Azimio la Umoja presidential candidate Raila Odinga’s fortunes have gradually changed despite his past four unsuccessful bids for the presidency, with his ‘Handshake’ with President Uhuru Kenyatta on March 9, 2018 coming in handy to shape his political future.
For a politician whose future seemed oblique after his fourth presidential loss in the 2017 General Election, like a proverbial phoenix, the Azimio flag bearer appears to have risen from the ashes and could be destined for victory if the recent opinion poll results are anything to go by.
The latest Infotrak poll released last week has placed Mr Odinga with his running mate Martha Karuain the lead at 42 per cent against his closest challenger – Deputy President William Ruto and his running mate Rigathi Gachagua at 38 per cent.
The poll says Mr Odinga would garner at least 9.3 million votes with a clear lead in 20 counties against DP Ruto’s 8.4 million votes with victory in 16 counties.
Another poll by Trends & Insights for Africa (TIFA) conducted on May 17 also puts Mr Odinga and Ms Karua ahead at 39 per cent against the DP and Mr Gachagua who polled 35 per cent.
First round victory
Even though the two pollsters indicate that none of the two frontrunners would secure a first round victory which requires 50 per cent plus one vote, the next two months will see rigorous campaigns to win over the many undecided voters which Infotrak puts at 20 per cent, an equivalent of 4.4 million voters.
Ms Karua, Mr Odinga’s running mate has already promised a campaign like no other and hit the ground running, promising to help “my captain” tilt the scale in her Mt Kenya backyard to win the top seat come August 9.
“We want to win this election by a wide margin and we are asking our supporters turn out in large numbers on August 9 and vote for us to liberate and change this country,” Ms Karua said during her campaigns in Mt Kenya region on Saturday.
Mr Odinga’s changed political journey began with his political truce with President Kenyatta dubbed the ‘Handshake’ on March 9, 2018 at the doorsteps of Harambee House.
The truce which was initially welcomed by Dr Ruto, President Kenyatta’s principal assistant, would later turn into a poisoned chalice for the DP as it opened the doors for Mr Odinga, his opponent, to re-engineer his presidential bid.
“Congratulations Pres. Uhuru and Raila for being statesmen. You have risen to the moment for Kenya and against hate, negative ethnicity and division. The unity, stability and transformation of Kenya supersedes all other partisan interests. Wangwana mubarikiwe mpaka mshangae,” the DP tweeted moments after the 2018 deal.
Months later, Dr Ruto has termed the ‘Handshake’ as the cause of Jubilee government’s failures, while President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga say it had saved the country with a number of projects being fully implemented in the last four years.
It is the differences between Dr Ruto and President Kenyatta that paved the way for Mr Odinga to re-invent himself and set his sights on the top seat, for a fifth time.
President Kenyatta would later launch an onslaught against Dr Ruto, taking away his roles and handing them to Interior Cabinet Secretary Dr Fred Matiang’i through an Executive Order number 1 of 2019.
In the order, Dr Matiang’i was handed sweeping powers over the oversight of government programmes and made to chair a key committee on the implementation of development programmes, whose membership includes all Cabinet secretaries, the Attorney-General and Head of the Public Service, a mandate that essentially elevated him to a “prime minister or chief minister”.
In a bid to further clip the DP’s wings, the President launched a massive purge targeting Dr Ruto’s troops, axing them from key parliamentary and party positions, and even positioning those with a soft spot for Mr Odinga to replace them.
Shown the door
Some of the DP’s close allies who were shown the door include; former Senate Majority leader Kipchumba Murkomen, his National Assembly counterpart Aden Duale, Senate Majority chief whip Susan Kihika, her National Assembly counterpart Benjamin Washiali, Senate deputy speaker Prof Kithure Kindiki, former Jubilee deputy secretary-general Caleb Kositany, among other parliamentary committee bosses.
In a show of confidence in the ODM leader, President Kenyatta has on several occasions lauded him for having salvaged his administration, probably his reason for backing his presidential bid.
“I want to thank him (Raila) that for the time we have worked together...despite what critics have been saying, he has stood with me this far.... this shows that he is not after self-gain but stands for the good of all Kenyans,” President Kenyatta said at a recent function.
In the same spirit of the duo’s – Mr Odinga and President Kenyatta – camaraderie, came the backing by vote-rich Mt Kenya’s wealthy businessmen coalescing under the famed Mt Kenya Foundation (MKF) chaired by tycoon Peter Munga and deputised by Mr Titus Ibui.
The group’s support for Mr Odinga is significant because it includes wealthy backers of President Kenyatta and his predecessor Mwai Kibaki’s campaigns.
The support is a clear indicator of how Mr Odinga’s fortunes have changed, considering that his past campaigns for the presidency have been met by strong opposition in the region. The Mt Kenya Foundation’s vice-chairman, Mr Ibui yesterday told the Nation that Mr Odinga had made significant inroads into the region, noting that his victory for the top seat was inevitable.
“The entry has been not only impressive but phenomenal. By mid-July we shall be 60 per cent plus. Take this to the bank! It's exciting to say the least for us at MKF,” Mr Ibui said.
Former Gatanga MP Peter Kenneth, who is in Mr Odinga’s national presidential campaign team, told the Nation that they were confident that Mr Odinga would win the August elections.
“We have criss-crossed this nation and I can tell you the victory is between 60 to 65 per cent. That’s our projection,” Mr Kenneth said.
Mr Odinga’s quest for the top seat has also been bolstered by the formation of Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition party, which brings together at least 26 political parties including the ruling Jubilee and former vice-president Kalonzo Musyoka’s Wiper.
Even though some of the outfits may not have a national constituency, they have regional support which is crucial for galvanising votes for Mr Odinga.
Coupled with President Kenyatta’s public endorsement of the ODM leader, his fortunes have changed unlike in the past when he had to battle the State machinery that had been mounted on his way, thus dimming his prospects of winning the top seat.
Even though the President may have suffered rebellion from his Mt Kenya backyard, analysts say his influence outside the region still remains intact with a high possibility of turning that support in favour of Mr Odinga.
Odinga’s running mate
In Mt Kenya, they say, the naming of Ms Karua as Mr Odinga’s running mate has equally been a blessing as her aggressiveness in the vote-hunt in the region has borne fruits.
“I said this election would be won by the running mates and Karua has proven this through her aggressive campaigns into the Mt Kenya region. Apart from campaigning on a gender card, which has excited women not only in the region but also across the country, Karua brings into Raila’s camp a wealth of experience capable of tilting the scales in his favour,” says Multi Media University lecturer Prof Gitile Naituli.
Consequently, he argues, the return of Mr Musyoka to Mr Odinga’s fold marked a major win towards securing victory for the Azimio candidate.
Mr Musyoka was initially seen as a possible third force that would easily force a run off that could have complicated the matrix for Mr Odinga, but his return and acceptance of the Chief Cabinet Secretary post in the supposed Mr Odinga’s government came as a major boost and is expected to shore up the ODM leader’s numbers.
“You cannot separate Kalonzo and Raila. It is impossible. I made a decision to back my brother Raila for a third time because this thing called Kenya Kwisha (Kenya Kwanza) will ruin this nation,” Mr Musyoka reiterated in Machakos on Wednesday.
He said together with Kitui Governor Charity Ngilu and her Makueni counterpart, they will ensure victory for Mr Odinga in the August polls.