Raila in epic battle for political survival

Azimio la Umoja-One Kenya Coalition Party leader Raila Odinga

Azimio la Umoja-One Kenya Coalition Party leader Raila Odinga (centre), Wiper chief Kalonzo Musyoka and Narc-Kenya boss Martha Karua during a political rally at Kamukunji Grounds in Nairobi on December 7.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Azimio la Umoja-One Kenya leader Raila Odinga has in the past reinvented himself to remain the firebrand opposition chief, rising like a phoenix from the ashes when political pundits and enemies had written him off.

Known for pulling political surprises, Mr Odinga Odinga has once again found himself in an epic battle for political survival.

He is faced with unprecedented rebellion within his Luo Nyanza bastion that has in the past stuck with him even in the face of major onslaught by successive regimes.

Nine lawmakers from his party — among them his Bondo rural home and Lang’ata, a constituency he represented for years — openly visited State House in a daring defiance of the former Prime Minister.

With the perception that he may not run again because of his advanced age, some of his allies, who have in the past rode on his candidature to win their seats, seem to have no reason to stick around.

Having lost the election also means he has nothing to offer his allies who are not holding any positions but need government jobs to remain relevant for their future political ambitions.

Some have since started shifting allegiance amid sustained onslaught by President William Ruto, who is keen on chipping away Mr Odinga’s influence in his traditional bastions of Nyanza, Western and Coast by wooing both elected leaders and poll losers.

Within his ODM party, Mr Odinga is dealing with internal revolt stemming from power struggles among officials.

The ghost of alleged bungled party primaries has also refused to go, causing some members who lost in the primaries to exit and turn into his fiercest critics.

Sources within the party, who spoke off the record, said some important decisions that have come to haunt the party were made by few individuals without even engaging party officials.

“Some of us were pushed to the periphery during elections, the party was being run by two people yet after failing, we are now all being blamed,” said a party official.

Kisumu East MP Shakeel Shabbir and his Ugenya counterparty are among the few in Mr Odinga’s bedrock who have won their parliamentary seats without an ODM ticket. This has given other MPs confidence that they can also make it.

In Parliament, some of his trusted allies holding key positions have sidelined their colleagues in committee placement, fomening further dissent within the outfit.

ODM chairman John Mbadi has since announced his intention to resign from the position, citing frustrations allegedly by the minority leadership in Parliament.

“I wouldn’t want to use the Mbadi issue to say there is a problem or a revolt in the party. Mbadi has his own problems with his colleagues in Parliament. Even if he decides to resign, someone would take up the position. You know he was supposed to be the Minority leader. There were also issues with sharing of parliamentary committees. Those are differences which they need to sort out in Parliament,” said ODM deputy party leader Wycliffe Oparanya.

Mr Odinga’s Azimio coalition that sponsored his presidential bid is also facing challenges. Jubilee elected members have declared their allegiance to Dr Ruto.

Sunday Nation has also learnt that former President Uhuru Kenyatta has kept off from the coalition’s activities, leaving the headache of running it to the former premier.

Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka has also in the past indicated that he expects Mr Odinga to support him in 2027. Analysts believe he is sticking around with the hope that he will succeed Mr Odinga.

With the presence of Narc-Kenya leader Martha Karua and former Cabinet Secretary Eugene Wamalwa of Democratic Action Party of Kenya (DAP-K), all angling for higher roles in the coalition, as well as deliberate efforts by Dr Ruto to disintegrate the coalition, Mr Odinga will have to content with managing their competing interests on top of ensuring the coalition remains intact.

But History professor and political commentator Macharia Munene and Mr Odinga’s critics say the former premier’s grip is quickly fading and he has to change tack for survival.  They say his reform credentials no longer resonate with majority voters in their 30s.

“There is political growth and maturity in Nyanza and the entire country that no one person can dictate to people and they just follow. Raila has to learn from Uhuru who tried to give orders to his Mt Kenya backyard. People defied him. We currently have people in ODM who can tell him to get lost,” said Prof Munene.

