Raila under siege as he fights to keep his Azimio house intact amid Ruto overtures

Azimio la Umoja One Kenya leader Raila Odinga.

Azimio la Umoja One Kenya leader Raila Odinga. Mr Odinga.

Photo credit: Tony Karumba | AFP

Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition leader Raila Odinga’s political stability is facing a major test in his three decades in politics following his August 9 election loss to President William Ruto.

The Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) boss is not sitting pretty, with most of his political bases restless and at risk of being snatched from him. Some of his allies, particularly from Coast, Western and Mt Kenya regions, are already pledging loyalty to the Head of State.

Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua has also fuelled the disquiet in Azimio by launching an onslaught against its members in Mt Kenya region, whom he hopes to rally into his fold before the end of the year.  

The future of Mr Odinga’s Azimio also looks bleak, as some parties have already left and entered into post-election agreements with the ruling Kenya Kwanza Alliance, while officials of the Jubilee party — a major coalition partner — have also fired a warning shot.

Mr Odinga’s failure to capture state power seems to be contributing a lot to his setbacks, as various leaders in his camp say they want to work with government “to develop” their regions.

Further still, several leaders who backed his bid in the last election but lost are now jobless, and with limited roles in the opposition, Mr Odinga is unable to accommodate them. As such, they have taken a back seat in politics. 

The silence of former President Uhuru Kenyatta, the Azimio council chairman, who has already assumed his role as peace envoy for the Great Lakes and Horn of Africa region, also compounds the pressure the ODM leader faces to maintain his grip on national politics.

Mr Odinga is a man under siege.

Today, the opposition chief and the Azimio leadership are set to host coalition governors for a two-day retreat in Naivasha to discuss the way forward after the August election defeat and “unity of purpose” amid a government onslaught to lure and divide the opposition.

Azimio National Coalition Executive Council (NCEC) chairman Wycliffe Oparanya yesterday confirmed today’s meeting in Naivasha, but noted that the agenda would be communicated on arrival.

“I will attend tomorrow’s meeting with governors but our leaders will communicate the agenda once we are there. Basically they will be housekeeping issues and how to ensure devolution is a success,” Mr Oparanya told the Nation yesterday.

The need to give keen attention to the regional economic blocs to spur county economies and enhance their self-reliance, Nation established, will also form part of today’s talks in Naivasha.

The meeting comes against the backdrop of various coalition governors pledging their loyalty to President Ruto and his administration, something that seems to threaten the unity of the opposition.

Governors Abdulswamad Nassir (Mombasa), Gideon Mung’aro (Kilifi), Julius Malombe (Kitui) and Wavinya Ndeti (Machakos) are some of the Azimio county chiefs who have been on record affirming their commitment to work with the Ruto administration to enhance development of their counties.

Yesterday, Mr Nassir told Nation that he will attend today’s meeting in Naivasha, adding that their public pronouncements to work with the national government should not be misconstrued to mean defection or shift of loyalty.

Mr Nassir defended his pledge to work with the government, saying: “Kenyans should not have the insinuation that people can only make news when they fight.”

“This is the President and I was showed respect by being informed of his visit to my county, he made several promises, including promising a dual carriageway from Mombasa to Malindi, surely, do you expect me to look at the man and start to rebel?” the governor asked.

He added: “Kenyans have already made a decision, but inasmuch as we disagree with the outcome, we have no option but to work with the government for the sake of our people.”

Mr Oparanya, who is also the ODM co-deputy party leader, said that even though the coalition faces various pressures, there is a scheme by their opponents to start a non-existent war amongst Azimio leaders.

Allegations that he said he was done with Mr Odinga, he added, were spinned out of context to portray Azimio and ODM to be crumbling. “People are spinning what I said. I only asked for Raila’s support in future. How could I say that I am done with him yet I need his support to be president?” asked Mr Oparanya.

“We have sacrificed a lot and I cannot leave this party at this point in time. I have spent money in this party and I have been loyal for nearly 20 years since its inception in 2005. I want to fight from within,” Mr Oparanya said.

