Sibling rivalry hots up in ODM

Raila Odinga, Hassan Joho, Junet Mohamed

From left: Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho, ODM leader Raila Odinga and Suna East MP Junet Mohamed in Dubai  in July. PHOTO | FILE


What you need to know:

  • The Suna East MP had been confronted by Ruaraka MP TJ Kajwang over “skewed assigning of MPs to House committee slots”.
  • A meeting called by party chairman John Mbadi to heal the situation ended in disarray.
  • During the handshake negotiations between Mr Odinga and President Kenyatta, nearly all high-ranking ODM officials like Senate minority leader James Orengo were kept in the dark.

Away from the public glare, and contrary to the image of a peaceful household it projects, ODM is grappling with sibling fights that could have split the party if Raila Odinga didn’t have a firm grip on it.

These fights are blamed on clashing ambitions and ego trips as some members stir up a quiet succession battle in the party that is second largest in the country, after President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Jubilee.

Recently, when Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho and National Assembly Minority Whip Junet Mohamed took a luxurious jet trip to visit the ODM leader in Dubai, where he was recuperating after a surgery, many questioned the blatant show of opulence, especially at a time when the Covid-19 pandemic has almost crippled the economy. Unbeknown to many, Mr Mohamed had threatened to resign from his position in the party, where he is also the director of elections, to protest against “mistreatment” by some ODM members.

The Suna East MP had been confronted by Ruaraka MP TJ Kajwang over “skewed assigning of MPs to House committee slots”. Mr Kajwang was missing on the initial list after the allies of Deputy President William Ruto were purged from lucrative positions for openly challenging their party leader, President Kenyatta. So heated was the exchange that Mr Mohamed is said to have “left” an ODM MPs’ WhatsApp group in a huff.

But both men would not be drawn to discuss their differences yesterday.  “I have no comment,” said Mr Kajwang, as Mr Mohamed chose silence.

Situation ended in disarray

Mr Odinga is said to have been informed of the wrangles and, while the Dubai trip had been planned earlier, he reportedly insisted that Mr Mohamed be on the flight. This didn’t sit well with some.

“Leaders, especially Luos, have been concerned that their support for Baba is taken for granted. Questions emerged on why none of them was considered for the trip,” said an ODM legislator.

A meeting called by party chairman John Mbadi to heal the situation ended in disarray.

The rise of Mr Mohamed within ODM to a confidante of Mr Odinga has never been welcomed by older politicians, who view him as young and an ‘outsider’.

During the handshake negotiations between Mr Odinga and President Kenyatta, nearly all high-ranking ODM officials like Senate minority leader James Orengo were kept in the dark but Mr Mohamed was privy to it, consolidating his position as a confidante of the boss.

In a housekeeping meeting chaired by Mr Odinga, Suba North MP Millie Odhiambo reportedly lamented about a clique of senior officials she referred to as ‘Super League’ riding roughshod on them. Ms Odhiambo, despite her impressive record in the House, is among some of the members who feel sidelined in the running of the party in and out of Parliament.

Powerful post

Insiders say the ‘Super League’ has Mr Mohamed, Homa Bay Woman Representative Gladys Wanga, her Kisumu counterpart Rosa Buyu and the party’s secretary for political affairs and Ugunja MP Opiyo Wandayi. Ms Wanga was recently elected the chairperson of the Finance and National Planning Committee of the National Assembly, the first woman to occupy the position in the history of Parliament. Mr Wandayi chairs the equally powerful Public Accounts Committee.

Stephen Mwakesi, a public policy analyst, says that a number of politicians who have been under Mr Odinga’s pupillage now want to establish themselves.

“Baba is being sabotaged from within. If I were Raila, I would be very careful,” he said.

Mr Mbadi is said to be reluctant to associate with any of the groupings but quietly complains that the minority whip was usurping some of his powers in Parliament.

Yesterday, Mr Mbadi, like most of his colleagues, sought to downplay the internal fights.

“I do not belong to any grouping. What some people may not know is that Raila deals with his troops differently, according to their strengths and competences. There is no bad blood in ODM. There could be competing interests but not bad blood,” he said.

