RAILA Odinga was last week named candidate of Kenya’s main opposition coalitionin the upcoming presidential vote in August, the fourth time that he is contesting the presidency.
Will he be fourth-time lucky?
Historical trends in Africa show that his chances, especially against an incumbent president, are moderate to slim they largely depend on a build-up of tangible, external pressures that tip public sentiment over the edge.
In the first place, incumbents dont lose elections often in Africa. Data from the African Development Bank (AfDB) and Africapedia examining presidential election results from 1960 to 2016 shows that incumbents or ruling party candidates in Africa win with no contestation 60% of the time.
In a quarter (25%) of presidential election results, there is some contestation that ends up in either a political standoff or coalition government.
It is only about 15% of the time that incumbents have lost and accepted defeat without putting up a fight.
The working paper from AfDB finds that since 1960, incumbent regimes tend to win elections they organise with a 72% probability this includes elections they have won outright, and coalition arrangements for which they have ended up being the de facto senior partner such as in Kenyas 2008-2013 Grand Coalition government led by Mwai Kibaki.
In the event that an incumbent loses, the analysis shows that they tend to reject the results 79% of incumbent losses in Africa have been contested by the ruling regime.
Challengers, on the other hand, tend not to contest election results when a sitting president is declared winner.
They only put up a challenge 13 % of the time, for good reason no court in Africa has ever overturned a presidential election result in favour of an opposition candidate.
Court decisions always favour the incumbent candidate, the presumptive winner, or the candidate fronted by the ruling party.
In fact, just one judicial ruling has ever overturned presidential election results; that was in Cote dIvoire in 2010, pitting incumbent Laurent Gbagbo against challenger Alassane Ouattara. Ouattara had been declared winner of the election, but Gbagbo contested it in court.
Not surprisingly, the courts ruling was in favour of the incumbent Gbagbo, even if Ouattara had clearly won.
A number of opposition candidates in Africa might be described as Railas kindred spirits, having made numerous attempts at the presidency.
In Senegal, Abdoulaye Wade was fouth-time lucky in 2000, after being the figurehead of the Senegalese opposition movement for nearly two decades. Like Raila Odinga, Wade as opposition leader managed to push through several substantial victories for democracy in Senegal, including the creation of an independent electoral commission, and legislation that opened the door to multi-party politics and consolidated media freedom.
Senegals presidential election in 2000 was a contest between Wade and incumbent Abdou Diouf, who had been in power for 19 years as the handpicked successor of Senegals founding father Leopold Sedar Senghor.
Although Diouf won in the first round of the vote, he lost to Wade in the second round, and surprised everyone by quietly conceding defeat.
Still, Wades legacy was tarnished by the end of his two terms as president. He alienated himself from large sections of the Senegalese population by undermining the very democratic principles he had spent his life fighting for.
In 12 years as head of state he made 14 revisions to the Constitution, motivated for the most part by his desire to prolong his stay in power.
Rampant state nepotism, lavish lifestyles of Wade and his allies, persecution of his former friends in the opposition and deterioration of state services marred his time in office.
Pushing on with his attempt at a third term as president, he lost to Macky Sall in 2012.
More recently, Nigerias Muhammadu Buhari was fourth time lucky in 2015, having unsuccessfully contested in 2003, 2007 and 2011. He defeated incumbent Goodluck Jonathan, marking the first time that an incumbent president in Nigeria lost to an opposition candidate in a general election.
Working in Buharis favour in 2015 was Jonathans legitimacy issues as president; the unwritten understanding in Nigerian politics is that the presidency should rotate between the north and south.
Jonathan, a southerner and vice president, had taken over when President Umaru Musa YarAdua (a northerner) had unexpectedly died in office in 2010.
Jonathans election as president in 2011 broke that deal, because it wasnt the souths “turn” yet the expectation was that a northerner would “finish” YarAduas turn.
Jonathan was unable to shake off that perception of being a usurper to the throne, which played into Buharis (a northerner) hands.
In addition, Buharis campaign was built around his image as a staunch anti-corruption fighter and his incorruptible and honest reputation, while Jonathan was seen as a weak leader who had let graft and terrorism run amok, particularly that driven by the Boko Haram insurgency.
