Opposition leader Raila Odinga’s détente with President William Ruto is being seen as part of his strategy to appease moderate allies averse to protracted aggression, stem defections by staunch associates and blunt attacks on his camp by the ruling coalition.
By sanctioning cooperation with the national government on development basis, the Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition Party leader and his allies are also handing the President a poisoned chalice, as unfulfilled promises are a potent tool with which to rally a disgruntled populace against the government.
In a surprise U-turn last week, Mr Odinga rallied leaders from his Nyanza backyard to embrace the President in his two-day visits to the region at the weekend, signalling a thawing of relations after a prolonged campaign to discredit the election of Dr Ruto since the elections last August.
The President, who often criticised the truce between his predecessor, Mr Uhuru Kenyatta, and Mr Odinga, would not want his rapprochement with the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) boss likened to the Kenyatta-Odinga “Handshake”.
But he, too, would not mind the immense political capital and legitimacy that comes with acceptance of his presidency by the opposition, which explains why the latest development is being viewed as the beginning of a long-term campaign aimed at cessation of hostilities.
The directive by the ODM leader, who had for long insisted that the elections were rigged against him, set the stage for the President’s rousing welcome to the region, with local leaders led by governors James Orengo (Siaya), Gladys Wanga (Homa Bay), Anyang’ Nyong’o (Kisumu) and Ochilo Ayacko (Migori) spelling out their development wishlist.
Nation understands that Mr Odinga has agreed to go slow on his criticism of the President and is also keen on using the warming relationship to forestall defections from his camp and neutralise rising rebellion in his backyard in the aftermath of his fifth election loss.
The truce with the President, according to his allies, will also help Mr Odinga counter attacks by critics who have portrayed him as being anti-development, and avert persecution of opposition figures by the Kenya Kwanza administration.
This will buy him time to consolidate support in his political bases and foster cooperation between opposition and government figures in the two Houses to win support for Bills that will help push opposition interests.
And the President seems to have accepted the overtures, promising to work with all leaders across the political divide.
Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka, during a recent interview with NTV, had alleged a scheme by the President to grab more opposition leaders to his side.
“They should stop the habit of wanting to grab a leader here, bribe another there. They are targeting Luo Nyanza and my friend [former Kakamega Governor and ODM vice-chairman Wycliffe] Oparanya is a candidate for capture. But Oparanya is a very strong man,” Mr Musyoka alleged.
United States International University (USIU) lecturer Macharia Munene argues that Mr Odinga’s move is a pointer to his acceptance of losing last year’s election, hence his quest to make peace with the President “who is also eager to partner with Raila without calling it ‘Handshake’.”
“It is good politics that makes Raila look civil and Ruto magnanimous. The backdoor handshake is likely to be realised with Raila getting a powerful position, more powerful than the DP post,” says Prof Munene.
He argues that the two leaders were headed for a “sanitised handshake politics.”
Former Mukurueini MP Kabando Wa Kabando also sees the move by Mr Odinga as a possible launch of a“loyal opposition.”
“Intuition, instinct, prediction: merger, cooperation, cohabitation unveiling. Loyal opposition unfolding. Rt Hon Raila Odinga and President William Ruto are ‘talking’. It is good for the country! Hopefully, it doesn’t spur impunity…deodorisation akin to handshake,” Mr Kabando posted on Twitter on Friday.
Sources in Mr Odinga’s camp told Nation that, in his push for development in his strongholds, he has advised local leaders to draw elaborate lists of projects they want the national government to implement.
“His [the President’s] failure to deliver will be the beginning of his downfall,” a Senator from Western told Nation.
Mr Odinga’s camp has, since his loss in the elections, witnessed many of his ardent supporters — such as Central Organisation of Trade Unions (Cotu) Secretary-General Francis Atwoli, former Kisii Governor James Ongwae, and Kanu Secretary-General Nick Salat — crossing over to the government’s side.
The loss has also fuelled rebellion in his Nyanza stronghold, with a section of political losers coalescing around Information, Communication and Digital Economy Cabinet Secretary Eliud Owalo to stage fierce attacks on the ODM leader.
Some of these include former governors Evans Kidero (Nairobi), Jack Ranguma (Kisumu) and Okoth Obado (Migori), former Kisumu senator Fred Outa, former Kisumu Woman Rep and former nominated senator Rose Nyamunga as well as former Lake Basin Development Authority chairman Odoyo Owidi.
This is also seen as a plot to topple Mr Odinga as the region’s political supremo. Mr Odinga’s elder brother, Dr Oburu Oginga, who is also the Siaya senator, is understood to have asked the President to work with elected leaders rather than “bitter losers” who lack the mandate of the people.
With the emerging camaraderie between the ODM leader and the President, the leaders who have been seeking to dethrone him are likely to be the greatest casualties as the Head of State would rather reach out to Mr Odinga directly than go through them due to his influence across the country.
In a thinly veiled attack seen to be directed to the leaders, Mr Odinga’s spokesperson Dennis Onyango questioned their value.
“Where will they wage war now? What will they sell to their boss now? And what will be their value to their boss now? A minute is surely long in politics,” Mr Onyango tweeted on Friday.
Mr Odinga’s wife, Ida, also recently railed against some unnamed leaders, accusing them of abandoning her family at their hour of need. These leaders, former Ugenya parliamentary aspirant Steve Mwanga argued, have benefited directly or indirectly from Mr Odinga’s leadership but were now pursuing their selfish interests.
“We welcome the move by the President to work with all leaders and this will surely bear fruits,” Mr Mwanga said. Speaking in Siaya on Saturday, President Ruto avowed his commitment to working with all leaders, saying, “elections are now behind us and what we need to do is to work with all leaders regardless of their political persuasions.”
“No part of the country belongs to this person or that person or this community or that community and nobody voted wrongly because we are a democracy. I want to commit to all the leaders that we are going to work together for the benefit of the people of the Republic of Kenya without any manner of discrimination because we live in one nation,” the President said.
Mr Orengo acknowledged Mr Odinga’s goodwill towards the President’s visit to the region.
“I spoke to [Mr Odinga] and he told me to pass to you his word of welcome and to urge you to feel at home,” Mr Orengo said.
The Siaya governor also pushed for a good working relationship between Mr Odinga and the Head of State.
“Mr President, I urge you in the spirit, not of the handshake but of togetherness, to sit together on the table of brotherhood with your brother Raila Amollo Odinga because the elections are over.”
“I have worked with you, President Ruto. I know when you stand for something, like when we were in Serena [2007 peace talks] defending Agwambo [Mr Odinga]. I knew you as a big fighter but, for the good of Kenya, [let us] move together as a nation so that we don’t divide our people,” Mr Orengo said.
Political commentator Mark Bichache told Nation that, apart from the politics of development, the 2027 political scheming was equally at play.
“The President knows he has another term to run for. For him to be re-elected and gain legitimacy, he must have votes from many communities while, for Raila, the truce makes him a statesman capable of putting politics aside for the sake of development and progress for his people. This is a key benefit of the truce,” says Mr Bichache.
Prof Gitile Naituli of Multimedia University agreed with this sentiment, arguing that the move has portrayed Mr Odinga a s a statesman and cooled down rising political temperatures.
Make same mistake
“Raila is committed towards staying in opposition because joining the government has now worked for him in the past. I don’t think he is going to make the same mistake twice. His move was simply tactical but I don’t think he has any plans of working with Dr Ruto as he did with former President Uhuru Kenyatta,” said Prof Naituli.
The university don added that Mr Odinga needs to regain his credentials as a fighter for the downtrodden and should stay in opposition trenches instead of joining the Ruto administration.