Raila does it again as Jubilee implodes

ODM leader Raila Odinga gives President Uhuru Kenyatta a piece of cake as the Opposition chief celebrated his birthday in Mombasa on Monday. [File, Standard]
It can either be by design or by default, but Raila Odinga’s political manouvers have over the years confounded friend and foe.

For yet another moment in his career, events of the past six months have added another interesting chapter in the highlights reel of his political career.

This time last year, Raila’s political influence looked to be waning and pretenders to his throne thought for a moment that there existed a vacuum on the throne of opposition politics.

But, like he has done so many other times, the master tactician reinvented himself and quashed any thoughts of succession within his party.

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On the contrary though, his improbable consolidation of power within opposition politics has had an unfortunate impact on the political composition of the ruling Jubilee Party.

Breaking up coalitions

“He is doing it again,” is the chorus in Central Kenya and Rift Valley as confusion sweeps through their barely two-year-old party.

Whereas political blocks are broken through blood, sweat and tears and sometimes violence, Raila seems to have mastered the art of breaking up coalitions with the least of force.

In March last year, it was a simple handshake between him and President Uhuru Kenyatta that sent shock-waves through the once invincible Jubilee Party.

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Then came the unnerving terms as his relationship with Kenyatta blossomed, leading to the current confusion triggered by the President’s own yes-men, MP Moses Kuria and ex-MP David Murathe.

For Jubilee this may be a crisis moment but for Raila this is another walk down a familiar path. A path that has led to the building up and bringing down of partnerships in equal measure.

The ODM leader honed his skills “with these things” in Ford Kenya, the party that took him to Parliament for the first time in 1992. With the death of his father Jaramogi Oginga in 1994, it did not take long for Ford Kenya to implode from within.

He bolted from the party, founded his own National Development Party (NDP) and left Ford Kenya to die a slow and painful death. The loss of the 1997 presidential race did not dampen his spirit.

While the first runner up, former President Mwai Kibaki, was preoccupied with an electoral petition, Raila was busy cutting a deal with the winner, Kanu’s President Daniel arap Moi.

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Deadliest blow

In 2002, with just months to one of the most definitive elections in Kenya’s history, Raila landed perhaps his cleanest and deadliest blow on the establishment.

He agreed to merge with Kanu in what, on the surface, seemed like a guarantee to power for the independence party.

Unknown to the establishment, Raila had something up his sleeves. He cannibalised Kanu internally, breeding an open rebellion that saw dyed-in-the-wool Kanu figures like Kalonzo Musyoka boot the party to establish Narc coalition that would form the next government.

That Narc bound the aspirations of majority of Kenya’s population at the time was not in doubt for the election proved it. Despite whitewashing the Kanu candidate - Uhuru Kenyatta - Narc soon thereafter dissipated in squabbles that saw everyone abandon it, including President Kibaki in 2007.

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By that time, Raila had formed his own Orange Democratic Movement, where he seems to have settled. Students of history will be sitting at the edge of their seats waiting to find out what Raila’s end game with Jubilee is.

As a statesman, Kenya’s peace and stability remains important to the son of Jaramogi. But deep down he remains a politician who has over the years stayed true to his calling, and politicians are wired to be selfish and always think about themselves, their legacy and strive to attain the highest possible goals. In the Kenyan context, this is the presidency and history has shown that for Raila, this remains his Valhalla, an unattainable Valhalla whose gates he feels have been unfairly slammed on his face after he has got a peep inside.

Raila has oscillated between extreme ends of Kenya’s political spectrum. One day hero, one day villain. One day partner the next day betrayer. But it is within these oscillations that he remains at his best.

His next move another brick in carefully constructed wall of Project Raila. And when this happens, and the construction goes on unabated, the rest of the political class cannot sleep easy.

Already, his dipping his feet into affairs of the ruling party has resulted in unforeseen nightmares. Like so many other times before, Raila Odinga has done it again.

Raila OdingaJubileePresident Uhuru Kenyatta