WAS MSABWENI’S BY-ELECTION THE PROVERBIAL CANARY IN THE COAL MINE FOR RAILA ODINGA AND ODM?

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By Washington Osiro,

I have always wondered what the good folks at the animals’ rights group PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) have to say about the expression “Canary in a coal mine.” After all, the practice describes an arguably less-than-ethical treatment of animals, this of the less glamorous ornithological variant, towards the service of humans.

The expression, with roots going back to the early 1900s, refers to the birds that coalminers reportedly took with them down to the mineshafts to literally sniff out the presence of deadly gases such as carbon monoxide that accumulated in the mines.

These gases supposedly killed the canaries before killing the miners. Death of the birds would thus warn the miners to evacuate the mines as soon as possible – to avoid succumbing to the deadly gases as the canaries did.

The expression has since morphed into one that encapsulates events that portend happenings, usually unpleasant ones.

Losing the Mid-term Elections was a canary in the coalmine for the incumbent administration” or “Resignation of their top AI researcher should have been the canary in the coalmine for the company’s executive that all was not well in the department.”

When Independent candidate Feisal Abdallah bested Orange Democratic Movement’s (ODM) Omar Boga in the just-concluded by-elections in Msambweni, was that the proverbial “canary in the coalmine” for the erstwhile opposition party’s luck – two years from the General Elections in 2022?

Even closer in the offing, was Boga’s loss a shot across the bow of the losing party because it supported the increasingly unpopular Building Bridges Initiative (BBI)? After all, the initiative’s big guns President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga along with the charismatic Governor of Mombasa County Hassan Joho, threw their weight behind the loser.

Conversely, Uhuru’s much-besieged deputy William Ruto was reportedly linked to the eventual winner.

Frankly, I don’t know. I don’t know because Kenyan politics is far from cut-and-dry – especially when seminal events of the day are trending against the incumbency or those allied with said incumbency.

Call me a pessimist or “envious,” but I find it inconceivable that the two principals, Uhuru and Raila, would countenance losing a BBI initiative whose design intent is to effectively cement their positions of power and privilege as many have argued IS the main objective of the proposed referendum.

What I can (also) state, this time categorically, is that Raila Amolo Odinga, as a socio-political force in Kenya, is done. D.O.N.E – DONE and yes, he “wiru nefa be plesdent!” I realize that this is an audacious claim, one that is not popular in some quarters of the country but let me repeat what I have previously stated: That the March 2018 “Handshake” between Raila Odinga and his erstwhile nemesis Uhuru Kenyatta has forever stained his brand and most, including yours truly, will always view his role in subsequent socio-political events in Kenya through that prism – an act of rapprochement that normalized behavior he, RAO, previously abhorred.

It is also this chain of events that make the outcome of the mid-December race between the establishment-favored Omar Boga and Feisal Abdallah worthy of a deeper dive.

Former American Speaker of the House and North Boston Congressman Tip O’Neill is credited with the maxim “All Politics is Local.” He demonstrated this principle by vividly illustrating to his constituents how seemingly distant and disparate wonkish legislation in the nation’s capital affects their daily lives (and the lives of everyday citizens) – whether in his home district of North Boston or around kitchen tables and in Mom-and-Pop stores across the country.

Is it possible that Msabwenians looked at their daily circumstances, listened to Boga and Abdallah, along with their hired guns from out of town – Uhuru, Raila, and Ruto – make their sales pitch for the vacant parliamentary seat and failed to see how BBI was going to put food on their table or confront the incompetently handled COVID-19 pandemic?

At the risk of conflating the by-election with the on-going pandemic, have Kenyans, along with the good people of Msabweni, finally seen exposed, the crass selfishness and self-serving ethos of the country’s most prominent political families – Kenyatta, Odinga, Moi, Mudavadi, et al.?

Has the country’s economy, most recently pillaged by COVID millionaires yet to be held accountable, finally forced a tipping point of Kenyans, at least in Msabweni, to reject the pleas of their tribal kingpins in favor of some not allied with them? Thus coming full circle, does the rejection of ODM’s Omar Boga by William Ruto-linked Feisal Abdallah portend Raila Odinga and ODM’s last hurrah as forces in Kenya’s body politics?

Again, I don’t know.

What I do know is that the country’s opposition party and its leader are now a pale shell of their former shelf, and maybe as a country, we are better off for it.

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