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It's Kalonzo versus Karua in the battle for the soul of Azimio

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Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka (left) and his Narc Kenya counterpart Martha Karua.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

The battle for control of the Raila Odinga-led Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition party in anticipation of his exit has intensified after Narc Kenya leader Martha Karua broke her silence, insisting that she is second in command.

Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka has been criss-crossing the country positioning himself as the opposition's 2027 standard-bearer in anticipation of Mr Odinga's endorsement.

Mr Odinga, the leader of the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), is seeking the chairmanship of the African Union Commission (AUC), a position he says would force him to relinquish his party leadership. 

This has sparked succession battles in his Azimio and ODM parties, with former Mombasa governor Hassan Joho also insisting on Monday that he had sacrificed more for Mr Odinga than any other ODM leader and deserved to lead the orange outfit.

Ms Karua, who has been silent on the succession battle in the opposition despite being Mr Odinga's running mate in the 2022 presidential polls, has now come out with a vengeance, insisting that as second in command in Azimio, she is better placed to lead the coalition in Mr Odinga's absence.

She has also launched regional consultative meetings for her party, Narc Kenya, with the aim of strengthening the outfit for the upcoming succession battle and the 2027 elections.

Tuesday, Ms Karua presided over the launch of the National Disability Multiparty Caucus (NDMC) in Nairobi, where she promised that the party will review the nomination fees of PWD candidates during elections and ensure that they are not discriminated against by the electoral body. 

Narc Kenya PWD National Chairperson Muthoni Kihara said the caucus will bring on board all PWDs from all political parties so that they can speak with one voice to advance their interests in the political space.

"This will be like a union for PWDs within political parties to help steer their agenda seamlessly," the official said.

But it's Ms Karua's tough stance during Narc Kenya's regional consultative forum in Tharaka Nithi last Friday, where she spoke publicly about Azimio's succession, that has signalled a bruising battle with Mr Musyoka for control of the coalition.

"On Azimio leadership, we will sit down and there is a hierarchy, even in a sacco, if the chairman is absent, who takes the seat? Is there a debate? Is there a controversy?

What's the role of a vice-president? There are things that are not meant for debate," Ms Karua said. 

She, however, noted that leading the coalition does not mean being the automatic opposition presidential candidate, adding that the coalition must conduct nominations to arrive at the best standard bearer.

"My focus right now is to put Narc Kenya in order and spread its wings to field candidates for all the six seats. From MCA to President. Parties are there to seek power. My brother (Mr Musyoka) is free to seek, I am also free to seek as are other members and let's meet in the field. As Azimio, let's meet in the field of Azimio (nominations). But first let's put our houses in order," said the Narc Kenya leader.

She pointed out that Narc Kenya is just one of the more than twenty Azimio member parties and each one deserves to be treated well. 

Recruiting new members

The party's National Women's League chairperson, Rosa Wangu, said they have lined up a series of activities aimed at "reviving the party's branches and recruiting new members" ahead of the succession politics.

 "We have been in Tharaka Nithi, Meru, Isiolo, Embu, Kirinyaga, Murang'a and Laikipia counties to consolidate support for our party and we will soon embark on the next phase to visit other regions," Ms Wangu told the Nation yesterday.

Ms Karua was named as Mr Odinga's running mate ahead of the 2022 general elections, dropping Mr Musyoka, who had been Mr Odinga's deputy in the 2013 and 2017 presidential elections. 

 The move at the time angered Mr Musyoka who threatened to contest but later dropped his bid and threw his weight behind Mr Odinga for the third time.

It is on this premise that the Wiper leader has embarked on a rigorous campaign for the top seat, with his lieutenants saying he is the most qualified member of the opposition coalition to fly the suits flag in the 2027 polls should Mr Odinga exit the stage.

But Ms Karua believes that as second in command in Azimio, it is up to her to lead the coalition. 

Old political networks

Mr Joho and his co-deputy ODM leader Wycliffe Oparanya are battling it out to succeed Mr Odinga, a bitter war that has now drawn in other factions with ODM secretary general Edwin Sifuna and director of political affairs Opiyo Wandayi also vying for the party's top job should Mr Odinga go.

Mr Musyoka, however, has lined up a series of political activities to revive his old political networks as he seeks to inherit Mr Odinga's point men and women in the 47 counties.

The Wiper leader is reviving his old networks and at the same time wooing Mr Odinga’s allies.

Today (Wednesday), Mr Musyoka is scheduled to tour Migori county where he will preside over the opening of Wiper party office in Kehancha town before a meet the people tour in Migori and Rongo towns.