He, however, agreed that a section of leaders from Western Kenya were disgruntled, and needed an intervention of the party leadership. “Our people are also discontented and I will discuss the matter with my party leader at a personal level. So there is no cause for alarm,” the former Kakamega governor said.

Some MPs from Western region have ganged up against Mr Odinga, pledging to work with President Ruto’s government.

The legislators, under the umbrella of the Western Parliamentary Group caucus, expressed reservations over the failure by their coalition to accommodate any member from the Luhya community for Senate and National Assembly leadership.

They also alleged dishonesty on the part of Azimio for excluding Sirisia MP John Waluke’s name from representation to the Parliamentary Service Commission despite being nominated by his Jubilee party, claims that Mr Odinga’s allies denied, saying Mr Waluke’s name was missing after “Speaker Moses Wetang’ula rejected it”.

They said Azimio gave several committee leadership positions to Western region, contrary to claims by the caucus.

They mentioned MPs Raphael Wanjala (Budalang’i) who chairs the Implementation Committee, Emmanuel Wangwe (Navakholo) Public Investments-Social Services and Agriculture; Jack Wamboka (Bumula) Public Investments- Governance and Education; Tindi Mwale (Butere) vice chair, Public Accounts Committee; Caleb Amisi (Saboti) vice chair, Public Investments-Social Services and Agriculture and Godfrey Osotsi (Vihiga) County Public Investments and Special Funds Committee.

“The real motive for the protests is to have grounds to defect to the government side, which seeks to hijack Parliament and then pass draconian laws, including constitutional amendments on presidential term limit,” said the Odinga allies.

Yesterday, Mr Osotsi blamed President Ruto’s Kenya Kwanza for the challenges within Azimio, saying the ruling coalition is hell-bent on poaching opposition legislators and returning the country to a one-party state.

“It is a big political mistake to imagine that Baba (Mr Odinga) is under siege because a few leaders are warming up to Kenya Kwanza. Baba has been here before after 2007, 2013 and 2017 elections and he has always re-emerged stronger.”

“Kenya Kwanza is trying to restart the Kanu tactics of political patronage and opportunism. They will fail miserably when Kenyans realise their folly and inability to fulfil the multiple promises. I think the strategy to remain strong is not in the unpredictable politicians but delivery. They have their priorities wrong,” Mr Osotsi told the Nation.

Mr Odinga, however, has to contend with the pressure from the former ruling party Jubilee, whose Secretary-General Jeremiah Kioni has called for respect.

“We are in Azimio but our partners must respect us and give us what belongs to us. They should not take that which is ours,” Mr Kioni said, in apparent reference to nominations to the East Africa Legislative Assembly (Eala) and the Parliamentary Service Commission.

Eala nominee Kanini Kega, who was one of Mr Odinga’s foot soldiers during the campaigns, has also openly declared support for Mr Gachagua, urging Mt Kenya leaders to rally behind him.

“There is no question about him being the senior-most politician because he holds the second position in government despite the fact that we had political differences. He is in a position of influence,” Mr Kega said in his rallying call for defections from Azimio by Mt Kenya leaders.

This puts Mr Odinga in a fix as Mr Kenyatta’s continued silence remains poignant.

Mr Odinga’s camp has also been faced with party defections into Kenya Kwanza; with United Democratic Movement (UDM) led by Mandera Senator Ali Roba, which has 12 legislators, being the largest party to leave.

Movement for Democracy and Growth (MDG) led by Ugenya MP Dave Ochieng’ also signed a post-election agreement with Kenya Kwanza immediately after election. This, coupled with individual defections such as those by former Kisii Governor James Ongwae, former woman reps Janet Ong’era and Florence Mutua as well as change of loyalty by most of Mr Odinga’s campaign team members, spells doom for the Azimio leader.

Mr Odinga is also fighting to save the four dissenting commissioners of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) who are facing removal from office following ouster petitions filed in Parliament against them.