It has been a 180-degree turn for NASA leader Raila Odinga in a span of a tumultuous year in which three key events defined Kenyan politics.
From his boycott of the October 2017 repeat presidential election, the January 31 swearing-in to the March 9 “handshake”, Raila clocked half a circle, leaving pundits questioning his next move.
The first event - the boycott of the repeat poll - was the least controversial but turned out quite decisive in the flow of the other two events.
To date, many are still questioning the wisdom and the quality of the advice on boycotting the poll while others have argued it was the only way to save face from a thrashing.
But it was the swearing-in early in the year that broke the camel’s back in NASA.
The full story of what went on before Raila’s triumphal entry into Uhuru Park to take the oath in the absence of his co-principals Kalonzo Musyoka, Musalia Mudavadi and Moses Wetang’ula may never be told.
The event nevertheless turned a new leaf for NASA, leading to a fall-out between its principals. It also birthed the next key event of the year - the handshake between President Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila on the steps of Harambee House 37 days later. To this day, the handshake defines political activity in the country. Its vague nature, broad terms and mystery has not helped as speculation abounds.
“Raila has confirmed that he can reinvent the political will. He has thrown the Kenyan political scene upside down and proved that he is an enigma,” said Dismas Mokua, a political anaylst.
Political players have been sucked into embracing the handshake and are sailing with its winds to wherever it will take them. It complicated matters for Deputy President William Ruto in his succession arithmetic.
But what exactly is Raila up to? Political pundits are still trying to find an explanation for his moves. According to Javas Bigambo, a political analyst, Raila is an enigma was because he believed in himself.
An ODM governor, days after the handshake, confided in the Sunday Standard that Raila could have been jostled into the ‘bromance’ with Uhuru by the fear that his NASA co-principals Kalonzo, Mudavadi and Wetang’ula were on the verge of finalising a deal with Ruto that could have rendered him politically lame.
“This is perhaps the reason Baba (Raila) decided to have a deal with President Kenyatta,” said the governor who sought anonymity.
Those who know Raila argue that he is not a coward and any political deal driven by fear could not have been his main drive.
“He does not fear anyone, he is charismatic and in control of his political game,” says National Assembly Minority Whip Junet Mohamed.
As the son of Opposition doyen Jaramogi Odinga, Raila’s latest move could be a political script borrowed from his father who in the sunset of his political career opted to work with then President Daniel Moi.
For five decades, the Odinga family has been synonymous with opposition politics. Jaramogi, Kenya’s first Vice-President, was shunned by the Kenyatta and Moi regimes for what they deemed Marxist ideology.
Many believe Raila, who did his university education in East Germany, then a strongly communist state, could have been indoctrinated into Marxists principles by his father.
According to the Marxist theory, political and historical events result from the conflict of social forces and are interpretable as a series of contradictions and their solutions.
“I believe sometimes Raila makes moves that even surprise him,” says Bigambo.
What helps the Opposition leader when he makes those moves, Bigambo says, is that he does not go back, he believes in himself and the confidence that comes with every move makes him attractive to his supporters.
When the former Prime Minister took an oath at Uhuru Park, Bigambo doubts whether Raila had any future plans. Similarly, when he had a handshake with Uhuru, he believes it was just a political faith and nothing elaborate was in his mind. “Look at how he is marketing the building bridges, he has owned it and this could help him politically by being seen to promote nationalism,” he says.
The political pundit insists that Raila’s every move is informed by self-preservation.
“He has to ensure that the handshake works because his stakes in politics lies with that decision,” says Bigambo.
But with the handshake, the former premier seems to have lost a junk of his political forte, including the Coast and Western region where his key supporters are squeezing out of his political grip. “Since I cannot reach out for a handshake with Uhuru, I have decided to embrace his deputy William Ruto because I canreach him. In the spirit of handshake, we have agreed to support his development agenda,” said Malindi MP Aisha Jumwa.
Ms Jumwa is among several opposition MPs from the Coast region who have since broken ranks with the ODM party and declared support for Ruto.
Another challenge for Raila is how much his hands will be in government and how the political baggage of Jubilee administration, if any, will affect his political record. “He is a cleaver politician. He will know how far he can go about it and remain unscathed by any political misgivings arising from his association with Jubilee. He can only gain from the arrangement,” says Mokua.
But what more is in Raila’s sleeves? Herman Manyora, a language and communication lecturer at the University of Nairobi, says Raila still has a lot. “He will seek to rearrange the political scene in Kenya. He will seek to discipline the political allies who betrayed him.”