Raila keeps his cards close to chest on next political move

Azimio la Umoja leader Raila Odinga speaks at the Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Foundation Offices in Upperhill on  August 14, 2023. [Emmanuel Wanson, Standard]

Opposition leader Raila Odinga is keeping his cards close to his chest over his plans for tackling President William Ruto and the shaky bipartisan talks.

On Saturday, the former prime minister said his Azimio la Umoja-One Kenya coalition had collected more than 10 million signatures in its anti-government drive, promising to reveal the next course of action even as he gave a poor rating of President Ruto’s first year in office.

Raila did not outrightly rule out street protests to force the government to lower the cost of living, putting off an announcement on their next move for a later date. He said he did not want to pre-empt Azimio’s plans.

“The signatures are enough and we know how we will use them. We won’t be asking Kenyans to go back to the streets and if they do, they will be doing so for other reasons... Our people are talking with the other side, but watch this space,” Raila said at the Stephen Kalonzo Musyoka command centre in Nairobi yesterday.

On Friday, Azimio held a crisis meeting that also highlighted the ongoing talks led by Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka and National Assembly Majority Leader Kimani Ichung’wa, amid pressure from both sides to call off the talks.

‘Objective analysis’

Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua has been pushing to stall the talks for what observers read as fears he may end up sidelined with Azimio lawmakers calling for the same, especially in the wake of the hike in fuel costs. 

The opposition coalition suspended its demonstrations following a truce brokered by former Nigeria’s President Olusegun Obasanjo.

Azimio also made a presentation on President Ruto’s one-year scorecard, scoring his performance at 30 per cent “D minus”. The opposition chief said the score was a result of an “objective analysis” by experts in different fields.

“The donkey is no longer tired. The donkey has collapsed under the increased weight of the cost of living,” he said.

Raila berated Ruto for going back on his campaign promises, playing deaf to concerns by Kenyans such as unemployment and the runaway cost of living.

He accused the President of mismanaging various sectors, and planned to tame resistance by capturing key institutions. Among the institutions he said were subservient to Ruto were the Judiciary, Parliament and the the Francis Atwoli-led Central Organisation of Trade Unions (Cotu). He alleged a grand plan to entrench corruption deeper in his administration.

“The regime is taking over devolved functions such as housing and agriculture, supplying fertiliser, a county function, because of corruption. They are only after financial benefit. You have also seen them threaten businessmen with deportation, arrest and a trip to heaven. No person who refers to themselves as president can utter those words,” Raila added.

He also said the Kenya Kwanza regime had failed in the infrastructure sector, accusing them of wasting funds to unveil projects initiated by former President Uhuru Kenyatta.

Earlier, members of Azimio’s thinktank presented a 37-page assessment of Ruto’s performance across all sectors, comparing it to the president’s promises on the campaign trail.

The coalition prioritised the ailing economy, which they said had grown worse since Ruto assumed office.

“It has been difficult, dismal and disastrous,” said former Laikipia Governor Ndiritu Muriithi, whose presentation focused on cost of living, Kenya’s ballooning debt amid higher taxes and the shilling’s free fall.

He warned things would get worse following the slow growth of the economy and high interest rates that were driving micro and small enterprises out of business.

“The economy expanded by 5.2 per cent during the second quarter of 2022 compared to 11 per cent growth in the corresponding quarter of 2021... growth has flatlined. It is a fiction that you can get more taxes in such an economy,” Ndiritu added, pointing out the high rise in food and commodity prices since last year.

He noted that vegetable costs had gone down last month, attributing that to the heavy long rains.

But he cautioned that increased borrowing for sectors such as education was a sign of tough times ahead.

Former Nyeri Deputy Governor Caroline Karugu presented on the social pillar, faulting the government for mismanaging education and health sectors.

Exam leakages

She said examination leakages were re-emerging, terming last year’s national secondary school exams the worst managed, a conclusion she said was also reached by Parliament. 

Karugu also claimed the government had messed up implementation of the Competency-Based Curriculum (CBC).

“The government should be focusing on policy and resourcing for the CBC instead of reasearch that was already done before the roll out,” she said.

On health, Karugu said Kenya Kwanza was clawing back on gains of devolution by underfunding the sector. She also noted the re-emergence of corruption scandals across the several sectors.

The assessment also touched on housing, water, agriculture and the environment, a presentation issued by former Planning PS Saitoti Torome.

He faulted the government’s housing plan as unrealistic, saying Kenyans who pay the housing tax would not benefit.

“The government plans to generate Sh73 billion from the housing tax and wants to construct 250,000 houses per year. That translates to a unit cost of Sh292,000. What house can that amount build? A two-bedroom house roughly costs 1.5 million. They will be lucky to construct 50,000 houses,” he said, even as he chided the president for wastage of public resources.

“They are using helicopters to launch water taps,” he added.

Raila’s lawyer Paul Mwangi presented on the government’s abuse of laws, stating that Kenya Kwanza had performed “below par” on all aspects touching on Article 10 of the Constitution that touches on national values and principles of governance.

“We have seen the return of political arrests and intimidations,” Mwangi said over the the arrest of opposition figures during the anti-government protests.

“This has been the most brutal reaction we have faced. More than 70 people have died in the demos, the most we have lost in our 10 years of demonstrations,” he added, stating that the future looked bleak, especially in the face of the unbearable cost of living.

Mwangi also highlighted the apparent corruption in government, accusing Ruto of hiring corrupt officials and also seeking to entrench imperialism through the power of mercy. He said Azimio would move to court to challenge the president’s power to pardon convicts.

“Kenyans need to have courage and vigilance because we are about to embark on the most brutal era,” Mwangi said.