Raila to strengthen political ambition in crucial meetings

Supporters of Nasa leader Raila Odinga demonstrate outside the US embassy in Nairobi on February 16, 2018, demanding that US Ambassador Robert Godec stop meddling in Kenyan affairs. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

What you need to know:

  • The two crucial meetings come at a time Mr Odinga is facing intense pressure both from within Nasa and outside.
  • There is also talk of him taking the father figure or statesman role that some Jubilee leaders have long pushed him to take.

Raila Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) will this week hold two crucial meetings, which could give the clearest signs of the opposition leader’s immediate political options and in the 2022 succession.

The two meetings, starting with the National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting on Thursday, followed by the National Governing Council (NGC) the following day, will be used ostensibly to revamp the party, fill vacant offices and give Mr Odinga the go-ahead to chart his political future after his controversial “swearing-in” on January 30 that triggered a government crack down.

Sources within Mr Odinga’s camp reveal that the two meetings have been necessitated by the simmering disquiet within the National Super Alliance (Nasa) arising from the January 30 event at Uhuru Park, which was not attended by the three other co-principals Kalonzo Musyoka (Wiper), Musalia Mudavadi (ANC) and Moses Wetang’ula (Ford Kenya).

“We are having the meetings back-to-back in Nairobi,” party chairman John Mbadi said on Saturdayy, underlining the need to strengthen one of the most dominant parties in the country’s political architecture for more than a decade now.

The two crucial meetings come at a time Mr Odinga is facing intense pressure both from within Nasa and outside.

Away from the simmering differences within Nasa over the absence of Mr Odinga’s co-principals from the Uhuru Park event, there is also tension between the coalition’s affiliate parties over the sharing of seats in the National Assembly, the Senate and the Parliamentary Service Commission.

On Friday, the coalition issued a statement reaffirming it remained united despite media reports of a split.

Mr Odinga is also under pressure from at least 11 foreign diplomatic missions in Nairobi led by American Ambassador Robert Godec and British High Commissioner Nic Hailey to recognise President Uhuru Kenyatta’s leadership.

Mr Odinga told off the envoys but the Sunday Nation has learnt that some countries were considering sanctions against Mr Odinga and top Nasa leaders that could include a visa ban.

The meeting also comes when scores of Mr Odinga’s close allies are literally on the run from State security over their alleged role in the “swearing-in”.

For example, Mr Miguna Miguna, a prominent ally in Nasa’s National Resistance Movement, was arrested and eventually deported to Canada – a move he has challenged in court. 

While ODM members are expected to pick new officials in key slots like secretary-general, the general feeling within the Orange party is that Mr Odinga needs to pay more attention to his political outfit in preparation for any possible realignments in Nasa.

The ODM secretary for political affairs and Public Accounts Committee chairman Opiyo Wandayi said Mr Odinga will stick around.

“Baba’s (Mr Odinga) opinion rating has never been higher than it is currently.

"Indeed, his popularity continues to soar by the day. The kind of confidence Kenyans have shown in him can only mean that they want him to be their leader now and in the foreseeable future. The question of his retirement, therefore, does not arise,” he said.

Some of Mr Odinga’s strategists and handlers say the country is yet to see the last of him in the political arena despite earlier indication that the botched August 8 elections last year were his last attempt.

This could complicate matters for Nasa.

Mr Musyoka has, for instance, supported Mr Odinga’s presidential bids in the last two elections and it would be hard to have him do it again.

By taking the “oath”, Mr Odinga is believed to have settled his debts with his supporters, after two previous postponements, who are now likely to endorse any deal he may wish to cut or any political direction he may choose to take.

But “what next?” after the “swearing-in” remains an unanswered question with some expecting him to name a parallel Cabinet to pile pressure on President Uhuru Kenyatta.

Within Nasa, it is believed that as things stand now, the ODM party leader would face stiff opposition convincing his supporters to back any of the three principals who avoided the “swearing-in” – and only appeared later to explain their absence. 

But there is also a feeling that there is still time for temperatures to cool down and have the supporters forgive the other principals who “betrayed” Mr Odinga.

In spite of the glaring rifts in Nasa largely triggered by the sharing of slots in Parliament among affiliate parties, Mr Musyoka on Satuday put on a brave face, saying the coalition was intact and that there is no cause for alarm.

He said that Nasa will soon hold a national convention to give direction to their supporters.

“Politics has just started, there is no turning back, we must make sure that not again will elections be stolen and people ruled by force,” he said at a burial in Kilifi.

Wiper Secretary-General Peter Mathuki claimed there was a plot by the opponents of the coalition to scuttle the chances of Mr Musyoka and Mr Mudavadi in 2022 by arresting them for treason after the “oath”.

Now that they did not succeed, he argues, Nasa should put its house in order and carry out reforms ahead of the battle with Jubilee’s Deputy President William Ruto, the presumed ruling party candidate.

“They knew Raila (Mr Odinga) will not be a candidate in 2022. So, they had set a trap to target potential candidates. That they were not caught in the trap is not cowardice, it is wisdom and divine intervention,” Mr Mathuki said.

On Nasa’s future and what should happen next, Mr Mathuki was categorical that the coalition needed to pick their 2022 candidate early enough.

“It needs to be crystal clear now who will face Jubilee in 2022. Obviously, in this particular case, it was foreseen to be Kalonzo and Mudavadi,” he said.

“If it is clear now, then we will be starting on a clear point.”

Another route Mr Odinga can pursue according to a close ally, is to strengthen the party and use it to push for the reforms he has been talking about after realising that he is “largely on his own and that when things come to a head, he cannot count on his colleagues”.

Another viable option Mr Odinga’s handlers are looking at is choosing to be kingmaker like he did with his “Kibaki Tosha” call in 2002, either by supporting Deputy President William Ruto or whoever runs against the DP in Jubilee.

“Given his countrywide following, whoever he supports is almost sure of winning the presidency,” Mr Tom Mboya, a political commentator from Maseno University, reckons.

Within ODM, some say he might pass the baton to one of his deputies, particularly the youthful and energetic Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho.

Yet within the coalition, Mr Odinga was perceived to have a soft spot for Mr Mudavadi.

But his decision to miss the “swearing-in” may have put paid to that relationship, although the two remain close, consult regularly and are often seen together at social joints.

There is also talk of him taking the father figure or statesman role that some Jubilee leaders have long pushed him to take.

This would require an agreement with President Kenyatta particularly on terms and conditions, especially with regard to his role in national and party politics.

There is also a belief that even as they tussle in public, Mr Odinga and Mr Kenyatta may be in some kind of private talks and Kenyans have not seen the last of the ties between the two.

“And even as the swearing-in brought the international community solidly against him, it is said that the US remains keen to work with Raila (Mr Odinga) and to see him play a bigger and more structured role in Kenya’s national and global politics,” one of his allies said.

A source at the Embassy said that the US ambassador thinks that Mr Odinga should be prepared to take up that role and continue serving the country.

Both President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga are said to be keen to heal the rift created by their fathers, a development that is viewed to have potential to heal the country.

But the two leaders, almost always held captive by their handlers, are never clear where to begin.