Tomorrow (Thursday) and Friday, Mr Musyoka and his entourage is expected in Kisii and Nyamira counties.

He will hold a meet the people tour in Nyamira town, Keroka, Kisii town and Daraja Mbili today, before holding a Kisii leaders meeting in Kisii town on Friday.

Azimio la Umoja leaders

Azimio la Umoja leaders (from left) Wiper Party leader Kalonzo Musyoka, ODM Party leader Raila Odinga and Narc Kenya leader Martha Karua  when they held prayers at Jevanjee Gardens, Nairobi on February 22,2023. 

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Mr Musyoka and DAP-K leader Eugene Wamalwa have been holding joint rallies amid reports that there are plans for the two - who have both declared presidential ambitions - to run on a joint ticket with Mr Wamalwa as his running mate.

Kitui Senator Enoch Wambua argues that Mr Musyoka, who has served in high-profile positions since he entered politics in the 1980s, has built a very rich political network.

 Mr Wambua said in addition to his old network, Mr Musyoka was working to bring fresh blood on board his campaign team as he prepares to face President William Ruto in 2027.

"These networks are important for the new role he wants to play as the country's next president. He would rely on these networks while bringing in fresh blood," said Mr Wambua.

Mr Musyoka has vowed not to support any other candidate, saying that abandoning his presidential ambition again, as he did in favour of Mr Odinga in 2013, 2017 and 2022, would mean retiring from active politics because of his age. 

"Giving up my presidential ambition would actually mean going home. It is as simple as that. It means that it is not an option. It means that giving up my presidential ambition is not an option. That is basically what I am telling you," Mr Musyoka said.

 "I have talked about consultation and I am going to go around the country in 2024. So 2024 is a watershed year for democracy in this country. And it is going to be a total approach to democracy. So you should be prepared for a lot of action in 2024. Political action and also civic action," he added.

A section of Azimio leaders, however, had set Mr Musyoka a new set of conditions before he would earn their support for his 2027 presidential bid.

The conditions, which include a call for the former vice president to familiarise himself with organising and participating in serious street protests, had sparked outrage among his supporters.

Azimio National Executive Council chairman Wycliffe Oparanya warned that the coalition had other principals and it was not fair for Mr Musyoka to act as if he was the only candidate for the top job.

"Kalonzo should be able to stand on his own. Why would he need Raila's support? Assuming Raila is still in Azimio, then the support is guaranteed. But he cannot use his support for Mzee (Mr Odinga) since 2013 as a reason why he should be supported because Mzee has never succeeded," Mr Oparanya told the Nation in an earlier interview.

 He continued: "For me, the election year is far away and things will play out. If Kalonzo is the most admirable candidate to win the presidency, fine, even if it is Martha (Karua), Eugene (Wamalwa) or myself. But he should not act as if he is the only candidate. We are there and I've been with Mzee since 2005. Should I also ask for support?"

 "It is good that you are praying for Kalonzo to be president in 2027. But there are some things that we call pre-conditions for take-off that you need to think about as a community," Mr Oketch said.

He said there were almost 700,000 unregistered voters in Ukambani, which he said Mr Musyoka needed to work on to ensure they were registered to shore up his numbers.

"The first thing you have to do is to list these voters. Secondly, you cannot say you want Kalonzo as your presidential candidate when you have allowed other parties to thrive here. We will not allow that to happen in Nyanza region. You must eliminate all the allies of President Ruto, the independents and the other small parties that dominate Ukambani," the senator said.

Mr Musyoka's camp later warned Mr Odinga's forces against setting conditions to support his bid.

Wiper deputy leader Farah Maalim said it was clear from the ODM leaders' claims that they were setting the stage to dump Mr Musyoka ahead of the 2027 contest.

"They are simply looking for a way to support someone else. If he (Mr Musyoka) is smart enough, he must rethink his strategy in the best possible way and cut his losses early because it's better to live in reality than in fantasy," said Mr Maalim.

 In light of this, Mr Maalim said: "Any hope of support is a pipe dream. But we are not surprised. It doesn't matter how many times you sacrifice for him. I think he is looking for a way to support someone else.

Wiper deputy chairman Mutula Kilonzo Jnr insisted that the party would not be "held to ransom" by the ODM party.

 "We can hold our own (campaigns) and we will move forward with or without them," Mr Kilonzo charged.

 He said Mr Musyoka had endorsed Mr Odinga three times - in 2013, 2017 and 2022 - and that the ODM leader had agreed in writing to support him unconditionally.

 "These conditions are Frankensteins of the imagination of some of these leaders, most of whom are incapable of giving conditions to Kalonzo," Mr Kilonzo added.