Wycliffe Oparanya, Opiyo Wandayi, Hassan Joho and John Mbadi.
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‘Kanu curse’ now haunts ODM in new Raila replacement push

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From left clockwise: Wycliffe Oparanya, Opiyo Wandayi, Hassan Joho and John Mbadi. Debate about who shall be able to take over the party leader’s position from Raila is causing jostling.

Photo credit: Nation Media Group

Raila Odinga’s bid for the top seat of the African Union Commission is fast becoming a nightmare for his earnest followers, especially the political class.

Where many see the end of an era, others see the opportunity to upgrade their stature and take over the leadership of the Orange Democratic Movement party.

This bid has triggered a lot of jostling and literal pushing of each other to pave way for ambitions that have hitherto been wrapped up well within the political cadres. This shoving is causing loads of tension in both the Azimio la Umoja One Kenya coalition and ODM.

The main cause of it all is just who shall be able to take over the party leader’s position that Odinga holds at the moment. Will the centre hold during this transition period?

Nature abhors a vacuum and the same is true for the ODM party and the Azimio coalition. The space Odinga leaves is pulling many interests and desires. Many senior ODM officials are in the scheming mode in readiness to exploit party elections expected next month to ‘plant their allies’ with an eye on taking over should the former premier succeed in his continental bid.

The newly created ODM National Elections Coordinating Committee chaired by Ms Emily Awita was holed up in a meeting on Tuesday over the planned polls, even as The Weekly Review established a push to have them postponed due to tension in the party.

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

When reached, Awita confirmed attending a meeting but did not divulge further information, promising to speak later. She neither confirmed nor denied any plan to postpone the grassroots polls due to the current succession feud.

Odinga announced that the party elections would begin from the grassroots next month, all the way to the county level and later at the national stage, but with the current feud and mistrust over succession talks, this may not be tenable or the party could resort to consensus which is one of its processes.

“We have dedicated the entire March to conduct membership drives and at the beginning of April, immediately after Ramadhan, we shall conduct party elections,” Odinga told Wajir delegates earlier this month. The elections, he noted, would begin right at the grassroots, in the wards. The fate of the polls now remains unknown.

ODM National Treasurer Timothy Bosire told The Weekly Review that “the relevant party organs are yet to sit and agree on the finer details of the polls”.

This comes amid intense succession wars in the party. Former Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho, together with former Kakamega boss Wycliffe Oparanya, both Odinga’s deputies, are casting their nets wide in a bid to take over the party.

The two got a boost after Odinga endorsed them to take up the role suppose he wins the AUC position, but their celebration was short-lived following massive resistance from a section of leaders from Odinga’s Nyanza backyard.

Already a section of MPs from Nyanza has endorsed National Assembly Minority Leader Opiyo Wandayi, while ODM Secretary-General Edwin Sifuna is also touted for the top post. Political analyst Herman Manyora argues that Joho starts the race ahead of the pack, “thanks to his deep pockets and age”.

Raila Odinga

ODM party leader Raila Odinga (left), during a past meeting with his two deputies Wycliffe Oparanya (second right), Ali Hassan Joho (right), and National Assembly Minority Whip Junet Mohammed.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

“He also has a solid Muslim constituency behind him. His eloquence and youthful demeanor would give Oparanya a scare. If the past is anything to go by, he will easily draw the youthful ODM leaders to his side.

It is for this reason that the only viable alternative to Joho would be the young, combative, eloquent and intelligent party SG, Edwin Sifuna. And Sifuna brings to the table the numerical strength of the Luhya nation, the second most populous community in the country,” says Manyora.

Martin Oloo, another analyst, says ODM is ‘Baba’ (Odinga) and ‘Baba’ is ODM. He warns those fighting to inherit his position to build their brands first. “It does not matter whether you inherit ODM from Baba, you will have to build your own brand. Politicians should endear themselves to the people. Joho and Oparanya should tell us what they have been doing after the elections,” Oloo said.

In Azimio, the clamour for the top coalition post pitying Narc-Kenya leader Martha Karua against Wiper’s Kalonzo Musyoka, who has teamed up with DAP-K leader Eugene Wamalwa, is also posing a huge threat to the unity of the coalition. While Karua has insisted that as the second-in-command in Azimio, having deputised Odinga in the 2022 presidential contest, she is better placed to lead the coalition, Musyoka has accused her of lacking the political stamina to fit into the ODM leader’s shoes.

Azimio la Umoja leaders

Azimio la Umoja leaders (from left) Wiper Party leader Kalonzo Musyoka, ODM Party leader Raila Odinga and Narc Kenya leader Martha Karua  when they held prayers at Jevanjee Gardens, Nairobi on February 22,2023. 

