Raila Odinga: These leaders will succeed me

RAila Odinga

Azimio leader Raila Odinga during a past interview session at his Karen home, Nairobi.

Photo credit: Pool I Nation Media Group

‘I’m very strong and I can continue, but I’m ready to hand over to others when the time comes. I have people I’m working with who have been very loyal and steadfast like Kalonzo Musyoka. We have Martha Karua, very steadfast and principled, Wycliffe Oparanya, Hassan Joho, Jeremiah Kioni and a lot of other younger generation politicians’

Far from the charged, angry, bitter politician taking to the public platform with charges, for the fourth time in succession, that he was robbed of presidential election victory, Azimio la Umoja-One Kenya leader Raila Odinga is calm, relaxed and cheerful as he receives The Weekly Review at his Capitol Hill office.

He looks trimmer than usual, accentuated by a slim-fit silk shirt untucked over fitting trousers, the casual style completed by comfortable blue canvass loafers.

The Raila in a private meeting is a big difference from the political platform lion. He is friendly and considerate of the comfort of his guest, taking the courtesy of putting his cellphone, which tends to ring perpetually, on silent mode.

I was a bit apprehensive meeting him just a day after penning, in my Daily Nation column of Tuesday, a scathing dismissal of his claims that fresh whistleblower evidence proved he had been rigged out of the 2022 presidential election victory.

There is no tongue-lashing, no complaint, no reference at all to the negative article. Instead, he is keen to expound directly on claims that a whistleblower had provided incontrovertible proof, extracted directly from the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission servers, that he had won the presidential elections with 8.1 million (57 per cent) votes against President Ruto’s 5.9 million (41 per cent).

Just two days after a charged political rally at Nairobi’s historic Kamukunji grounds, symbolic of political protest, where he launched his fresh campaign for an audit of the elections and declared that Azimio does not recognise Ruto as president, Raila looks energised.

He is in his element, preparing to go back to the trenches, and it emerges that a series of planning meetings are already taking place for a sustained series of rallies to make his push for an inquiry into the elections.

He is quietly satisfied that he has rattled the Ruto government, which seems to have put aside other business to react to whatever he is planning.
But there are still some hard questions.

The Supreme Court threw out Raila’s petition challenging Ruto’s presidential election victory, closing the door on any other judicial processes.

His demands for an audit of the elections and ‘opening of the IEBC servers’, which he insists will unearth the truth, could be simply ignored.

He could apply pressure through political rallies as well as street protests and demonstrations, but at great risk that things could spiral out of control and into violence and bloodshed, for which he could be held accountable.

His latest manoeuvre is also fuelling counter-attacks around the narrative that he is the serial election loser who then instigates unrest so that he can secure a peace settlement that brings him into government.

He dismisses all such concerns, but is still hard-pressed on veracity of the whistleblower claims. His stock response is that access to the IEBC servers is what will reveal the true picture of how the election was allegedly stolen.
One area that he fumbles a lot is on is why he doesn’t simply produce copies of the election count results forms that should have been collected by campaign agents from all the 46,000 polling stations and the tally forms from the 290 constituency tallying centres.

Those, before peering into the IEBC servers and making allegations of chicanery by former IEBC chairman Wafula Chebukati at the Bomas Kenya National Tallying Centre, are what would prove the incontrovertible evidence if the numbers posted on the elections portal were, indeed, doctored.

Pressed on that, Raila makes the startling admission that it was logistically impossible for Azimio to have agents at all 46,000 polling stations. He claims that in hostile regions, his campaign agents were harassed, beaten and denied access to polling stations.

All those might be minor details at the moment for a politician intent on reclaiming his space. If Raila came out of the presidential election loss and the Supreme Court dismissal tired and defeated, one now sees a veteran opposition leader doing what he has always done best: stoking the flames and keeping government distracted and preoccupied with countering him.

Aside from the election fraud demands, Raila seems quietly satisfied that he has latched onto the Ruto government’s Achilles heel in its inability to find a quick fix to economic travails and fulfil extravagant campaign promises.

He also points out serious credibility issues facing the Kenya Kwanza administration over the rapid withdrawal of corruption and other criminal cases facing favoured acolytes and their appointments to key public offices.

The people are realising that they were cheated, he says, and one suspects he is hoping to capitalise on growing disillusionment and discontent.

But he must also be aware that he could be losing ground if the growing stampede towards the Ruto government from his own ranks is anything to go by Azimio ranks in Parliament and county governments have been rapidly depleted as elected leaders are lured to support the government, but he seems to be taking all that in his stride, pointing out that defections have been a trend since reintroduction of multiparty politics.

Raila is clearly gearing up for resistance politics all over again, and for him that is engagement with the masses rather than the boardrooms.

He warns of a looming tyranny, regression to Nyayo-era politics in what he says is Ruto’s push to seize control of Parliament, neuter the courts, intimidate the media and install a compliant electoral commission.

