Raila Odinga
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Tips for those plotting to succeed Raila Odinga

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Azimio la Umoja leader Raila Odinga speaks to the media in Nairobi on February 15, 2024 when he formally declared his interest in the African Union Commission chairmanship.

Photo credit: File| Nation Media Group

If Raila Odinga goes to the African Union as commission Chairman, and most likely he will, will he come back to vie for president in 2027?

The assumption is that Baba, to use Raila’s nickname, might be gone for good. Hence “eagles are waiting, to see the great slaughter so that they can swoop down”. Politicians have started to angle to succeed him. And it’s worth the effort.

Baba owns 49.5 per cent of Kenya politically speaking and the spotlight falls on Kalonzo Musyoka , Babu Owino, Opiyo Wandayi, John Mbadi, James Orengo, Hassan Joho, Wycliffe Oparanya, Eugene Wamalwa.

I am not worthy of giving any advice. You are all astute politicians in your own right. In any event, I belong to competing political formation. But let me make a feeble attempt.

First, you have to fight just as Napoleon Bonarparte of France did, wreaking havoc in Europe in the 1800s, but be the first to strike. Do not expect political glory to be bestowed on you by happenstance.

In Gikuyu we say, things got Wacu at the farm, not at home. In the mid-1990s, when Nyanza kingpin Jaramogi Oginga Odinga started ageing, his surrogates spotted an opportunity. Before his death in 1994, Mzee is said to have had a soft spot for Orengo. But Raila seized the opportunity by striking first.

Remember the “Thriller in Thika” tussle with Kijana Wamalwa for the Ford Kenya leadership? Under Luo custom, Oburu Oginga, the eldest son of Jaramogi, ought to have got the mantle. But Raila wasted no time seizing it.

Even William Ruto, as a young second-term MP, spotted a similar opportunity when Daniel Moi left power in 2002. The Kalenjin were grumbling about discrimination by the Mwai Kibaki administration. Their sons and daughters were leaving top government positions one by one.

A story is told how Kalenjin MPs sought Moi’s son Gideon for lunch to discuss the possibility of leading them in public rallies to highlight this unfairness. He reportedly told them he will think about it. They even paid for their lunch. On hearing this, Ruto marshalled MPs for a meeting — that included fully paid for lunch. The rest is history.

No one would have thought the laid-back Kibaki would go for Kanu’s jugular in the 1992 elections. A few years earlier he had declared Kanu a Mugumo tree that cannot be felled by razor blade. But he did exactly that when he spotted an opportunity in 1991 and became the Democratic Party leader.

Of course, some people reach the pinnacle of politics through what appears to be luck. In 2018, Democratic Republic of Congo President Joseph Kabila wanted a surrogate to succeed him. But the surrogate performed so poorly in the elections against his rival Martin Fayulu that Kabila had to do cut a deal with Felix Tshisekedi, who was number three, to be president. In 2015, Edward Lowassa was set to become Tanzania’s CCM presidential candidate until the party decided to give the ticket to the neutral John Pombe Magufuli.

The book “Team of Rivals" by Dorin Kearns suggests Abraham Lincoln was not the frontrunner for America’s Republican party nomination. But forces loyal to other stronger candidates converged in his ticket.

But for luck to click , you must hover around a contest and make credible efforts. In the Siaya 2013 ODM nominations, Oburu fought it out with William Oduol. The party decided to grant the magic ODM ticket to an aspirant who was initially considered to have no chance of winning. He eventually won.

The second tip seems contradictory to the first but it is not: create the perception you are a Baba acolyte. In other words, whatever you do must be seen as if it serves Baba’s interests.

When Baba decided to aim for Jaramogi’s mantle, he was careful not to appear as if he was undermining the opposition doyen. Ruto did the same in dislodging the Mois and even taking over from Uhuru in Mt Kenya.

Extract goodwill from the departing “king”, directly or indirectly. It does not matter if the departing sovereign wants you or not — just extract that annointment.

When a senior citizen in Africa gets sickly and it becomes apparent to everyone he has a short time to live, the wise son does not rush to urge him to pen a will. He does the opposite. When mzee suggests doing a will, the son must discourage this even if right in his heart he wants that.

Be strategic about it. Get to know who matters most to mzee and befriend that person. That person will put in good word for mzee to bless you.

Know who matters to the king is easy. Chris Whipple in his book The gatekeepers, states the most powerful person in the White House is the one that sees the president last. Often that tends to be the wife.

Remember the biblical story of Jacob and his twin brother Esau? Rebekah — their mother — manoeuvered to help undeserving Jacob succeed her husband.

So, befriend Mama Ida Odinga.

By the way, in the group plotting to succeed Baba, watch out for Gladys Wanga. That Homa Bay Governor is no joke. She is campaigning to succeed Baba using sophisticated tactics. In other words, she is campaigning “by not campaigning”.

In politics they say, people must never see you coming. Let them just see you there. I think she will aim for Council of Governors Chair. And if she clinches it, ...

Back to Baba and the need to extract some goodwill from him. Do not expect him to expressly endorse a successor. That is never wise. But he can do so indirectly or through body language. In 2018, when discussing if Uhuru Kenyatta was about to endorse Baba, MP Peter Kaluma, taught me a very poignant lesson: Leaders are not heard, they are studied. Leaders rarely say what exactly they want so you have to study them.

He illustrated: when Baba says “Vijana weka Amani hapo (Keep peace, youths )” at a rally, he actually means “eject those chaotic youths.”

Therefore, for those aspiring to succeed Baba, study him. Do not listen to him.

The writer is the Murang’a County governor; Email: [email protected].