2023: Defining year for Raila Odinga as tough decisions await

He has kept his next move a closely-guarded secret, promising to give his supporters political "direction" in the New Year.

National Assembly Minority Leader Opiyo Wandayi said, a close ally of Raila, said they are preparing a comprehensive statement on their road map for 2023.

"I will be issuing a comprehensive statement on December 31," Wandayi told The Standard yesterday in regards to the plans they have for next year, including the recent push to create the office of the official leader of opposition.

But despite the assurances to their support base, Raila has a lot of weighty issues on his plate that could light up or dim his political candle in 2023.

In his own Nyanza backyard, the ODM leader is trying to placate growing dissent started by disgruntled former allies keen to eclipse him, and usher a new wave of leadership in a region that has only known Raila as the de-facto leader for decades.

And although he has left his foot soldiers from the region to handle the ripples from his former allies challenging his grip on the region's leadership, Raila appears keen to ensure that his support base is intact.

The Raila critics include former Migori Governor Okoth Obado, former Kisumu Senator Fred Outa, former Kisumu Governor Jack Ranguma, a host of former MPs and former Lake Basin Development Authority Chairman Odoyo Owidi.

Owidi has been vocal on various platforms and has been trying to rally the region to embrace change, and end the dominance of Raila and ODM dominance in the region. It remains to be seen if his efforts will bear fruit.

The group has been buoyed by the entry of Information, Communication and the Digital Economy Cabinet Secretary Eliud Owalo.

Mr Owalo has been on a charm offensive in the region with bags of goodies. The critics have been accompanying Owalo to his activities in the region while using the platforms to criticise Raila's leadership.

Owalo has however avoided politics and any direct attacks on Raila in his forays. He has instead focused his goals on pushing Dr Ruto's interests in the region. He appears keen on driving the development agenda and not not politics.

Should the wave from the critics gather enough momentum, it could create a major headache for Raila as he fights to keep his backyard intact and use it to checkmate the new administration.

Last week, the ODM leader hit out at leaders he claimed were keen to divide Luos and insisted that the region was intact.

"There is no Luo that is this side that didn't come from the other side. Luos from one county are related to Luos from another county," said Raila.

At the national front, Raila is also facing tough decisions that could define the shape and strength of the opposition he has been seeking to craft since he lost the August 9 polls.

These include the strategies he should adopt to strengthen Azimio la Umoja coalition on whose ticket he vied for the presidency. The coalition is slowly crumbling as politicians who were vocal in its activities seek new alliances for political survival.

Some have struck deals with the Ruto administration for plum State jobs even as others craft ways to survive the next five years until elections.

For the ODM leader, the situation has been compounded by the reluctance by some of the coalition's principals in joining his quest to build a strong opposition to challenge Ruto.

There have been reports that former President Uhuru Kenyatta, who is the coalition's chairman, is on the verge of quitting to focus on his peace drives in DRC Congo.

Raila's troops, however, are optimistic that everything is on the right track and have appealed for patience as they plot on how to effectively checkmate the government.

Speaking in Bondo on Christmas Day, Raila's allies led by Siaya Governor James Orengo said that their train is on course and appealed for patience.

They poured scorn on Ruto's performance and believe he has under-performed in his first 100 days in office.

Bondo MP Gideon Ochanda appealed for patience and said that they will give Kenyans clear information on the way forward in regards to the several changes that have taken place.

Ochanda believes some of the changes that the new administration have done including the changes in education is worth being relooked at.

Orengo, claimed the Kenya Kwanza government has indicated signs of oppressing its people instead of helping them.

"The cost of living continues to rise despite the same government promising to lower it as soon as they assumed office. 100 days are over and the government must now live up to the reality," said Orengo.

The governor said that as the Azimio coalition, they are going check in the next coming days if the government will deliver the election promises they made to Kenyans.

Raila is also facing the challenge of either embracing or rejecting the push by Ruto's Kenya Kwanza to establish the position of the official leader of opposition.

The move fronted by Ruto's Kenya Kwanza's brigade appears lucrative to some of Raila's troops while others are not keen to back it over fears it could be a trap to chain their party leader.

Raila has avoided debate on the issue even as some analysts claim it could be the first step to his 'Handshake' with president Ruto. They believe the office could come with benefits that Raila cannot resist.

Yesterday, a senior leader in Raila's fold told The Standard that they are yet to deliberate on the proposals as a party and have not made any substantive decision on it.

"There are a lot of issues that we will discuss including how to strengthen our own ODM party," said the MP.

With the controversies surrounding the four IEBC commissioners who are being probed for alleged misconduct during last August elections, it remains to be seen whether the ODM leader will continue with his fight for the IEBC commissioners.

The ODM leader believes "Cherera Four" are being crucified and considers their probe an act of electoral injustice.

In his Christmas Day speech, the ODM leader appeared keen to continue with what he describes as fight against electoral injustice. His focus shifted on those he deems to be among the major sympathisers to injustice.

Raila who spoke during a Christmas service at Nyamira ACK church in Bondo Siaya County condemned some religious leaders whom he says are out to impress the government at the expense of promoting democratic ideals.

Raila believes some church leaders are part of the problem the country is experiencing and wants them to stick to their role of uniting the country and preaching justice.

"I was saddened to see the leadership of our Anglican church asking the politicians, particularly those in Azimio who had petitioned the elections because of rigging, that they must withdraw the petitions, supposedly, in the interest of unity. Shame!" Raila said.

Raila called on the church to be cautious of political leaders keen to use the church for their own gain.

"The church must not desecrate the pulpit by allowing politicians to use churches for purposes of political agitation. The church should never be used as a political platform. We never go to the churches to play politics," he said.

He expressed optimism that the coming year will be a better one for Kenyans.

[Additional reporting by Olivia Odhiambo and Isaiah Gwengi]