The injured general: Inside Raila Odinga’s many political troubles 

Azimio la Umoja One Kenya leader Raila Odinga's political battles

Azimio la Umoja One Kenya leader Raila Odinga's political battles.

Photo credit: Nation Media Group

Azimio la Umoja One Kenya leader Raila Odinga is walking a tightrope amid an onslaught by President William Ruto to win over his troops and eat into his political bastions 10 months after the General Election.

The Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) leader, who wielded immense power in the run-up to last year’s poll, buttressed by his close association with former president Uhuru Kenyatta, appears to be drastically losing his political grip.

Following a monumental loss in Parliament over the Finance Bill, Mr Odinga has now turned his attention to the people directly, with a planned consultative rally at the historic Kamukunji grounds on Tuesday next Week.

“We have decided to invite Kenyans for a consultation rally at the Kamukunji grounds next Tuesday at 10 am where the next course of action will be decided,” Azimio deputy chief Martha Karua announced yesterday.

“The only time we have suffered longer than we should; the only time we have allowed dictators to rule us longer than they should is when we have been divided. But people can never be helpless in their own country, against their own leaders.

"Not in a democracy like ours, not even in a dictatorship as they are trying to recreate,” Ms Karua charged during Azimio’s press briefing at Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Foundation in Nairobi yesterday.

She was accompanied by Azimio leaders Eugene Wamalwa, Jeremiah Kioni, Mwangi Wa Iria, Opiyo Wandayi, John Mbadi and Ruth Odinga, among others.

Azimio leaders led by Martha Karua addressing journalists during an Azimio presser at the Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Foundation

Azimio leaders led by Martha Karua addressing journalists during an Azimio presser at the Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Foundation, Nairobi on June 22, 2023.

Photo credit: Kennedy Amungo | Nation Media Group

Some political observers believe Mr Odinga has been outwitted by President Ruto in all aspects following his fifth presidential loss, forcing his allies to troop to the government side, while others feel it is still too early to write him off.

Unforeseen resistance

The ODM chief is encountering unforeseen resistance from his own troops, some of who ignored his calls for collective responsibility to discharge their duties in Parliament, particularly when it mattered most during the voting on the controversial Finance Bill.

Whereas a good number of opposition legislators missed out on the crucial vote during the second reading, some opted to vote with the government side, forcing Mr Odinga’s ODM party to write show-cause letters to the legislators.

Of the 30 errant MPs, 13 are yet to respond to the letters written last week, further lifting the lid on their open defiance.

But ODM secretary-general Edwin Sifuna argues that the passage of the Finance Bill cannot just be about Mr Odinga.

“This cannot be about Baba. It must remain a matter of the individual conscience of members who choose to betray their own people and the trust the party bestowed on them. Baba for all his goodness cannot confer a conscience on hypocrites. It’s a dearth of conscience,” Mr Sifuna told the Nation yesterday.

Jubilee power struggle

Parliament troubles aside, Mr Odinga’s coalition is also on tenterhooks following a power struggle in Jubilee Party, a key cog in the alliance.

Jubilee is facing a leadership crisis, with one wing led by Nominated MP Sabina Chege and her East African Legislative Assembly (Eala) counterpart Kanini Kega, pulling to the President’s side, while the other led by former Ndaragwa MP Jeremiah Kioni and businessman David Murathe have stuck with Mr Kenyatta.

Azimio Party leader Raila Odinga

Azimio Party leader Raila Odinga during the presentation of the Finance Bill 2023 by Azimio Economic Council at Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Foundation (JOOF), Nairobi on June 8, 2023. 

Photo credit: Bonface Bogita | Nation Media Group

Mr Kioni yesterday told the Nation that they were concerned that the tussle in the party was being fuelled by other “forces”.

“These are forces hell-bent on stifling democracy which Kenyans fought for and some paid for with their lives,” Mr Kioni said.
But Prime Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi had no kind words for the Minority side over its quandary, defending President Ruto over allegations of disrupting the opposition, saying Azimio was only reaping what it sowed.

“I will not sympathise with people who are finding that they are now wearing the shoe on the other foot. The masters of disrupting political parties reside in Azimio. So they’ve been caught flat-footed in their own game. Let them reap what they sowed,” Mr Mudavadi said.

Additionally, Mr Odinga finds himself in a dilemma following the stalled bi-partisan talks, which among other issues sought to address the reconstitution of the electoral agency, the high cost of living as well as the audit of election servers.

Already President Ruto has put in place a panel for the recruitment of the new commissioners, leaving Mr Odinga with limited breathing space.

Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka has made attempts to push for the resumption of talks, but nothing has been forthcoming.

“We should do everything to end the standoff in the bipartisan talks especially because it was supposed to revamp the IEBC. We cannot afford to leave the decision of constituting a new IEBC to the Kenya Kwanza coalition alone,” Mr Musyoka recently warned.

