The Statesman Opinion: What We Learnt From The Joint Raila-Martha Karua Interview
One of the most salient issues in this campaign is that the country is reeling from a divided presidency. Those who believe in Ruto don't want a president like Uhuru and those who believe in Uhuru do not want to see a deputy like Ruto.
No matter who of the two is right, it is apparent to all and sundry that a disunited presidency is not good for the country and is damaging to the presidential brand. It is through this lens, therefore, that we must look at the Martha Karua and Raila Odinga joint interview.
They both went out of their way to sing from the same hymn book and assure the nation that they are indeed sailing in the same boat headed the same way, a way they claim is good for Kenya. This image of oneness alone appeals to the intellect and emotions of any Kenyan who wants to see his or her country led well and united.
Politically, the interview was also an astute way of subtly throwing the gauntlet at the UDA brigade. Can Rigathi Gachagua match William Ruto’s speaking prowess and can his brand become a dynamic pair to that of Ruto? I wager not.
In fact, the Azimio billboards are awash with the duo of Baba and Martha, on the other hand, the Kenya Kwanza show a lonely Ruto almost as if the entire campaign is running fully on his own steam. That in itself is a clear show of weakness in the UDA defence, a weakness which the Azimio ticket has taken aim and fired at to good effect.
The joint interview was also very careful to draw the line between the sitting presidency and the promised Azimio one. Raila as a friend and brother to the sitting president is not in government but his political rival William Ruto is firmly a sitting deputy president who attends cabinet meetings.
Confirmed by the appointment of an outsider as running mate, Azimio has managed to carve out an image as a new and trusted safe pair of hands to run the country. Juxtaposed with a sitting deputy president and a sitting Jubilee MP then their argument holds water, a hold they need to keep for the rest of the time towards the 2022 elections, because, in this campaign, he who carries the burden of incumbency has a lot to explain.
Another clear message was the issue of how aware and present is Raila Odinga? The running message has been that he is too old and senile and thus cannot perform as president. In doing the interview in the evening, after a gruelling campaign schedule, Raila’s performance was proof positive that he is not a spent force.
It showed clearly that he has a full grasp of the issues and has the presence of mind to deal with multiple and complex subjects as it behoves any leader looking to get into office. His performance was key in debunking any doubters of his mental agility and acuity. In deflating the arguments about his age, the interview further reduced the arsenal UDA has against the Azimio candidate.
Similarly, Martha Karua came into this particular race as both an outsider of the established order but also as someone who is known to stand her ground - she walked out on both President Moi physically and on Kibaki by resigning. The question then was, and it still lingers; can she be a loyal deputy to Raila Odinga?
Her constant reference and deference to Raila as principal and her focus on taking cues from Raila was a clear indication that she knew her place as deputy and was not going to err the same way as Ruto. This assures many who would have doubted the stability of the Baba and Martha ticket.
Finally, it takes a lot to campaign, especially at a time when the country is struggling with the economic effects of COVID-19, global inflation and of course the usual challenges of a developing country. At such a time the electorate is mostly looking for a magic bullet or panacea for all the ills that currently bedevil us.
To this question, UDA and Azimio have taken two distinct routes. UDA has decided to promise everything and Azimio has stuck to promising what is possible dubbing it the inawezekana agenda: the agenda of the possible. The gamble is that Kenyans will choose the safe, tried and tested route that is Baba and Martha or take the maverick route of untried and untested bottom-up economics which promises without bounds.
The interview held by the two focused on what was possible while giving Kenyans practical solutions to the problems that bedevil them now. This was then a show of leaders whose feet are firmly on the ground, wholly aware of what the problems are and what the real solutions may be.
Whether this approach is what the electorate wants remains to be seen, but the message was clear, the duo will not over-promise and they have thus far campaigned responsibly. The line is therefore drawn in the sand, will Kenyans believe and vote for Baba and Martha who stand for inawezekana or for William Ruto who without Rigathi is promising everything for every hustler?
This question remains at the core of every campaign. Can the public trust the candidates, given their track records, to deliver the promises they make? Talk is cheap, dirt cheap in this country. But the proof of the pudding is always in the eating. Will Kenyans rejoice and enjoy promises kept or will they shed bitter tears of promises? In my view, the Martha and Baba interview set the issue of trust center stage, as it should be.