he attended private schools and never had any school fees problems makes it impossible for him to really understand the poverty problems the people are facing on the ground.
It is this aspect of his character that his opponents fully cashed in on in the just ended by-election. This culminated in the distribution of hundreds of photocopied letters being around the Likoni ferry area purported to be a leaked memo where Mwakwere directed the Kenya Ferry services to start charging passengers crossing and not just vehicles. It is unlikely that the said memo was authentic but like all good political propaganda it was based on facts in the public domain. As transport minister and at the height of the ferry crisis last year Mwakwere clearly irked by the demands from people mostly receiving a free service angrily suggested that passengers may have to pay for ferry services in the future to guarantee their improvement. Mwakwere himself must have known that this is not practical and that collecting a few shillings from millions of people every day can be a logistical nightmare considering the way the Likoni ferry services currently work.
But despite all this sound strategy by ODM things didn’t work on the ground and in many cases badly backfired.
For starters the Matuga legislator has his handlers to thank for the way things turned out in the end. Their strategy was based on countering the poor image Mwakwere has of handling people shoddily. So there was a lot of door to door campaigns and fewer public meetings for their candidate. The press in Matuga saw the show of strength in the huge ODM campaign rallies and thinking that Mwakwere was resting at home, gave Kenyans the wrong impression that Dzipapa was going down. They even missed the tribal and clan issue which on its own made Mwakwere very difficult to defeat.
Mwakwere’s handlers also highlighted their candidates’ development record so far. Apart from the health centres that have improved enormously under his watch, it is no secret that the Matuga legislator has helped very many of his constituents to get jobs at the port in Mombasa and elsewhere as well as financing the education of many. These individuals and their large extended families were the kind of voters who would not be moved even by an earthquake.
But Mwakwere’s landslide victory was not all his own doing. The truth is that the competition also blundered.
For instance the youth vote which was widely expected to vote ODM’s Hassan Mwanyoha shifted at the very last minute and all went with Mwakwere. Political analysts and handlers for 2012 will have to be wary of young voters and what happened at Matuga. This breed of new Kenyan voters mostly vote on merit completely ignoring party affiliations. My contact tells me that many of them felt that Mwanyoha was a boring candidate who had nothing to say. His speeches were even more boring. This was in sharp contract to Mwakwere’s entertaining speeches. And so while the hoge crowds at Mwanyoha’s meetings were nodding off to sleep there was laughter and entertainment at Mwakwere’s meetings. Can you blame Matuga constituents? Who likes to be bored especially in this age of DVDs and the Internet?
Indeed Mwanyoha even brought in Mwakwere’s religion and made it a major campaign issue. Most of the Digo people are Muslims but Mwakwere is seen as a Christian. At least that is what Mwanyoha told the people. This one backfired badly with the youth who could not see what somebody’s religion had to do with their performance in parliament.
But even more fascinating were the massive funds (never before seen in the history of Matuga) that were poured on the ground by deep pockets in support of ODM. Many Kenyans on this forum and elsewhere believe that most Kenyan voters are still swayed by money. The Matuga by-election is a good lesson to study for those who still have this 1970s mentality about Kenyan voters. Constituents enjoyed the money but voted with their conscience. My prediction is that we shall see exactly the same thing in 2012 across the country.
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