Is Raila after ‘Handshake’ or out to disable the Hustler government?

Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition leader Raila Odinga during his rally at Kamukunji Grounds

Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition leader Raila Odinga during his rally at Kamukunji Grounds in Nairobi on January 23, 2023. 

Photo credit: Diana Ngila | Nation Media Group

If you genuinely believe Raila Odinga’s latest anti-UDA war is because he wants a Handshake, you’re probably mistaken.

I don’t think that’s what he’s after. There are several reasons to suppose so. One, he’s consciously taken a step he knows very well could scuttle recent government moves at a rapprochement with him.

Most significantly, the proposal from State House to MPs to create a constitutional Office of Opposition Leader, complete with state perks and a high seat in Parliament. That proposal now looks set to die with Raila having launched a full-scale offensive. 

Two, Raila personally dislikes William Ruto. It’s true. There are deep-seated issues there of personality, modus operandi and hubris.

One could anticipate Raila doing Handshakes with Mwai Kibaki and Uhuru Kenyatta — gentlemen both — but not with Ruto.

I heard that Raila was at first intensely suspicious of Uhuru’s offer of a Handshake until he was convinced that the President's deputy was not part of it. 

However, the Handshake hullabaloo that has been coming from Ruto serves a purpose. It is to incite the Kikuyu mass, which has an irrational fear of Raila that has no rhyme or reason.

Ruto knows how to exploit this gullibility expertly. After all, that is how he won the election. Notice the Raila-is-just-after-another-Handshake talk mostly emerges when Ruto or his deputy are in Central Kenya.

It came up when they both attended a “thanksgiving” celebration in Kirinyaga on January 22. And sure like day follows night, the duo were at it again the following day when they went to a funeral in Gatundu. 

I don’t know who this whistleblower Azimio speaks of is. I don’t even know if he exists. Azimio says he was embedded inside IEBC.

Anyway, this so-called whistleblower’s story about “massive” electoral fraud in last year's election was first publicised by Vanguard Africa, a US think tank.

The claim conveniently meshed with Raila’s own insistent stand that the election was rigged. Granted, he has claimed every other election he has participated in except 1997 was rigged. Now the alleged assertions by the mystery whistleblower have set Raila on fire. 

My hunch is that Raila’s onslaught has nothing to do with playing games. He’s damn serious. If it’s not a Handshake, what then does he seek? He’s openly put a set of demands on this government.

Polls audit

His Number One priority is an independent audit of last year’s election results. Then the formation of a truly autonomous IEBC and the removal of punitive taxes in that order.

I am sure Raila knows that Ruto, who likes to pose as a macho guy, will dismiss his demands offhand. Raila will then ratchet up the pressure.

Still, Ruto won’t budge, and will most probably overreact, tactlessly. He’ll be playing right into Raila’s hands. 

Renewed militancy 

How will Raila’s plan work when his political stock — in popular parlance — has nosedived? His Azimio support pillars have been collapsing. Jubilee MPs have been falling over themselves fleeing to UDA.

Even within ODM, there’s some disquiet that his renewed militancy could be counter-productive. Isn’t the man weakened and isolated already? 

Ironically, Raila’s comeback hinges on whether UDA will perform, or rather non-perform, in government. The signs are already ominous as UDA wallows in petty sideshows and buck-passing. Two months on, the Hustler Fund is showing no signs of seeding a new crop of hustler entrepreneurs.

The bleak news that the Hustler government plans to borrow Sh3.6 trillion in the first term will escalate the debt burden. (Comparatively, Uhuru borrowed Sh2.7 trillion during his first term). Interest rates are spiking again.


Bank loans will become extremely expensive. Businesses will be badly squeezed. Prices of essential commodities are not coming down as promised.

The shilling is fast depreciating against hard currencies. The Treasury recently warned of tough times ahead. The government’s projections of raising Sh2.8 trillion in revenues in the 2023/24 Financial Year sound like a pipe dream. Tax, tax, tax everything is the new mantra. It will overburden everybody and likely backfire spectacularly. 

In a foretaste of what lies ahead, Kenya Power is pushing for a 117 per cent hike in electricity tariffs. The impact on the power-consuming manufacturing sector will be devastating.

The long and short of it is this: the economic situation is not improving but worsening. The cost of living will be crippling for the poor. If Raila focuses on that, his crusade will gain momentum. He’ll be a politician reborn. 

Raila’s rejuvenation will not be dependent on which or how many politicians are behind him. He’s proving he can still pull crowds.

The ordinary hustlers (oh, the irony of it!), battered by the vagaries of a deteriorating economy and high prices, will come flocking to him, and his rallies. As a strategist for former US President Bill Clinton once put it: “It’s the economy, stupid.” 

The Azimio leader knows the authorities are in a bind. Rallies and demonstrations are not outlawed, as long as there’s no violence or destruction of property. Even “sponsoring” a rally — whatever that is — is not illegal. A rally just requires the erection of a dais and hiring a public address system.

Anybody can do it. In any case, Raila has been holding rallies since time immemorial. UDA politicians have now resorted to warnings about “incitement”, a non-existent offence. (Oh my God, those threats are so Nyayo-ish).

From 2018 until the election last year, Ruto himself was in a permanent rally mode, yet nobody bothered him. UDA is secretly apprehensive matters could dangerously get out of hand if Raila is not countered.

The dilemma is: how do you do it? Arrest him? Dicey. Could Raila’s swan song be, figuratively, a Samsonian act of disabling the wobbly Hustler enterprise, whatever it is? 

[email protected] ; @GitauWarigi