City billionaire Jimi Wanjigi wants to snatch the leadership of Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) from Mr Raila Odinga in a move that is the latest twist in the Uhuru Kenyatta succession politics.
Mr Wanjigi’s entry comes at a time when the party is also trying to broker a coalition deal with President Kenyatta’s Jubilee Party, ahead of the 2022 General Election.
“I’ll be running for the ODM ticket and I’ll be taking on Raila Odinga, and that will be my presidential ticket,” Mr Wanjigi told the Nation.
“As an ODM life member, I’ve what it takes to lead the party, and the country, into the future.”
Regarded as one of the election financiers and political fixer in the last two general elections, the announcement by Mr Wanjigi to seek the ODM ticket could ruffle feathers within the party.
This week a video showing the printing of some Wanjigi merchandise went viral — an indicator that the man who fell out with Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto shortly after he campaigned for them is seriously considering his entry into competitive politics.
Mt Kenya votes
Also, if he manages to lock Mr Odinga out of the race, the dynamics for the next election will be tricky for Deputy President William Ruto, who has banked on the close to nine million Mt Kenya votes.
The Ruto political handlers had, over the last three years, targeted Mr Odinga as the hate character in their bid to popularise him within the populous Mt Kenya region.
Political analysts believe that a split in Mt Kenya region will favour an ODM candidate. With Mr Wanjigi coming from the region, whether he will get a slice of Mt Kenya region votes will depend on the political leaders he will sway to his side — and how he will endear himself at the grassroots.
Already, the Mt Kenya region is getting crowded. Those who have shown interest include Speaker Justin Muturi and Murang’a governor Mwangi wa Iria.
Asked how his candidature will be received, especially among Mr Odinga’s supporters in Nyanza, Mr Wanjigi said: “They know me. I’ve been with the ODM leaders and supporters through thick and thin. I’m, therefore, not a stranger within ODM.”
In October last year, when Mr Wanjigi was hosted by Mr Odinga for a fundraiser in Bondo, he challenged the Mt Kenya communities to join ODM and predicted that the political frenzy will fizzle out.
Recruitment of followers
But before he gets the party ticket, the herculean task ahead will be in the recruitment of followers countrywide — and who will pick the delegates to vote in the torchbearer and ODM leadership.
On July 1, ODM started mass recruitment drive for new members and waived the Sh100 registration fee hoping to add more followers to its register and prepare the party for its election of officials and delegates, who will later pick the presidential candidate.
It’s in the battle for delegates that Mr Wanjigi hopes to get the ODM ticket, although it’s not clear if Mr Odinga will seek to stay at the helm of the ODM party or whether he will seek the presidency for the fifth time.
Others who have shown interested in the party ticket include Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya and his Mombasa counterpart Ali Hassan Joho.
During the last general election, Mr Wanjigi played a key role in fundraising and in the election petition that saw the Kenyatta election overturned by the Supreme Court. He was also an insider in the protests that followed the poll boycott, and in laying strategy against Jubilee.
But, sources say, that he was left out during the negotiations for the ‘handshake’ that led to the Building Bridges Initiative. It was the first time he had been locked out of a major political event.
Regarded as a key financier and strategist during Mr Odinga’s last campaign for the presidency, Mr Wanjigi’s candidature will add a new dimension to the 2022 politics given his political and financial muscle.
For Mr Odinga, it will be the first time he will be having a serious challenge within the party, which enjoyed massive support in Nyanza, Coast, Western and Nairobi regions in the last elections. Whether that support, without Mr Odinga, will remain or it will also be up for grabs will be the next puzzle.
Interestingly, there has been little interest in the ODM presidential ticket. In January, when the party asked ODM members interested in the 2022 presidential bid to file their applications, neither Mr Odinga nor Mr Wanjigi sent their bid. Only Mr Joho and Mr Oparanya filed their applications.
If Mr Wanjigi manages to lock Mr Odinga out of the contest, it will be interesting to watch how the election will evolve given his political and business networks in the past 20 years.