It is a subject that has for some time been discussed off-stage by political activists and journalists but not openly aired in public until this weekend. The subject in question is that of Raila Odinga’s age and the significance it could have in Kenya’s next election. Will the election of 2013 usher in the age of Raila Odinga, or will his age tip the balance against him?
RAILA ODINGA A ONE-TERM PRESIDENT?
The Standard on Saturday ran a front page story (‘Raila’s one-term offer targets ‘G7’) reporting that Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) cabinet ministers were suggesting he should offer potential vice-presidential running mates with the offer that Odinga, if elected as president, would serve only one term in office and stand down in 2017. The deal therefore would be, “stand with me now and you could get a run at the top job in five years time”.
‘Faced with slim pickings internally’, The Standard on Saturday report continued on the inside pages, ‘some ODM leaders are trying to talk potential rivals in other parties into a pre-election with the promise that Raila will be a one-term president’.
AN ODINGA-KENYATTA TICKET?
And who did the Standard on Saturday suggest Raila Odinga’s team were looking at in this regard? The ‘key targets’ they claim are Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta (aged 51) and Eldoret North MP William Ruto (aged 45).
Well anything is possible in Kenya politics but an Odinga-Kenyatta or Odinga-Ruto ticket for Kenya’s forthcoming presidential election would certainly give the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague a problem to consider, and cause consternation to not a few politicians and diplomats hailing from the United States and the UK, not to mention Kenyan ‘civil society’!
THE QUESTION OF AGE
So could, or indeed should, Raila Odinga’s age be a significant factor in the run up to and Kenya’s election in 2013?
First some facts: here are the ages as of polling day (assuming it is March 4, 2013) of some of the contenders for Kenya’s next president.
Raila Odinga: born January 7, 1945, age 67
Charity Ngilu: born 1952, age, age 61
Kalonzo Musyoka: born December 24, 1953, age 59
Martha Karua: born September 22, 1957, age 55
Musalia Mudavadi: born September 21, 1960, age 52
Uhuru Kenyatta: born October 26, 1961, age 51
William Ruto: born December 21, 1966, age 45
The potential ‘one-term’ strategy, if it is being considered by Odinga’s team makes some sense. It is not just that the Prime Minister will be 67 at the next election, if he were to be successful he would be 72 years old in 2017 should he want to run for a second term.
Kenya’s current President, Mwai Kibaki, will be 81 years old when he steps down from office and people have suggested that the country has laboured under a leader is too old to do the job.
Kenya is a young country. About 38 per cent of the population is aged between 15 and 35 (approximately 15.2 million people); 21 per cent are aged 15-24 (approximately 8.4 million people; and some 75 per cent of the population (30 million people) fall in to the under-30 age range.
FACEBOOK USERS INCREASING BY 50,000 PER MONTH
Youthful Kenya is also rapidly changing to reflect the aspirations and lifestyle of its young people. To give just a couple of examples; over 40 per cent of the population use the internet at some time whereas 4-5 per cent of the population use ‘Facebook’, approximately 1.64 million people but the number of Facebook users has grown by over 300,000 in the last six months.
Raila Odinga’s political team will know these figures and they are far ahead of most of their opponents in using the internet and viral campaigns to get their message across and target their enemies but they must be concerned.
Raila Odinga’s age is probably such that it will not deter younger voters from supporting him. Whether that will be the case come 2017 is another matter entirely. And at what point his age will reach a tipping point, if at all, regarding potential youth support for him goes only time will tell.