In that environment, he says, he cannot abandon the people and slink off into retirement. He turned 78 in January. At the next elections in 2027, he will be 82, but insists there is still work to do. Wiper Party leader Kalonzo Musyoka, the perpetual gadfly in his constellation, is already staking claims to the flag, but Raila describes him as a loyal and steadfast Azimio leader alongside Martha Karua, Wycliffe Oparanya, Hassan Joho and others who will be ready to run the ship when the times comes. 

WR: You had your public rally at Kamukunji last Monday and listed your demands in view of new whistleblower evidence on alleged electoral malpractices. Even if an audit of the election helps prove your case, what do you expect going forward seeing as the Supreme Court ruling exhausted the judicial process?

Raila: I’m not actuated by self. I’m not saying or doing what I am for the sake of Raila Odinga, but for the country. Every generation of our people has a responsibility to ensure that they make governance of our country transparent and accountable to the people.

We have gone through different stages in our national development. What we don’t want to see is a situation where our country degenerates back to the dark days where we came from.

I don’t want to go down in history as somebody who refuses to accept the will of the people, the outcomes of elections as expressed by the people through the ballot.

I want history to judge me as somebody who fought and dedicated his life to ensuring that elections reflect the will of the people.

If an audit shows that the presidential election results were not as pronounced by Chebukati, would you expect Ruto to resign?

Before we go there, remember that this time round, as far as arrangements for the elections were concerned, everything went very well at the polling stations: voter identification, voting, counting, tallying, to announcement of results at polling stations, and then tallying and transmission of results at constituency tallying centres. Everything worked well.

The problem was basically announcement at the National Tallying Centre, Bomas of Kenya. That is where there was the problem and we pointed that out at the time. We had our misgivings as to what was happening and we tried to draw attention of the chairman of the IEBC and his team.

We have since independently carried out our own investigations which have unearthed the structures put in place by IEBC and their collaborators. At the polling station where you had the Kiems kit, after results were tallied and announced by presiding officer, he used the same kit to scan the result form and then transmit to the server.

We found there were four servers, one in Holland, one in Venezuela, one in Anniversary Towers and fourth somewhere in Industrial area. At Bomas, there was a portal that received and displayed results from the server.

The server in Venezuela was the one transmitting results to Bomas. What they were doing was receiving the results and altering them before transmitting to Bomas.

At the tallying centre, we could be talking about data. At the polling station, it is hard, physical copies of the result forms signed by your agents and also the agents of other candidates. Isn’t that where the problem was in not producing those copies?

No, the problem is not there. The problem is the results announced … If you had presented your own sets of verified Form 34As, would that not proved your case that there was something wrong with the final outcome?

You have to compare with the real thing. What we are saying is that what was in the public portal is different from what is in the server. That is what we are trying to prove, that what is in the public portal is doctored, it does not reflect the results that originally came from the polling stations.

Couldn’t your own records, what you got from your agents at the polling stations, show up those discrepancies?  

You have 46,000 polling stations. It’s impossible to have agents at all those 46,000 polling stations. In some areas, they were being blocked from entering the polling stations.

In some areas, they were beaten up and sent away. You will not be able to get all 46,000 polling stations covered. You will be lucky to get 40,000. In areas where the population is hostile and the police themselves are colluding against your people it is impossible to get results from all 46,000 polling stations.

Without that coverage the discrepancies you point out will be questioned. That’s why the most important thing is to get access to the server. The server does not lie.

Now, if they allow access to the server will they not have had opportunity to manipulate what is there?

No, the results were scanned and transmitted as the original. So if you want proof, go to the server. That cannot be manipulated. If somebody attempts, you will see what happened.

The elections were on August 9. The following night, your agents informed you that you had taken an unassailable lead. Your election centre went into celebratory mode, and maybe dropped the ball on monitoring what was going on with the vote count and tallying. Was that finding from your agents premature? Were you let down by your team?

It was not premature. It was clear our agents had known, and even exit polls by various observers showed that it was over 55 per cent against Ruto’s 42 per cent.

Back to the question. If you do succeed in having the servers opened and you are proved correct, what then?

The question that has to be answered, and we are not being unreasonable because what we are talking about is for posterity, if this thing is not properly investigated and concluded, then forget about another presidential election in the country.

Who will waste their time going for an election if the results are being announced arbitrarily by a compromised IEBC? This is an IEBC that was split. Three are saying these are the results and four are saying ‘No’, but we are being forced to go with the minority. Instead, the majority who dissented are being persecuted.

What kind of country is this? They are now in the process of reconstituting the commission, unilaterally, so they are now creating seven Chebukatis instead of three. Who would be stupid enough to go contest an election managed by such a commission?

You started on Monday with the Kamukunji rally and I believe you are planning more such activities. What is the risk of rallies or street protests and demonstrations running out of control and degenerating into violence?

We are to not anticipating violence. If there is violence, it will come from the government and they will be responsible for the consequences.

This initiative has given fresh fuel to the narrative that you are the one who never accepts electoral loss, and that when it happens you instigate trouble so that you can win a seat at the table; citing the post-2007 ‘nusu mkate’ government with President Kibaki and then the post-2017 ‘handshake’ with President Kenyatta.

