Winnie Odinga: Will she inherit her father's Luo Nyanza backyard?
The Election of Winnie Odinga to the East African Legislative Assembly (Eala) has thrust her into active politics and effectively placed her at the heart of her father’s succession in Luo Nyanza politics.
The election to the Arusha-based assembly makes her the first child of the Mr Raila Odinga to join elective politics at a time when the political future of the former Prime Minister – who has strode the country’s political scene for decades – remains a subject.
Although there are other members of the Odinga family in elective politics, analysts say her election was a deliberate effort by Mr Odinga to start grooming to take over the mantle.
Mr Odinga’s elder brother Oburu Odinga is currently serving as Siaya senator, with his sister Ruth Odinga serving as Kisumu woman rep. They are seen as not ambitious enough to take over the family’s political mantle.
Seen as her father’s confidant and close operative in major political moves, her successful campaign among MPs in both the Senate and the National Assembly to win the competitive seat is likely to elevate her to near-same level as key political players in the Luo Nyanza region.
This, analysts say, would provide her with a political springboard for higher elective positions in future.
It could also see her displace other political operatives who have, for a long time, enjoyed direct access to Mr Odinga and used him to win seats.
Critics, however, observe that it would require a lot of grooming for Winnie to be accepted in her father’s political base. Perception that she is divisive, arrogant and protective of her father could also work against her, analysts observe. Her modus operandi rattled many allies of his father during the campaigns for the August 9 election, but she has defended herself against these accusations.
Some also say that the Eala seat does not resonate with many Kenyans, hence not strategic enough for local politics. But ODM politicians believe she is a great politician and could grow into a more influential figure.
For his part, political analyst Macharia Munene says: “There is nothing unusual about Raila making sure that his daughter Winnie gets something. The bigger question is if he is trying to groom her to take over from him and if she will be accepted, first by Luo Nyanza and the country.
“It is apparent that he is making Winnie his heir apparent by giving her exposure through the Eala platform. She is being prepared to be accepted by the Luo support base.”
Prof Munene says the success of project Winnie will only be successful if she capitalises on the Eala platform to connect more with his father’s support base.
In a recent media interview, Winnie insisted that her nomination for Eala was not because of his father’s name but something she rightfully deserves based on her leadership ability. She, however, admitted that the Odinga name has opened many doors for her.
It has also landed her in trouble, she said. “The name Odinga has got me many things…it has got me into trouble, abused, blamed for many things and persecuted. It has also been a blessing and it is a name that I emphatically am proud of and defend, but it does not define Winnie.”
Lawmakers elected on the Odinga-led ODM told Sunday Nation that Winnie has a great potential of being a great leader in the country. T
hey say she should not be vilified for being Mr Odinga’s daughter but judged on her leadership qualifications.
“As a Kenyan citizen, Winnie has all the rights to seek elective positions just like anyone else. We are very proud of her for the excellent performance in her first attempt,” says National Assembly Minority Leader Opiyo Wandayi.
Nyando MP Jared Okello says it is too early for one to start talking about Mr Odinga’s succession. He says Mr Odinga remains the undisputed leader to steer the region politically and those who want to inherit his support base will have to square off when the time comes just like Mr Odinga and Siaya Governor James Orengo did when Jaramogi Oginga Odinga exited the political scene.
“I think she qualifies to be in Arusha; she has what it takes to champion the interest of the country and it has definitely pushed her to active politics. It is a good platform to hone her political interest and skills.”
Mr Okello says that it is against Luo culture for one to start talking about inheritance when the person is still alive. “Raila is still around and would continue directing Luo politics. When that time comes, she will have to square it out with other politicians just like Orengo and Raila did.”
Vihiga Senator Godfrey Osotsi says Winnie stands a good chance of playing a bigger political role in future if she stays focused. “Winnie has a right to exercise her political interest and should not be intimidated because of her biological link to Raila Odinga.”
Eala not strategic enough
Political analyst Javas Bigambo says the Eala seat may be strategic enough to make her popular with Luo Nyanza.
He says it would have been more strategic if she was nominated to the Senate or the National Assembly to make her connect more with local voters. He gives the example of Kennedy Musyoka, son of Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka, who has been in Eala in the last assembly but has not “made any political capital out of it”.
“Raila appears to appreciate that he is approaching his sunset years in active politics and he is preparing a possible successor. But Eala will not grant her the platform that can resonate with voters in Kenya,” says Mr Bigambo, describing it as an ambitious attempt that may not yield much.
He argued that as much as Winnie has been involved in his father’s campaigns, she does not connect with the rural folk that forms the largest support base of his father.
“It would be overambitious for him to imagine that Winnie can be the next big thing in Luo Nyanza. She is not the right person to take up Raila’s political capital because he has not identified well with the Luo voters. She identifies more with voters in the capital city.
Prof X.N Iraki of the University of Nairobi says her success in inheriting his father’s support base would depend on her political skills and if another heir to Odinga will emerge.
But Politician Odoyo Owidi, who has teamed up with former Nairobi Governor Evans Kidero and other poll losers in Nyanza to fight Mr Odinga, says the plan will backfire as the region was not ready to be led by another Odinga.
“History is littered with stories of families who tried to create monarchies where erstwhile there was none and the results were disastrous. We know Raila Odinga has been trying to create a hero out of Winnie,” says Mr Owidi.
“He has placed exactly everyone in his family in a position of leadership or employment using the party powers without any sense of guilt as would be expected from a person set to seek the people’s support in future. Unfortunately for her, the old tricks can no longer work.”