Will it be ‘fifth time lucky’ for Raila in 2022 election?

Orange Democratic Movement leader Raila Odinga during the party's National Executive Committee meeting at Stoni Athi in Machakos County on September 25, 2020. 

Photo credit: Pool

What you need to know:

  • With just 678 days to the August 2022 polls, Mr Odinga’s campaign lacks the energy that he has previously been known for.
  • ODM Secretary-General Edwin Sifuna says that, the party is revamping ahead of their “grand match to State House in 2022”.

Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) party leader Raila Odinga, who turns 76 in January, is said to have one last shot at the elusive State House seat with 2022 likely to be his final attempt after four so-close-yet-so-far tries. 

With just 678 days to the August 2022 polls, Mr Odinga’s campaign lacks the energy that he has previously been known for.

Meanwhile, his chief opponent — were he to run — Deputy President William Ruto and other would-be contenders have hit the ground running.

At a similar time in the run-up to the 2017 poll, Mr Odinga had a strong coalition behind him — the Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (Cord) — which later became the National Super Alliance (Nasa), seven months to the polls. Fast forward to 2020, and Mr Odinga has not only seen his Nasa house crumble, but has also avoided any talk of 2022, insisting that the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) with President Kenyatta was not about the latter’s succession.

For Mr Odinga, his 2022 chances, it seems, almost entirely depend on the President’s goodwill and support. This comes with the baggage of a lame-duck presidency and talk of the “system” being behind his bid, in stark contrast of the Odinga of 2007, 2013 and 2017 when he had set himself apart as the indefatigable defender of the downtrodden, the champion of truth, and the unrelenting anti-corruption crusader.

Today, these qualities are constantly being put to the test by the Handshake deal, where the former prime minister has become the chief defender of President Kenyatta’s government.

Political capital

But even with these weighing him down, political analyst Dismas Mokua argues the politicians “neither have sufficient nor necessary political capital to influence Raila’s political outcomes in 2022.” Still, he admits, Mr Odinga has been burning bridges within Nasa while building new ones under the BBI.

“Nothing stops him from building Nasa bridges ahead of 2022. Politicians run on selfish interests, and we will have new coalitions once their selfish interests merge,” Mr Mokua adds.

His fights with the DP, political analysts believe, is also detrimental to his quest for the top seat as it further creates unnecessary rifts, exposing him to more political foes as the clock ticks towards 2022.

His criticism of the DP’s “hustler” slogan when he donates goodies to youths and churches does not also augur well with the poor who see the DP’s approach as a kind gesture.

Mr Odinga’s allies, including his former aides and lieutenants, have also decamped to the DP’s side as he continues to drum up support for the plebiscite, which the DP staunchly opposes.

Mr Odinga’s former campaign strategist Eliud Owalo, his former chief of staff Caroli Omondi, former senators Johnson Muthama (Machakos), Hassan Omar (Mombasa) and Boni Khalwale (Kakamega) are among those now working with the DP.

The ODM leader relies on his deal with the President even as he lays plans to revitalise his party and reach out to new partners.

But whether this leads to the implementation of the BBI’s nine-point agenda, chief among them the expansion of the executive,  and is enough to rally his political base, remains to be seen.

During ODM’s National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting in Machakos on Saturday, Mr Odinga exuded confidence that the party would triumph.

“The good news is, we have defeated these forces before. I promise you, we will defeat them again,” he said, adding that the party will forge new alliances and strengthen existing ones.

Political analyst Moses Mukhwana argues that Mr Odinga’s main strategy is the BBI, which, he notes, remains ambiguous because its contents have not been made public.

“The Handshake is a strange creature. If we say it’s the basis of Raila’s political strategy, we must see it in that context. BBI was birthed between the two gentlemen (President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga) and to date, nobody knows what the agreement was,” Mr Mukhwana says.

His opinion is shared by Prof Hezron Mugambi.

Have a chance

“Raila and his ambition for 2022 entirely depends on the BBI. If he pushes this through, then he will have a more focused attempt. This is why Dr Ruto is opposing the BBI,” the don said.

The DP, he says, has to win if at all he is to have a chance.

“It’s a must win for both Raila and Ruto in the pre-poll political duel that is the BBI referendum,” he added.

Mr Mukhwana also cites Mr Odinga’s failure to keep his political friends dating back to the 90s as his main undoing, which has always punctured his presidential ambition.

Most of the men and women who almost propelled ODM to government are no longer with the ODM leader. They include Musalia Mudavadi (now ANC leader), Najib Balala (now in Jubilee), Charity Ngilu (Narc) and Joe Nyagah, who no longer has political ambitions.

It means that, in every new poll, he has additional adversaries. This is detrimental to his quest: “Raila Odinga’s problems every new election increase because he is unable keep his allies.”

Mr Mukhwana advised Mr Odinga to tread carefully on the BBI:“What will BBI portend for Raila? What is in it for Uhuru because politicians are always ‘me first, community and country second and third’ in that order.”

Risk of unravelling

“This strategy is at risk of unravelling completely because Kenyans are not aware of the contents of the BBI, yet Raila has continued to criticise those opposing it on the basis that it has not been made public,” Mr Mukhwana said. He cautioned Mr Odinga against over-reliance on his deal with the President.

“What if Uhuru chooses to do a Kibaki and leaves without actively cajoling his Agikuyu community to vote for Raila? Where will that leave him? What if they (Kikuyu) insist on fielding a presidential candidate as a condition of carrying on with the BBI? Where will Raila go?” Mr Mukhwana posed.

He argued that this exposed Mr Odinga’s strategy as unreliable.

He cautioned that the recent meeting by a group of leaders from Mount Kenya region, where they stated that they would not go for anything less than the presidential slot, should not be taken with a “pinch of salt by Mr Odinga’s camp.”

Mr Odinga, he says, needs to shift his strategy from an anti-corruption crusader by accusing DP Ruto since “Kemsa happened during his cordial working relationship with the President and Ruto was elbowed out. “

“There is now a feeling that DP William Ruto was just a scapegoat on corruption matters.”

ODM Secretary-General Edwin Sifuna says that, the party is revamping ahead of their “grand match to State House in 2022”.

According to Mr Sifuna, their main agenda at the moment is “the implementation of the BBI report”.