Azimio challenges

Political analyst Dismas Mokua believes Azimio is facing challenges because key partners are pulling in different directions.
“Azimio is headed south because key partners are pulling in different directions and former President Kenyatta — the key success factor — is behaving in a manner suggesting that he is no longer interested in Azimio politics,” Mr Mokua says.

He argues that the former president, who is still the Azimio council chairman, portrays the image of a retired president who wants to spend his time on regional peace and security initiatives.

Azimio Party leader Raila Odinga addressing participants during the presentation of the Finance Bill 2023

Azimio Party leader Raila Odinga addressing participants during the presentation of the Finance Bill 2023 by the Azimio Economic Council at the Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Foundation (JOOF), Nairobi on June 8, 2023. 

Photo credit: Bonface Bogita | Nation Media Group

“Continued association with Mr Odinga will potentially stain President Kenyatta’s regional peace and security credentials. He cannot be a key regional resource at the African level while proactively supporting partisan disruptive politics,” added Mr Mokua.

But Prof Gitile Naituli of Multi-Media University insists that even though Mr Odinga may be at his political low due to the President’s onslaught against him, he still has the capacity to mobilise Kenyans and deal the government a major blow.

“He may be an injured soldier, but very lethal. With the high cost of living and the government’s unpopular policies, Raila can decide to go back to the people and disregard some leaders who have been enticed to join the government and this can pose a major problem for the State,” he argues.

He says there is a possibility of the ODM leader leading movements from across the country and winning over the people to his side.
National Assembly Minority Leader Opiyo Wandayi, however, exudes confidence in Mr Odinga’s leadership, saying there is nothing unusual about the current situation in the country’s political arena. “These are normal occurrences after every election. Political alliances are bound to shift and continue shifting.”

“Raila is a leader of a movement that is bigger than just Azimio. That movement is all about the people and not just political leaders, the majority of whom pursue their selfish interests,” Mr Wandayi told the Nation yesterday.

Political cliff

He continued: “What is important to us is that more and more people at the grassroots, out of economic hardships and due to unfulfilled promises by Kenya Kwanza, are joining the movement. We're not overly worried about a few unprincipled political leaders who have left the movement due to their own greed.” But political analyst-cum-governance expert Javas Bigambo insists Mr Odinga has lost the fight on all fronts.

Azimio leaders Martha Karua, Wycliffe Oparanya, Raila Odinga

From left: Azimio leaders Martha Karua, Wycliffe Oparanya and Raila Odinga addressing journalists during an Azimio presser at the Stephen Kalonzo Command Centre, Nairobi on June 14, 2023. 

Photo credit: Bonface Bogita | Nation Media Group

“Raila Odinga is dangling at the edge of a political cliff. He has lost on all vital fronts. Having lost the election, and the push for bipartisan talks dying a natuiral death, and a further tragedy of losing out in the Parliament over the Finance Bill vote, he remains so crippled politically, and demonstrably outwitted by President Ruto,” Mr Bigambo argues.

That some opposition leaders from ODM and Azimio voted for the Finance Bill on all clauses, he says, is an indication they have abandoned the Azimio cause in word and deed.

“Azimio is ideologically lame it seems. The Azimio leadership may only survive by changing course, but the die is cast. There’s little they can do now. Their only option is to focus on 2027 with a new strategy. For once, Raila Odinga seems defeated and outmanoeuvred. Perhaps William Ruto is his ultimate Waterloo,” added Mr Bigambo.

Mr Odinga is also fast losing grip of his usual bastions of Nyanza, Western and Coastal regions.
President Ruto has already trained his sights on the three regions and has won a sizeable number of leaders from the areas, including Mr Odinga’s Nyanza.

His own rural MP, Gideon Ochanda, has aligned himself with the President’s Kenya Kwanza, insisting he needs development for his people.
In the County, Mr Odinga has also not been able to reign in on his allies — Governor James Orengo and his deputy William Oduol — who have been wrangling, leading to an impeachment motion whose hearings ended at the Senate yesterday.

Further still, the 2027 dilemma, whether he will make a sixth stab at the top seat at 82, still remains a concern, even though he recently said he remains strong but not short of successors.

“We are not lacking in terms of succession material. I am not retiring as yet by demand of the people, and I cannot abandon the cause when the situation is looking gloomy.” 

“I have people I’m working with who have been very loyal and steadfast like Kalonzo Musyoka, Martha Karua, Wycliffe Oparanya, Hassan Joho, Jeremiah Kioni and a lot of other young politicians,” Mr Odinga stated.

As he gets back to the people at the Kamukunji rally, it remains to be seen whether he will declare mass action after Interior Cabinet Secretary Kithure Kindiki warned against “disruptive protests”.

Some people have also argued that the protests have further added pain to already battered citizens trying to cope with the high cost of living.