Opposition leader Raila Odinga strolls into the New Year with a heavy bag of political secrets and tricks all relating to the 2022 presidential election.
Four times he has contested the country’s top seat and lost. On three occasions he has come too close to give up after painstakingly convincing friend and foe to back him.
Thrice he has entered into partnership with the winners and only once while out his time.
More than ever before, a fifth stab is tempting but also confounding him so much so that for the first time in as many years, he has had to come out to deny any interest. Still, no one wants to believe him.
The choice of the words, their place of saying, circumstances obtaining in the country and the reaction of his support base have created a new wave of political discourse on the extent of his political utility ahead of 2022.
“I have never said I want to run for presidency in 2022. I have not said it and I will never say it, so I want those people to give me a break, I am not a candidate,” Raila said in Bondo on Christmas Day.
But only three days later, his running mate in 2013 and 2017 General Election has come out to say, that ideally he ought not to preoccupy himself with what is an otherwise settled matter.
Speaking to Saturday Standard at his Karen home yesterday, Kalonzo Musyoka said the MoU between National Super Alliance (NASA) affiliate parties settled the matter of 2022 and no changes have been registered thus far.
“Having supported Raila twice, and having ran once against his four tries, every Kenyan will be expecting me on the ballot. It is obvious and we will be planning to give it our best shot,” Kalonzo said.
Asked what he would advice Raila with regard to 2022, he added: “I do not think I can advise him at this point. What I can tell you is that he’s a very charismatic person, but it is very difficult to get into the real Raila...there are a number of them.”
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He acknowledged “serious disagreements” between him and Raila in the past, blamed the coterie hanging on his coattails but vowed they will work together ahead of 2022.
“We conversed last night and we agreed that we will meet in the New Year and work together within the NASA arrangement to actualise our vision for the country,” Kalonzo said.
Raila’s ex-ally, Deputy President William Ruto is least likely to believe in his 2022 talk. A day after Raila came out, Ruto’s allies accused him of attempting to confuse the country
The former PM’s statement that “we will deal with some of these issues when the right time comes” also appeared to have let the cat out of the bag.
So are the remarks by his henchmen such as his brother Oburu Odinga and Siaya Senator James Orengo.
Interviews with a number of political observers indicate that Raila could be rebranding himself from the confrontational force-it type to a state-manly kind of politician.
Previously, he earned the ticket through a mix of political skullduggery, intimidation and brokerage, but a new him hopes to earn it on higher values of respect, reconciliation and peace.
“The political landscape has completely changed and it cannot be business as usual. Raila could be trying to rebrand himself as a candidate who is not confrontational,” says Mark Bichachi, a writer and columnist.
He argues that whether Raila contests in 2022 or not, he knows that he remains in a prime position to influence the next leadership and therefore be relevant in Kenyan politics for several years.
And then there is the issue of referendum which could save the day for him. From President Uhuru Kenyatta’s pronouncements in Kisumu two weeks ago, it is a given that a referendum to restructure the political architecture of the country is in the offing.
“In a parliamentary system, he may not have to be a candidate, he just needs to be the leader of his party and ensures that his party wins majority seats for him to become a prime minister,” Bichachi says.
Raila’s foot soldiers appear to be cheering him on. Besides Oburu and Orengo, others include nominated Senator Rose Nyamunga, MPs Sam Atandi (Alego), Jared Okello (Nyando) and Opiyo Wandayi (Ugunja).
According to them, the presidency comes from the people and they are the ones who will decide whether they want Raila as a president or not.
“Personally, I believe, the people of Kenya are the ones who will decide. We are the ones who want Raila to be our president and we will want him to be in a position where he wields enough power to achieve the goals he has always had for the country,” Mr Atandi said.
Raila’s lieutenants also believe that he is the best bet for the presidency as they restated recently during the Ndhiwa Sports and Cultural Festival presided over by Odinga himself.
“We need an ODM candidate to win presidency of this country in 2022 general election but we cannot go for that election without Raila as the presidential candidate,” Homa Bay Town MP Peter Kaluma said.
Oburu argued that it is wrong for anybody to argue that Raila should stop contesting the presidency because of his old age.
He said that age could not deter Raila from winning the presidency and leading Kenya.
“Some people say that Raila is old. This is untrue because I am still young yet Raila is my follower,” Oburu said.
But Kalonzo says the problem with Raila is listening to people around him who are incapable of making objective decisions on his affairs due to their self-interests.
Others think that Raila’s stand is meant to dilute the succession politics that risks interfering with service delivery to the people.
Tom Mboya, a political analyst at Maseno University says it is important to stop premature campaigns.
“Citizens are not getting the services they deserve and the move by Raila is commendable.
“Devolution is not working the way it should be and those are some of the issues that should be addressed,” he said.