Those simmering tensions boosted Buharis candidature, and he clinched the presidency in 2015.
Still, Buharis performance as president has been losing steam. Bogged down by ill health, the 74-year-old has rarely been seen in public over the past six months. And for all its bluster, his tough, no-nonsense governance style is only effective with his physical presence Nigerias systemic failures largely remain unresolved.
Ghana is another country which has seen the ultimate victory of a multiple contender to the presidency, that of Nana Akufo-Addo who was elected to the top seat in 2016. It was Akufo-Addo’s third attempt, having previously lost in 2008to John Atta-Mills, and again in 2012 to John Dramani Mahama, Atta-Mills’ vice president and successor .
Akufo-Addo’s victory was boosted by Ghana’s dismal economic and financial mismanagement in the Atta-Mills-Mahama years.After discovering oil and beginning its first commercial exports in 2010, Ghana’s government went on a flagrant borrowing spree, mortgaging current debt against anticipated future oil exports.
Then, in 2014, global oil prices crashed, plunging the country into afiscal deficit and public debtemergency, and forcing the oil-soaked country to seek a bailout from the IMF in 2015. This, coupled by a three-year long power crisis, pushed public anger against the incumbent government over the edge, delivering victory to Akufo-Addo.
The more unlucky of Odinga’s ‘kindred spirits’ include Morgan Tsvangirai in Zimbabwe, who is a pale shadow of his former boisterous self. He came closest to outright victory in 2008, taking 47.8% of the vote in the first round according to official results, placing him ahead of President Robert Mugabe, who received 43.2%.
Amid widespread violence and intimidation that left 200 people dead, Tsvangirai boycotted the second round, saying that his supporters risked being killed if they voted for him.
A power-sharing deal was thus reached in 2008, making him Prime Minister an uncanny parallel with Kenyas own political situation that very year.
But it is as though the trappings of power sapped Tsvangirais energy in championing democracy; his own insistence in remaining head of the opposition coalition led to bitter splits within his party.
He lost dismally to Mugabe in his third attempt in 2013, and now, he is seen as the main impediment to opposition unity even as Mugabe advances in age it is believed that a new opposition agenda is impossible with Tsvangirai around.
In Uganda as well, indefatigable opposition leader Kizza Besigye hashad an unsuccessful go at the presidency four times in 2001, 2006, 2011 and 2016, each time losing to incumbent Yoweri Museveni.
He probably came closest to victory in 2006, when Museveni was declared winner with 59% of the vote against Besigye’s 37%. Besigye challenged the result in court; the Supreme Court of Uganda ruled that the election was marred by intimidation, violence, voter disenfranchisement, and other irregularities. However, the Court voted 43 to uphold the results of the election arguing that such irregularities did not substantially affect the final result.
Besigye was even more unlucky in 2016, when he somehow managed to gather the energy to mount a substantial challenge against Museveni when everyone thought Besigye was finished politically.
His unlikely success in mounting a very spirited campaign led to the Museveni regime inelegantly tripping over itself to contain him Besigye has been arrested and detained so many times in the past year that it almost ceased making the news.
Arguably, the greatest threat to Railas victory in August is if he picks up the Tsvangirai tag as an obstinate leader who insists on being at the helm, even at the expense of genuine progress and change.
Still, in Kenyas case, it is unlikely that the Jubilee regime will overtly persecute him as befell Besigye Kenyatta and Ruto will probably be hoping that NASA implodes on its own greed, as was the case with Tsvangirai.
It seems Raila is attempting to draw from Buharis anti-corruption campaign to energise the masses against theexcesses of the Kenyatta regime, which has widely been accused of profligate spending, waste and piling up debt for future generations., and possibly also drawing from the debt crisis in Ghana that propelled Akufo-Addo to power.
Whether this will be effective remains to be seen, especially because Kenya largely lacks the widespread social dysfunction and fear of Boko Haram that gripped Nigeria in 2015, and it may be a few more years before the effects of the Jubilee government’s debt acquisition spree is really felt on the ground.