Raila’s evolving inner circle amid Ruto fight

Azimio leader Raila Odinga has stepped up resistance against President William Ruto amid a changing circle of allies.

Eleven months since the August 9 election, in which he was backed by state machinery and political guns from across the country, including then-President Uhuru Kenyatta, Mr Odinga has to contend with a shifting kitchen cabinet in his renewed face off with President Ruto.

Some key election campaigners have long deserted Mr Odinga and joined forces with the ruling Kenya Kwanza Alliance administration. Others have taken a back seat, not participating in anti-government protests.

A number of MPs from Nyanza have declared support for Dr Ruto, exposing Mr Odinga to a ruthless political onslaught by the ruling coalition.

The development in the opposition Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition has, however, seen the emergence of politicians still committed to Mr Odinga’s years of agitation for “electoral reforms and good governance”.

In Mr Odinga’s corner are his 2022 running mate Martha Karua, Wiper Party leader Kalonzo Musyoka, Democratic Action Party - Kenya (DAP-K) chief Eugene Wamalwa, Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) Deputy Party Leader Wycliffe Oparanya, National Assembly Minority Leader Opiyo Wandayi and ODM Secretary-General Edwin Sifuna.

Also in his inner circle are Jubilee Secretary-General Jeremiah Kioni, former Murang’a governor Mwangi wa Iria, 2022 presidential candidate George Wajackoyah and Kitui Senator Enock Wambua.

Analysts believe Mr Musyoka, Ms Karua and Mr Wamalwa hope to inherit Mr Odinga’s support base if he does not contest the presidency for the sixth time in 2027.

The three are conspicuous in his anti-government protests. Mr Wandayi and Mr Sifuna told the Sunday Nation that some individuals in the Azimio campaign team were not genuinely backing Mr Odinga’s presidential bid.

They say the politicians were hoping for immediate rewards in terms of appointments. According to the two, some of the politicians have business interests with the government.

“It is the shared commitment for a better Kenya that has kept us together. It is about shared values and ideology,” Mr Wandayi, also the Ugunja MP, said.

Mr Sifuna says politicians with no principles often get swayed to join the government for self-aggradisement. He says individuals always pursuing business opportunities with the government find it difficult to challenge the ruling class. Some, he says, defected for protection “since they are engaged in questionable deals”.

“Those like me, who are always at the front, have nothing to gain from the regime, and therefore nothing to lose for standing up for what we believe,” the Nairobi senator said.

“If you are motivated by principle and conviction, you stay, whether it rains or shines. If your personal ambition and advancement is the motivation, you will sway with the wind.”

Prof David Monda, a political scientist, however says the new protests may have little political ramifications “since Mr Odinga lacks credibility, having supported high taxes during Mr Kenyatta’s presidency”.

Timing of protests

He adds that Mr Odinga is confronted by legacy questions and could back another person to sustain his relevance in Kenya’s political scene.

“It is apparent he will have to lose in order to win. He will have to sacrifice his ambitions and support another opposition candidate for 2027 – a kind of ‘Kibaki Tosha’ moment,” the City University of New York don said, referring to Mr Odinga’s famous slogan in 2002 when the opposition united to defeat President Daniel arap Moi’s preferred successor Uhuru Kenyatta.

He says the decision by some politicians to abandon Mr Odinga is not surprising.

“Politicians are egoists and self-preserving. The Azimio allies taking a back seat are playing the strategic ambiguity card, treating the protests with benign neglect but adopting a wait-and-see approach. They want to see where the political wind blows,” he said.

Nominated MP Sabina Chege, former Kisii governor James Ongwae, Central Organisation of Trade Unions boss Francis Atwoli, former Makueni governor Kivutha Kibwana and former nominated MP Maina Kamanda are some of the faces in Mr Odinga’s campaign that have ditched him.

Others are East African Legislative assembly MP Kanini Kega, Eldas MP Adan Keynan, former Kanu Secretary-General Nick Salat, Jubilee Deputy Secretary-General Joshua Kutuny, Senator Fatuma Dullo and Nairobi Woman Representative Esther Passaris.

Mr Kutuny accuses Mr Odinga of not being sincere with some of the Azimio affiliate parties.

