Eugene Wamalwa.
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Kalonzo Musyoka, Uhuru Kenyatta could ditch Raila Odinga for a new alliance

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From left: Gideon Moi, Kalonzo Musyoka, Uhuru Kenyatta, Peter Munya and Eugene Wamalwa.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

President William Ruto would seem at first glance to be the biggest beneficiary of Raila Odinga’s quest for the African Union Commission chairmanship.

By agreeing to support Raila’s bid – which would otherwise be a non-starter without unstinting backing from his home government – he has effectively eased the way for his honourable retirement from local politics. 

He also neutralised the veteran opposition leader, who now cannot lead the campaign against crippling taxation, the cost of living, the affordable housing levy, runaway corruption and other contentious policies and failings of the Kenya Kwanza government.

He has also managed to scatter the opposition Azimio coalition, which with Raila’s imminent exit, appears leaderless and wracked by internal divisions with key leaders engaging in open feuds as they scramble to fill the void in positioning themselves ahead of the 2027 elections.

The news since Raila confirmed he was gunning for AU Commission leadership has been dominated by manoeuvres over what can be described as the Raila Succession. 

In Raila’s stronghold of Luo politics and the ODM party, the absence of Raila leaves a clear vacuum with no candidates with national profile and presidential campaign prospects having emerged to take up mantle. In the Azimio arena, factional leaders have been repositioning themselves in preparation for a post-Raila scenario.  

ODM lieutenants

The most visible movements so far indicate Wiper Party leader and former Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka ignoring jibes from Raila’s ODM lieutenants to assemble a team that includes former Defence Cabinet Secretary Eugene Wamalwa, former governors Peter Munya (Meru) and Mwangi wa Iria (Murang’a).

Also brought back into the mix is Kanu party leader and former Baringo Senator Gideon Moi, had been on a hiatus from politics since the 2022 elections. 

The picture so far emerging is of an alliance for the 2027 elections taking shape with Kalonzo as the presidential candidate and Wamalwa as running mate, with a Prime Minister slot reserved for the Mt Kenya region, where former President Uhuru Kenyatta could have a major say.

With Narc-Kenya Party leader Martha Karua having failed to bag a sizeable Mt Kenya vote for Raila in 2022 and not having picked up any traction since, and with Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua unable to fill the post-Uhuru leadership vacuum amidst discontent in the region, Uhuru could well have a powerful hand to play in shaping the Azimio ticket.

Where Raila’s ODM fits in this line-up is not clear, but it appears the group is waiting for clear indications on whether he will rally his trips behind Azimio, or switch allegiance to Ruto.

It appears that on the other side of the Azimio divide is Karua and Jubilee Party Secretary-General Jeremiah Kioni, who lead a central Kenya grouping that is believed to enjoy support from Uhuru.

There has been speculation on where Uhuru, who strongly backed Raila’s 2022 presidential bid, stands in the emerging scenario as de facto Azimio patron.

The Weekly Review has confirmed reports that he was considering going for the African Union post after being approached by leaders from the East Africa region and beyond, but was beaten to it once Raila announced his own bid and secured Ruto’s support.

Uhuru, in any case, was hesitant to approach Ruto for backing following their acrimonious fallout after the 2017 elections when he switched support from his deputy to the opposition chief.

The former president, according to extremely well-placed sources in his entourage, was also miffed that Raila had not kept him in the picture about his own bid and the approach to Ruto, which also followed on his discomfort with the veteran opposition leader calling off the post-2022 election campaign of civil disobedience following a meeting which agreed on formation of a dialogue committee. 

There have been reports, mostly attributed to Ruto loyalists, that Uhuru was behind a push to have Azimio reject the National Dialogue Committee recommendations which Raila and Kalonzo, the co-chair, backed. Wamalwa and Kioni, who were in the dialogue team, both rejected the recommendations, as did Karua.

Karua and Kioni were also notable absentees at a meeting in Homa Bay where other Azimio leaders used the occasion to rally round the AU bid, a development Kioni has dismissed as a matter for Raila and his family.

In separate conversations with The Weekly Review on Friday, both Kalonzo and Wamalwa were keen to downplay reports of cracks in Azimio over the race to succeed Raila in the coalition leadership and the 2027 presidential ticket.

Kalonzo – who has long signalled his intention to vie after putting his ambitions on hold in 2013 and 2017 to stand as Raila’s running mate, and then sitting out 2022 to make way for Karua – was emphatic that it is premature to focus on post-Raila alliances as the opposition chief had himself repeated on numerous occasions that he was not abandoning local politics as he gunned for the AU post.

He insisted that Azimio remains united despite media attention on alleged cracks, saying what all had agreed on is that each partner strengthen itself ahead of the race for 2022. He said that is what he was doing with Wiper, as well as with the recent meetings bringing together leaders of the One Kenya Alliance which was the grouping that teamed up with Azimio after Prime CS Musalia Mudavadi and National Assembly Speaker Moses Wetang’ula decamped to Ruto’s side.

He also downplayed perceptions that the opposition had been neutered, saying that even with Raila shifting focus to the AU job campaign, Azimio will be ramping up efforts to the Ruto government on its toes around a host of issues that still need to be addressed, including cost of living, the economy, corruption and tribalism.

He insisted that negative comments about him from ODM stalwarts such as former Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya were no big deal, but just part of the differences of opinion expected in a democratic outfit. He denied accusations that he had ever tried to blackmail Raila for endorsement.   

He deflected a question on whether Raila, as with the 2018 ‘handshake’ with Uhuru, had kept his co-principals in the dark on the AU bid and approaches to Ruto, preferring to emphasise that all Azimio leaders, including Karua and Kioni, had backed the quest with a public statement. 

Kalonzo’s insistence that everything is kosher fly against reality on the ground where shifts and re-alignments based on the post-Raila scenario are very much in evidence. Same with Wamalwa’s assertions that there are no rifts, but rather fresh impetus to keep up the struggle against Kenya Kwanza misrule.

He likened Azimio to a football team where the captain can take a break and hand over the armband to another player, but still be available for their next fixture.

He added that in Raila’s absence, there is a vacuum in Azimio as Kalonzo, Karua, Munya, wa Iria, himself and others are eminently qualified to lead the movement to the next phase, with the principal goal being to “send Zakayo home with his high taxes”.

He made light of Karua’s absence in Homa Bay, explaining that was in a Murang’a court defending a group of people arrested and accused of belonging to the outlawed Mungiki gang while attending innocent ceremonies at a local cultural shrine. 

He insisted that Azimio is intact and set to embark on a series of nationwide political rallies aimed at keeping up pressure the government over a host of issues, including mounting corruption that has made Kenya grey-listed as a ‘wash-wash’ and money-laundering haven.

He also dismissed suggestions that Raila is compromised by dint of needing Ruto’s backing to lobby other African governments for the AU post. 

However, the positive spin from the two Azimio principals cannot hide the fact that the opposition coalition is facing major raptures that may make or break it.

Uncertainty over Raila and ODM commitment to the common cause is telling, while the very visible jostling in preparation for his absence and the leadership vacuum in the populous Mt Kenya region cannot be swept under the carpet.