Tread carefully, Raila Odinga warns ahead of crucial ODM top organ meeting

Raila Odinga

ODM party leader Raila Odinga. 

Photo credit: File

What you need to know:

  • Two camps emerged in ODM when Raila declared interest in the chairmanship of AUC.
  • Raila has hinted at the possibility of consensus in the party in view of his possible exit.
  • Party elections and succession are expected to dominate during the high-profile meeting scheduled for Wednesday.

Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) leader Raila Odinga will hold a crucial meeting of the party's top organ tomorrow to discuss election modalities and the complex succession politics that threaten to divide the outfit over his impending exit.

Mr Odinga is expected to chair the party’s Central Management Committee Meeting at Chungwa House, amid uncertainty over planned ODM elections this month, and the feud resulting from his planned exit from the party’s leadership should he secure the chairmanship of the African Union Commission (AUC).

ODM Secretary-General Edwin Sifuna yesterday confirmed tomorrow’s meeting but did not divulge more information regarding the agenda.

“It’s a regular meeting of an organ of the party. A brief of what is discussed will be issued after the meeting,” Mr Sifuna told the Nation.

The Nation has established that the meeting would unveil a roadmap to party elections, address the succession question and Mr Odinga’s quest for the AUC post.

The former Prime Minister quietly jetted back into the country ahead of Easter holidays after taking a two-week break during which he held private consultations on his quest for the AUC top job.

On Sunday, the ODM leader hinted at the possibility of consensus in the party in view of his possible exit and departure for Addis Ababa, the headquarters of the African Union.

“I am pursuing the AUC position, but I’m still around. If Baba will be away, we shall sit as ODM members and agree because the party needs Joho (Hassan), Oparanya (Wycliffe) and all members of this party to remain strong,” Mr Odinga said during his visit of the Coast region.

He warned against attempts to divide the party along regional lines.

“Let’s not divide this party along regional lines of Western, Nyanza, Nairobi or Coast. Let us all be members of ODM. If ODM wants to do elections, it will be conducted as a united ODM because if we divide the party along regional lines, we shall break it,” he said.

Mr Odinga is expected to wade into the labyrinthine politics of ODM elections, and particularly the hot potato that is succession in tomorrow’s meeting.

But it might not be what the party membership appears to have been gearing for since the current feud in the 19-year-old outfit might only lead to “harmonisation of the elections,” to avoid a serious contest that could tear the party apart.

“Fearing a bloodbath and complete demoralisation of some faithful members who have shown interest in positions, the party is toying with the idea of having a managed and negotiated process rather than a full blown contest,” an impeccable source within the party told Nation.

The party could be looking at filling vacant positions through ‘compromise’ rather than complete elections.

Already two distinct camps have emerged led by Mr Odinga’s deputies – former governors Mr Joho (Mombasa) and Mr Oparanya (Kakamega), even though other leaders’ names have also emerged in the succession quest including Mr Sifuna, ODM Director of Political Affairs Opiyo Wandayi, Chairman John Mbadi and Embakasi East MP Babu Owino.

ODM leadership

ODM party leader Raila Odinga with party Chairman John Mbadi (L) and party Secretary General Edwin Sifuna during the ODM National Governing Council meeting held in Nairobi on March 1, 2019.

Photo credit: File

Mr Joho’s team is positioning itself as the one with the capacity to inject new energy and fresh blood into the party.

They say they want to relieve Mr Odinga of “shouldering every party burden” from raising funds to organising anti-government agenda and grassroots activities.

Momentum appears to be with Mr Joho’s team that includes political operatives with grassroots networks and ability to raise funds.

The Nation yesterday established that Homa Bay Governor Gladys Wanga is also expected to join the bid for ODM top leadership, eyeing the position of Deputy Party Leader which will fall vacant should either Mr Joho or Mr Oparanya be elevated.

“Should she join the race, she will fight from the Joho side, joining hands with Junet Mohamed, Babu Owino and other young leaders to push for transfer of party leadership to Joho and seek to lead the Nyanza campaign alongside others to champion Joho’s bid,” a ODM insider told Nation yesterday.

Ms Wanga is currently enjoying high approval ratings and will be hoping to use this to secure a slot at the ODM high table.

She would be the first sitting governor and woman to declare interest in top party position.

Sources intimated to Nation that Ms Wanga may declare her candidacy in the coming weeks “in line with the thinking in the Joho camp.”

Mr Joho’s team is said to be keen on an arrangement that ensures Nyanza, Western and Coast regions are ably represented in party leadership but in a youthful formation with ability to propel the party to new heights ahead of 2027 elections.

Raila Odinga

ODM party leader Raila Odinga (center) with his two deputies Wycliffe Oparanya (left) and co-leader Ali Hassan Joho during the party’s National Governing Council meeting at Bomas of Kenya on February 25, 2022. 

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

“The group would prefer an arrangement that retains John Mbadi as chairman while another person from the region gets the deputy’s position,” the source said.

Mr Oparanya is also leaving nothing to chance and is assembling his troops.

He is rallying a section of western Kenya MPs to his fold.

Should the party settle on harmonisation, it remains unclear whether that will calm down the restless young leaders.

Some argue that while harmonisation where even ‘weaker leaders’ retain their positions may stabilise the party, it won’t create the momentum the party needs going into 2027 elections.

Kisumu Woman Representative Ruth Odinga yesterday said several factors must be considered in the event of succession in ODM.