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I will keep the fire burning, Raila Odinga tells Nyanza backyard

ODM leader Raila Odinga at the burial of elder Peter Nyangaga Akoth in Seme Kisumu county on October 29, 2022. [Collins Oduor, Standard]

To Nyanza and Western, he remains the ultimate hero and the jigsaw of the region’s political and economic future that faces an intricate maze of uncertainty.

And at a time when some had started writing him off after his recent election loss, ODM leader Raila Odinga is rolling up his sleeves to prove critics wrong.

Backed by a loyal base of supporters, the Azimio la Umoja leader is back and rejuvenated.

Like the proverbial cat with nine lives, Raila’s political career has defied many odds. His ardent supporters say he is politically strong when he appears wounded. And now, his recent political moves have rejuvenated his backyard. 

Nicknamed “Agwambo” and an ‘enigma’, Raila who is known to pull surprises, could be working on a plan to remain dominant, observers say. 

His allies believe by retaining his traditional bases, Raila will effectively put President William Ruto’s administration in check.

In the past two days, the ODM leader has pitched tent in his Nyanza with a message that he is strong and will continue with the fight, urging his loyal base to remain steadfast and united. He returned to the country on Friday after a 10-day visit abroad.

Yesterday, crowds cheered him in Seme during a burial of a local elder when he posed the question of whether he should continue his political journey or retire.

“If you ask me to continue, I will continue,” said a fired up Raila. Keen to keep his allies intact, Raila appealed to his foot soldiers not to join Ruto’s government.

The ODM leader believes his troops can perform even if they are not part of the national government and argues that county governments are enough to serve wananchi.

Guarded secret

He also appeared to rule out any chances of working with the new administration although he has kept his next political steps a guarded secret.

“We cannot be blackmailed to join the government. Nobody should tell you to join government to get development,” said Raila. This comes when a number of his former foot soldiers have shifted allegiance to the new administration.

Among those that have already shown interest in working with Ruto are former Nairobi Governor Evans Kidero, former MPs Olago Aluoch (Kisumu West), former Kisumu Senator Fred Outa and Ugenya MP David Ochieng among others. 

In Gusii region, the ODM leader has lost a number of allies, including former Kisii Governor James Ongwae who was a major force in mobilizing support for him.

Although nearly all of them have missed out on plum State jobs, Raila is keen to ensure more allies do not leave his fold to join the national government.

Yesterday, the ODM leader urged the leaders to focus on the counties, arguing that county governments are also governments and can accommodate the interests of the people.

“We have two levels of government, counties and national, and they level complement each other and so anyone leading a county is already in government, so which government do they want you to join?” posed Raila.

Devolved funds

He threatened to rally his troops not to pay taxes in the event the national government opts to frustrate counties by failing to remit to them funds in time. 

The former premier’s comments, however, are likely to stir fresh debate on whether his strongholds should reject overtures from Kenya Kwanza leaders. Among leaders who accompanied Raila to the burial were Governors Anyang’ Nyong’o (Kisumu), Ochillo Ayacko (Migori) and James Orengo of Siaya, MPs Otiende Amollo (Rarieda), Joshua Oron (Kisumu Central), Aduma Owuor (Nyakach) and Ruth Odinga (Kisumu Woman Rep).

Orengo claimed that success in the implementation of devolution will be vital in transforming the region and urged Raila’s allies to remain steadfast with him.

“Let us not let Raila down. We must use the county funds properly so that our people can see the difference,” said Orengo.

Meanwhile, Sunday Standard has established that the ODM leader is crafting a strategy to ensure his support base remains intact.  

Top on the list is strengthening ODM. Yesterday, sources in ODM told Sunday Standard that as parts of Raila’s efforts to breathe a fresh life into his political future, he could overhaul the Orange party.

“The party leader is keen to ensure the party remains the force to reckon with in the country’s politics, and we will be unveiling our plans soon,” said a senior party official.

Second liberation

For the first time since his election loss in August, Raila has seemingly turned to his old friends and liberation heroes who were with him in the dugout during the battle for second liberation and have also been vital in shaping his political career.

The leaders include Governor James Orengo (Siaya) and Kisumu’s Anyang’ Nyong’o. The leaders claim that Raila’s stature in the region’s politics remains unshaken and that they are keen to ensure they keep the government in check.

Yesterday, Orengo challenged Raila’s troops to ensure devolution works. “Our people are strong and support Raila sincerely. It is true that we are waiting for directions from Raila, but we must talk,” said Orengo. 

Orengo claimed the country could still push for change now and make Raila’s presidency a reality, arguing that Ruto’s administration has already failed. “If we want change. We can have it now,” said Orengo.

Two days ago, Raila sent tongues wagging when he said he would unleash a bombshell in coming days. He said he would release the bombshell ‘at an appropriate time’.

Governors Nyong’o and Ayacko claimed the region is behind Raila and believes his course to transform the country is still on.

“I am a loyal follower of former Prime Minister Raila Odinga and whatever he says is final. The entire Migori community is firmly behind Raila,” said Ochillo.

Yesterday, Raila’s foot soldiers claimed the ODM leader is back. They claimed even though they were waiting for his direction, they are certain his acumen is intact.

MPs Otiende Amollo (Rarieda), Aduma Owuor (Nyakach), Joshua Oron (Kisumu), Ruth Odinga (Kisumu Woman Rep) and Mathews Owili (Kisumu Deputy Governor) claimed Raila’s political future remains bright.

Aduma claimed Raila had demonstrated he is strong even when he is not in government.

Kisumu Deputy Governor, who broke into tears during the Mashujaa day celebrations in Kisumu more than a week ago at the mention of Raila’s name, yesterday claimed Kenyans are firmly behind the ODM chief.

“We are waiting, watching your steps, watching your lips. In our eyes as Kenyans, you remain our hero,” said Owili.

Speaking separately, a number of allies of Raila from Homa Bay also claimed their leader remains unshaken. Rangwe MP Dr Lilian Gogo said Raila is the father of good governance and justice in Kenya.

Story by Harold Odhiambo, Olivia Odhiambo and James Omoro