Anxiety as Raila party struggles to find new identity

Opposition leader Raila Odinga with former Molo MP Njenga Mungai who led a delegation of Kikuyu elders from Nakuru County to his Opoda home in Bondo Siaya County on May 11th 2019. [Collins Oduor, Standard]

The identity crisis afflicting former Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) following his handshake with President Uhuru Kenyatta has morphed into a moral dilemma causing schisms within it.

Insiders now say they are struggling to understand the turnaround of their party that has for a decade and half espoused social democratic ethos as well as championed public interest issues.

In the process, the party leadership has turned on each other, accusing each other of failing its membership.

Born of the utterly divisive referendum process of 2005 and having lost lost three successive elections -- all on a controversial note -- some players are now beginning to feel that the party needs a new direction to quench its long suffering but loyal support base.

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In a streak of mishaps, the party has lost two parliamentary seats this year in Ugenya and Wajir West where it was trounced in the by-elections after its candidates’ wins were invalidated by Supreme court.

Early this week, party Vice Chair and Turkana Governor Josephat Nanok switched allegiance to the ruling party’s Deputy President William Ruto’s wing dubbed Tanga Tanga. Nanok went ahead to declare his support for Ruto’s candidature in 2022. On Monday, the former premier was heckled by some demonstrators in Ombeyi village in Muhuroni, Kisumu County in his own backyard.

In the past, it was unheard of for Raila to face any hostile reception in his backyard. There has been back and forth among leaders that the hecklers were paid to cause the melee, claiming that it was not targeted at the party leader.

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Political pundits believe that put together, the events and occurrence show an orange party that is no longer at ease.

Political analyst Herman Manyora is blunt about the situation, saying the mood in the country is that the masses are not with the leadership. “This includes even Raila,” he says.

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Shifting focus

“A lot has happened both in Jubilee and ODM. Definitely, ODM has its focus shifted, and this has happened because of its collaboration with Jubilee, where it thinks certain things they cannot do or question,” faulted Manyora.

He continued:” The ODM leadership sees their latest tactics as being clever but I think they are not clever. The leaders are no longer alive to the concerns of the people.”

A party MP was overheard along the corridors of Parliament telling off the Tanga Tanga wing that “Jubilee stole the elections but they stole their President”. 

This captures the excitement that the some of the legislators in the ODM party have attached to the handshake that is hurting the Raila party, according to Manyora.

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He insists that the party has lost its footing in the country and singled out the silence that followed the successful process of obtaining the third Eurobond.

“The Sh210 billion Euro bond could be something else if ODM was still ODM. The party leadership is not reading the mood of the country. This is because the mood in the country is people are not with the leaders, they believe Raila and ODM sold their soul to Jubilee for promises which might not materialise and even his die hard supporters feel duped as they might not ripe the benefits,” he said.

“ODM argues that this is strategic. If indeed, it is strategic, we hope it will achieve something.”

Apart from the Eurobond, ODM hardly speaks about the dwindling economy and high cost of living, corruption purge among other.

Instead, even with the Parliamentary Budget Office giving an advice that Uhuru Big Four Agenda is unattainable, it has become the ODM party’s daily song, drumming up support for its implementation with no iota of conscience.

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Analysts say the party is ceding grounds and embracing Uhuru’s ideologies by keeping mum even in light of serious concerns which directly contradicts its manifesto for 2013 and 2017 campaigns.

An MP who sought anonymity said that some of the leaders in the party had become bigger Jubilee sycophants than the the ruling party legislators themselves.

“We know some of our colleagues have sold themselves to Jubilee and no longer have their interest in the party. The same leaders purport to be more ODM than others, we know they are being paid by the government to propagate their agenda,” said the MP.

The heckling of Raila, Nanok’s switch of support base and the twin loss in Ugenya and Embakasi South constituencies and the pulling down of their candidate in Wajir West speak of a rebellion within the party support base.

But ODM Secretary General Edwin Sifuna sees nothing wrong with the events and believe that people are jealous of the party and that is why they wish it broken.

“Those talking about the party losing popularity wish that it can actually lose it. We are going strong,” said Sifuna.

Bungled primaries

Sifuna said they will have a National Executive Council next month to deliberate on a number of issues, including the adoption of the Catherine Muma Taskforce Report on what was ailing the party, and the party elections next year.

A month ago, ODM’s National Delegates Conference (NDC) chaired by Raila indicted its leadership for the bungled party primaries which it noted had disenfranchised some of tits ardent members.

The report accused the National Elections Board (NEB) of not having clear guidelines for aspirants and no credible party membership list, forcing NEB to use the 2013 Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) voters’ register. The report gave a harsh verdict and questioned the compilation of the party list and the dispute resolution mechanism among other concerns.

“The greatest vice of ODM is the rigged electoral system for conducting the party primaries,” read part of the report.

Within the party, there are also internal wrangles especially after an audit was done on the 2017 elections and how the primaries were done.

The report noted that party tickets are not dished out on the strength of the candidate but loyal to Raila, party officials and relative.

Kilifi North MP Owen Baya argues that the leadership of the party has been weakening and the party leader must act now to save the ship from sinking.

“Heads must roll if the party is to salvage itself from mismanagement,” said Baya.

ODM Director of Political Affairs Wafula Buke insists that the issues in the party are known and the only solution is to deal with them decisively.

For Buke, crimes have been committed in the party and a shake up is necessary if it wants to regain its composure. “

Next step for the Orange party is to remove some people from the party positions and punish them for their wayward performance,” averred Buke. [Additional reporting by Moses Njagi]

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Raila OdingaODMPresident Uhuru KenyattaRaila Party