Raila 2022 chief agent: Baba the 6th? Nope, his time is up

Raila Odinga

Azimio la Umoja One Kenya coalition leader Raila Odinga in Migori on September 8, 2023.

Photo credit: George Odiwuor

President William Ruto is dangling a carrot in front of Azimio la Umoja coalition, tantalising them with a constitutional office of Leader of Opposition. Politicians are defined by the positions and offices they hold and the President knows that this is something the opposition leaders simply can’t resist.

Once created, the Office of Leader of Opposition will be a significant constitutional platform which will give the holder gravitas, impetus and influence in Kenya’s political, democratic and diplomatic space. The holder of this office will no doubt be William Ruto’s main challenger in the 2027 presidential race. So why is the President so keen on establishing and even enhancing his own opposition?

In my book Why Baba is Not the 5th, I have described Dr Ruto as a methodical schemer and political predator who is highly proficient in pre-emptive strikes and quick manoeuvres. I have explained that the opposition as presently constituted can hardly keep up and will more often than not be left playing catch-up to President Ruto’s fast and furious game of thrones.

I have also said that unlike Eneke the bird in Chinua Achebe’s masterpieces – Things Fall Apart and Arrow of God – that learnt to fly without perching because men had learnt to shoot without missing, Raila Odinga and by extension the Kenyan opposition, makes the mistake of perching on the same twig over and over again, making them easy prey for a lethal political marksman like President Ruto.

While Mr Odinga and perhaps Kalonzo Musyoka or even Martha Karua may be thinking that the office of Leader of Opposition is meant for them or should be theirs for the taking, this position is actually meant to benefit none other than President Ruto. My free advice to the Musyoka-led Azimio team at the bipartisan talks is to accept the proposal to establish the Office of Leader of Opposition with the caveat that it will be operational after the next General Election.

If they do this, they will for once have pulled a fast one on President Ruto. If they don’t heed my counsel, they will once again be outflanked, outmanoeuvred and outwitted.

Divided They Fall

By championing the establishment of the Office of Leader of Opposition, Dr Ruto is seeking to kill three birds with one stone. First, the President knows that this position will split the opposition with Mr Odinga, Mr Musyoka and possibly Ms Karua scrambling for the same.

That will not only weaken the opposition by dividing its top leadership but will also expose the greed and selfishness of these leaders, thus lowering their reputation, esteem and credibility in the eyes of the public.

As his chief economic adviser David Ndii has been quick to caution Kenyans, President Ruto knows that his government may not be able to turn around the prevailing economic situation in time for the next General Election.

Given that Dr Ruto would be seeking re-election under the yoke of incumbency, coupled with the shackles of a bad economy, his surest bet is a weak and split opposition.

Taming Baba

Dr Ruto knows that as matters stand, Mr Odinga is the natural default holder or beneficiary of the Office of Leader of Opposition. The second objective he seeks to attain by establishing this office is to tame Mr Odinga.

Knowing Mr Odinga’s obsession with legitimacy and his fascination with constitutionalism and official accoutrements, Dr Ruto hopes that once he is the constitutionally established leader of opposition, the former PM will be forced to operate on the straight and narrow and to conduct himself in a more structured and restrained manner. A sweetener and bonus to this as far as Dr Ruto is concerned is the fact that by taking up this position, Mr Odinga would finally be acknowledging his loss in the previous election.

Picking his opponent

The third and perhaps most important hidden agenda that the president has is the fact that he gets to pick and determine who his main opponent in the 2027 election will be. If you are Dr Ruto, you want by all means to avoid and avert a Tosha moment in 2027.

One thing that President Ruto does not want to see is the opposition uniting behind a single candidate other than Mr Odinga. Worse still for the president would be Mr Odinga’s endorsement of this united opposition candidate. If you are Dr Ruto, you want Mr Odinga to be on the ballot and to be the lead opposition candidate. By creating the official position of Leader of Opposition, the Dr is cleverly determining the battle formation for the next presidential contest.

It is in his best interest for Mr Odinga to vie in 2027 as this would not only split the opposition but Baba will be a hard sell, given his advanced age and successive electoral losses – the last of which bordered on the absurd.

I bet Dr Ruto and his troops already have the campaign mantra against candidate Odinga in 2027. They will not tire to remind us that Mr Odinga could not win the 2022 election when he had the deep state and the system, underscoring the fact that the elderly Odinga’s chances in 2027 are zero to none.

In Why Baba is Not the 5th, I state that even as an octogenarian, Mr Odinga will most likely still have his mojo and may have the unparalleled energy, resources, support and even desire to run again. But I have also said – and it is worth repeating here – that for the good of the country and to preserve his legacy, Baba must (for heaven’s sake) now plan his succession and take his last bow. Whether we like it or not, Baba’s time in the political space is up. The only question is whether he will leave the stage on a high or a low.

The writer is an advocate of the High Court of Kenya & Author of “Why Baba is not The 5th”. ([email protected]; @Saitabao)