“The decision to support him is haunting us. Jubilee became the biggest casualty. Mr Odinga’s ODM and Mr Musyoka’s Wiper retained their numbers, but Jubilee lost. We are no longer the biggest party in Kenya,” he said.

“We got a raw deal. If Raila were honest, he should have reached out to both factions in Jubilee and get to the bottom of the wrangles. Jubilee would be sidelined even if he won the election.”

Mr Salat shares similar views, adding that Mr Odinga is not genuine in his agitation for low taxes.

“Leaders should look beyond their interests and offer solutions for a better country. Street demonstrations cannot bring the cost of living taxation down. They should stop lying. No president can perform miracles in the current circumstances,” Mr Salat said.

Political analyst Macharia Munene says some of the politicians who have abandoned Mr Odinga could be the reason he lost the election.

Prof Munene says the timing of the protests, if well exploited, could result in serious political ramifications, adding that the demonstrations are likely  to attract huge turnouts because of the tough economic times and the high taxes.

“But he needs to come up with narratives that are convincing. The current push may not have the same impact as the one in 1990 but there is a possibility of a good participation in the protests,” Prof Munene said.

Kanu chairman Gideon Moi, ODM Deputy Party Leader Ali Hassan Joho, former Kitui governor Charity Ngilu, former Jubilee Secretary-General Raphael Tuju, former Senate Majority Leader Samuel Poghisio and his then-National Assembly colleague Amos Kimunya, and former Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya have taken a back seat.

ODM Chairman John Mbadi, National Assembly Minority Whip Junet Mohammed and former Laikipia governor Ndiritu Muriithi have largely avoided the protests.

Mr Mohamed was the face of the Azimio campaigns last year. He was present at most of the rallies addressed by Mr Odinga.

Some in the opposition accused Mr Mohamed of bungling the campaigns, but Mr Odinga defended him. Contacted, he told the Sunday Nation that he remains committed in his support for Mr Odinga in the National Assembly where he serves as minority whip and as the ODM Director of Elections.

“We are doing everything to champion the agenda of the party and that of our leader,” he said.

The Suna East MP defended some of the politicians are keeping a low profile.

“Some don’t hold any office and may find it difficult to be involved in political activities,” he said.

Mr Mbadi was also a key figure in Mr Odinga’s campaigns. His involvement, however, slowed when he was forced to drop out of the Homa Bay governor race in favour of then-Woman Representative Gladys Wanga who went on to win the seat.

After an unsuccessful attempt to retain the National Assembly Minority Leader position, Mr Mbadi drifted away. He even said he was ready to resign as the ODM chairman.

Mr Mbadi told the Sunday Nation that he is still involved in opposition activities, including being a member of Mr Odinga’s Economic Council. He cites “turf wars” as the reason for not being seen in political meetings, especially in Nairobi.

Mr Mbadi also says some of the individuals who campaigned for Mr Odinga were driven by personal interests.

“When you have clear prospects of winning an election, you attract all manner of people. Raila will remain relevant politically,” Mr Mbadi said.

Mr Muriithi, also a member of Mr Odinga’s Economic Council, says he is largely involved in behind-the-scenes planning for political activities.

“There is division of labour in every organisation, but the media tend to focus more on people who attend rallies and speak,” he said.

ODM lawmakers Gideon Ochanda (Bondo), Caroli Omondi (Suba South), Elisha Odhiambo (Gem) Mark Nyamita (Uriri), Paul Abuor (Rongo), Phelix Odiwuor alias Jalang’o (Lang’ata) and Kisumu Senator Tom Ojienda continue to defy Mr Odinga.

Mr Odhiambo says he has made the decision to work with the President “for development in my constituency”. He even plans to call Dr Ruto to launch some projects in Gem.

“The goodwill of the President is key in influencing development projects. That is why our region realised some projects when our party leader chose to work with President Uhuru Kenyatta,” he said.

“How can recognising our President be betrayal? What is important is to bring development to the people. The President will soon be in my constituency. After looking at the orientation of the country, I have chosen to take a path of reconciliation. I will not, therefore, be taking part in anti-government protests.”