That is cheap and stupid propaganda spread by very uncivilised characters. We have made compromises in the best interests of this country. With the Uhuru handshake, we never asked for anything in government.

My party did not have a single position in government, not even appointment to CAS. We were never in government. People making noise are the ones who were in government.

All that we asked for was contained in BBI. If you look at the MoU we signed with Uhuru, we agreed we’d carry out reforms so that subsequent elections were free and fair. And they were free and fair till the last tallying process at Bomas of Kenya

What we are seeing from the fresh evidence is just numbers. To what extent have you interrogated those numbers to satisfy yourselves that what is presented is true and factual?

By now the IEBC would have come out to contradict those figures. They can only contradict them by coming out with the correct ones.

The copies of Form 34Bs provided by the whistleblower, the result forms from the constituency tallying centres, they have the IEBC stamp, signature of the Returning Officer, and are countersigned by agents of the parties, Azimio and UDA.

Most importantly they have a bar code which you can scan and it will give you information about where and when the image was taken and transmitted, location, date and time. That you cannot fake. If IEBC has an alternative one, they can produce it.

There are 245 constituencies which were available then. This was August 10. People voted on August 9. And all of these 245 constituencies were out by August 10.

They have explained that the remaining 45 were delivered directly to Bomas by Returning Officers from where the images were taken and uploaded on the IEBC portal and added. If you add the totals, Ruto gets 5.9 million votes and we get 8.1 million. It’s authentic, incontrovertible. This is from an IEBC insider who got it from the server at Anniversary Towers.

Defections. Just the other day a group of Jubilee-Azimio MPs were hosted by Ruto. Almost from Day One, different groups of MPs switched camp to the Ruto side. To what extent does this weaken you and impact on your political programme?

Defections are not a new phenomenon here. Remember the re-introduction of multiparty politics, the seventh Parliament? Within a few days, President Moi’s Kanu was buying MPs of the Opposition.

There was Apili Wawire of Lugari, Protus Momanyi of Bonchari, Owino Likowa of Migori, and many others. Important thing is that people defecting at national level, in Parliament, have no effect or impact on the ground. What’s important is the people.

Recently, Ruto was warmly received by your Azimio elected leaders in Nyanza who agreed to work with him on development. Now you say Azimio does not recognise Ruto as a legitimate President. Isn’t that a contradiction?

No, there’s no contradiction. The people don’t recognise him as an individual, they recognise the institution. Remember we had a workshop with the governors, and said that the Constitution says that national and county governments are distinct, but must be in collaboration and cooperation.

There are functions which are the responsibility of national government and those that are the responsibility of county government. Acknowledging that does not mean recognising the manner in which one assumed the presidency.

When you went into the handshake with Uhuru, you started defending the government. You were seen to have abandoned your core ideology as defender of the marginalised, downtrodden and oppressed. Ruto actually moved in to steal your platform with his Hustler Movement. Did that leave you exposed? 

That’s more of media propaganda. I never changed position. Agreement was that we’d work towards reforms, but Uhuru would continue running the government with his team, which included Ruto.

But Ruto was against the agreement we signed with Uhuru, the MoU, because he was more concerned with his succession games. Every time things were going wrong I always made it clear to Uhuru.

Sometimes I went public. I never abandoned my role. I advised MPs to keep doing their constitutional duty of keeping government in check. Ruto, of course, was coming out with populist politics, criticising the government in which he was serving.

Azimio is essentially an electoral special purpose vehicle. Does it have a future towards 2027?

It’s holding together right now. Coalitions usually exist to serve a purpose. They can grow onto formal movements, or they can disintegrate, depending on circumstances.

There is goodwill right now and determination for Azimio to continue working together in spite of concerted efforts by the Kenya Kwanza administration to undermine its unity by enticing MPs with little handouts.

And what of your own political future towards 2027? Given your age, do you have a succession plan for both ODM and Nyanza politics in a situation where emerging leaders are not standing out?

First, note that my politics is not based in Nyanza, but Nairobi and national. Secondly, it’s not a question of age. I’m very strong and I can continue, but I’m ready to hand over to others when the time comes.

I have people I’m working with who have been very loyal and steadfast like Kalonzo Musyoka. We have Martha Karua, very steadfast and principled, Wycliffe Oparanya, Hassan Joho, Jeremiah Kioni and a lot of other younger generation politicians who are all very capable to steer this ship of Azimio.

We are not lacking in terms of succession material. I’m not retiring as yet by demand of the people, and I can’t abandon the cause when the situation is looking so gloomy.

Even if we say let’s forget about 2022, what happens to the country? Will 2027 be any different when those now in power are conniving to put up an electoral commission that they will control and they are already intimidating the media and prompting sacking of those they see as opposed to their agenda?

We’ll have a media that is also compliant and a state machinery that they control; we are enroute to re-invention of the Nyayo machine. The future is very gloomy so this is not the time to talk about retirement.