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

“On Azimio leadership, we shall sit down, and there’s hierarchy, even in a Sacco, when chairman is absent who takes the seat? Is it something for debate? Is there controversy? What’s the role of a vice? There are things not meant for argument,” Karua asserted.

While touring Kisii county last week, Musyoka insisted he has what it takes to lead the opposition, having deputised Odinga twice in the 2013 and 2017 elections. However, this prompted a swift response from Karua, who said: “My unsolicited advice to my brother Kalonzo is to focus on marketing himself and leave the decision of who is best to the voters.”

Political analyst Dismas Mokua argues that Karua will have serious challenges in her bid for Azimio leadership since “she has not demonstrated interest or aligned political capital for Azimio leadership role”.

“The Martha effect ahead of the 2022 elections was no more than hot air. Martha cannot create a national wave nor convince voters that she is a serious presidential candidate and she has no capacity to create the band wagon wave that is necessary to face President Ruto.” He noted that while Musyoka has a head start in the Azimio leadership race, he needs to demonstrate capacity and competence to mount a national campaign.

“Musyoka enjoys a national brand recognition and political capital for a presidential race but has not demonstrated his political killer instincts. He needs to display his political appetite for national leadership by causing waves at the national level. Martha has not earned credentials to play in the same league with Kalonzo,” says Mokua.

In ODM, Joho insists that he is one of the leaders who have made great sacrifices for the ODM party, even “putting my life on the line”.

In an apparent reference to Oparanya, Joho noted that some leaders only started coalescing around Odinga after the 2022 elections “due to the current succession issues to win the peoples’ support”.

ODM delegates from Odinga’s Siaya backyard, drawn from all the six sub-counties of Gem, Ugunja, Ugenya, Alego Usonga, Rarieda and Bondo, met last weekend and joined the debate. Siaya Governor James Orengo, a close confidant of Odinga, sensationally said at the meeting that ODM cannot be left to ‘cartels and businessmen’.

“ODM has its ideologies and Raila is known for being a defender of the poor, and we cannot leave the party to be taken over by businessmen and cartels to auction it,” Orengo charged. He insisted that a member of the Luo community must be available to sit on the national negotiations table under ODM party.

“When people are seated on the negotiations table, we shall have a Luhya, a person from Mombasa, a Kikuyu among other communities and some communities having three people on the table, that no Luo is on the table? That’s impossible. It cannot happen,” he said.

Rarieda MP Otiende Amollo expressed fears that the community might face the predicament that followed Ford-Kenya leader Jaramogi Oginga Odinga’s death, when the region lost the party to Western region.

Odinga attempted in vain to wrestle the party leadership from former Vice President Kijana Wamalwa. In the end, Odinga defected to the National Development Party (NDP) and used it as a vehicle to run in the 1997 presidential elections. National Assembly Speaker Moses Wetang’ula is now the Ford-Kenya party leader.

“Now Raila is eyeing Addis Ababa and the fact is that he is going and leaving us as orphans yet in ODM, the largest membership is held by the Luo community. The Luo must have a stake in it. We don’t want to see what happened when Jaramogi left Ford-Kenya and we lost the party. We cannot let ODM also disappear like Ford Kenya,” Dr Amollo told the delegates.

Alego Usonga MP Sam Atandi says ODM belongs to Odinga, insisting that he reserves the right to decide on its future leadership.

“ODM is not a party for you to fight for its soul. It belongs to Raila. I want to urge my colleagues who are angling to lead the party that they are wasting their time. Raila has already indicated to us the person he would like to take over ODM to hold brief for him as he goes to the AU and I want to inform the country that the person is Opiyo Wandayi,” Atandi said at a funeral in Siaya.

Kisumu Central MP Joshua Oron backed Wandayi, the ODM party Director of Political Affairs and Ugunja MP. “Our undisputed leader is Raila but when I got to Parliament two weeks after the election, he gave us Wandayi to lead us in the House. Was that a brilliant idea or not?” he posed. Dr Oron noted that Mr Odinga expressed his confidence in Mr Wandayi by nominating him to lead the entire Azimio brigade in Parliament.

Nyando MP Jared Okello said Wandayi is able to lead the party even as Odinga remains the undisputed party and community leader.

“If there will be any need to have somebody superintend this coalition and our ODM, we shall look at regional representation of ODM, not any other consideration. It is a fact that it is only Luo land that has 100 per cent support for ODM.

“The Luo must present somebody on the negotiating table and at best, chair that table. We have no apologies to make about that. We have our leader, Wandayi, who has steered this ship since we gave him the mantle. Any negotiating table without Wandayi remains null and void and we will not recognise any deliberation that will come out of it,” said Okello.