The other camp revolves around Mr Orengo and has most of the MPs such as Mr Kajwang’ and Rarieda MP Otiende Amollo. Their beef, we gathered, is Mr Odinga’s preference for young blood whom they blame for ‘misadvising him’. Mr Orengo, who belongs in the same age bracket as Mr Odinga, is touted as a possible successor in the Luo Nyanza politics but their hot-and-cold relationship especially in the ‘90s could stand in his way.

Succession battle

At the height of succession battle in Ford Kenya party following the death of Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, Raila’s father, Mr Orengo cast his lot with Kijana Wamalwa and some people around him still view the senator with suspicion. They also parted ways in 2002 elections when he ran for president of SDP ticket as Mr Odinga backed Mr Mwai Kibaki.

In some cases, the fights are cascaded to the counties, with Mr Orengo and Mr Wandayi not seeing Eye to eye. They have competing ambitions to be the next Siaya governor, with each hoping to get Mr Odinga’s nod.

And after a rare and coordinated attack on Mr Kenyatta’s government coming from Mr Mbadi, Mr Orengo and Mr Mohamed in May, the President miffed by the development quickly asked CS Fred Matiang’i to convene a meeting with ODM leaders and address their grievances.

The Harambee House meeting resolved to jumpstart a number of stalled development projects in Nyanza, some of which have taken off. Ms Wanga, Mr Mbadi, Mr Mohamed and Ms Buyu attended, with Mr Orengo missing, something that is said to have triggered some friction within.

Ms Wanga defended herself against the accusations, saying she was an ordinary party member who did not wield the kind of influence she’s accused of.

“All of us have different strengths, and all of us together make the party what it is. All of us bring value,” she said.

Mr Odinga, the Saturday Nation gathered, has a liking for Mr Mohamed because of his ‘effectiveness in carrying out duties’ and also as part of the nationalist credentials by supporting a man of Somali extraction to run for a seat in the heart of the Luo nation.

The other Odinga deputy – Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya – is also said not to get along with secretary-general Edwin Sifuna, who also hails from western region.

The differences are so serious that  Mr Odinga had to meet the duo on July 16 for a reconciliatory meeting just four days after his return from his medical visit of Dubai.

The ODM leader, we learnt, was concerned about differences in the leadership of the party that threatened to tear the party apart during his three-week medical tour.

Mr Oparanya, who had been making “development tours” in western, had reportedly fallen out with Mr Sifuna and a team of youthful leaders in the region.

This prompted the latter to launch a youth initiative dubbed;‘Mulembe Youth Movement’, ostensibly to rival the Oparanya camp.

“This had threatened the unity of the region and was giving the handshake team a bad name, compelling Mr Odinga to move with speed to forestall the differences,” said a source privy to the meeting at Mr Odinga’s Karen home.

Mr Sifuna had been hard on Mr Oparanya, accusing him of ignoring the youth in his western tours.

Mr Oparanya, however, denied claims that Mr Odinga brokered a truce between him and Mr Sifuna’s camp but took issue with their “conduct”.

“We are going to involve everybody in our meetings, so it is not right to claim youths have been left out,” Mr Oparanya told the Saturday Nation.

Mr Sifuna said he works harmoniously with Governor Oparanya.

“The party leader is accessible to all members and there is no way one MP can ride roughshod over another. Mzee is always willing to listen to everyone. Equally, there is no issue between me and Oparanya.

“We only disagreed with the action of Eugene Wamalwa and omitting to include any young person in a list they had presented to State House for some appointments. The issue was resolved after the two, in a show of mature leadership, accepted to recall the list to allow wider consultations. That was the end of the matter,” he said.

Meanwhile, the oversight role of the opposition is in jeopardy, exposing citizens to risks of losing resources as there is no party doing it.

Observers say democracy and accountability are at stake as the watchdogs are already “eating” so they will not speak up on behalf of mwananchi.

The development also brings into focus personality-based politics that the country has been treated to since independence, its sustainability and what happens when such ‘strongmen’ exit the stage.

The handshake has created a vacuum with regard to keeping the government in check, as allies of DP Ruto move in to play the role after the end of the honeymoon with the President two years ago.

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