“He will have to find better ways of reinventing himself. He started the rallies well. The optics and crowd made some statements but the messaging seems to be sending the supporters away because some of the things they say are ridiculous and take away credibility. People in their 30s cannot be told narratives about his detention by the late President Moi,” he adds.

Former Nairobi governor Evans Kidero, who was locked out of ODM nominations before proceeding to run as an independent candidate, says Mr Odinga has in the past exploited the region’s historical fears for personal gain.

“The Luo nation has since rejected their dictatorial tendencies. What is happening is a message that the people have moved away from them. They have moved away and will not come back. People are looking for leadership that will make a difference in their lives,” said Dr Kidero.

Political analyst Javas Bigambo pointed out that the rebellion in ODM depicts Mr Odinga as intolerant, irritable and incapable of nurturing new politicians in his party.

President William Ruto with Nyanza ODM leaders at State House on February 7, 2023.

“He should have found a way of speaking to his team calmly and without displaying it in the media. Recalling how he has always dealt with people he wants to finish politically such as Miguna or Magerer Lang’at, Raila must be seen as a rational father-figure keen to nurture and guide younger leaders, not frothing and fighting them as though they are plotting to dethrone him,” Mr Bigambo said.

Nandi Senator Samson Cheragei, an ally of Dr Ruto, said more opposition politicians are likely to bolt out since chances of Mr Odinga swaying influence in the next poll are likely to diminish greatly.

“People are also tired of the usual gimmicks by Raila of trying to use elected leaders to push for his personal interests like he did with the handshake. He may not recover from the ongoing defections; he is already fading into political oblivion,” Mr Cherargei said.

Former Nyeri Town MP Ngunjiri Wambugu says the defections from Azimio by Jubilee MPs is a result of ODM’s decision to ‘fall back to its tried and tested opposition tactics of public Barazas’, which are incompatible with the former ruling party.

“Wiper is finding its footing. Kanu has gone quiet. Meanwhile Ruto is doing everything he can to weaken Raila. What is happening was expected because this is a coalition that was created to take over the government; not to be in opposition. I honestly do not think anyone who joined Azimio expected to end up in opposition,” said Mr Wambugu.

But Mr Odinga’s allies describe the happenings as normal realignment after every election. They say Mr Odinga’s strategy is to engage the masses directly, and is not bothered by political sellouts.

Mr Mbadi says although he has indicated his intention to resign as the party chairman, he remains a committed member of the party.

“What is happening is a normal political turmoil that takes place after every election. In my view, some people who are not experienced have fallen to the bait of Kenya Kwanza that they can only get development if they work with the government,” said Mr Mbadi.

He, however, observes that the party top leadership needs to iron out some of the issues causing the wrangles.

Azimio leader Raila Odinga addressing a rally at Jacaranda grounds in Nairobi County

Azimio leader Raila Odinga addressing a rally at Jacaranda grounds in Nairobi County on January 29, 2023. 

Photo credit: Dennis Onsongo | Nation Media Group

He also hinted that he may reconsider his stand on resigning until there is stability within the coalition. “I thought giving way would help the party stabilise. I have listened to the people who have the view that my contribution is still needed,” he said.

Vihiga Senator Godfrey Osostsi says the choreographed State House visits will soon backfire. “Raila strategy borders on the people's power which he has. You can’t take that away from him easily. Kenya Kwanza strategy of poaching MPs is weak and unsustainable,” said Mr Osotsi.

Mr Kioni says Dr Ruto is desperate to buy legitimacy by wooing opposition MPs to his camp.

“Moi did the same things Ruto has started doing but he was still defeated. Those politicians have committed political suicide. He is basically looking for absolute majority because his plan is to change the Constitution,” said Mr Kioni.

Nyando MP Jared Okello says Mr Odinga has mistakenly been written off after every election only for him to surprise his critics.

“With so many leaders still coalescing around Raila, you cannot say that he does not have the wherewithal to move forward. Raila’s political direction has never been dictated by the elected leaders. He is always engaging directly with the masses. It is until the masses say that they are tired of him,”  he said.