Raila, Kalonzo and Karua drift apart over their 2027 ambitions

An abortive principals' meeting, public spats and ego trips have cast doubt on whether the Azimio la Umoja-One Kenya coalition will hold ahead of the 2027 General Election.

Events of recent weeks have created the impression of an outfit whose leaders are pulling from different ends, with the succession of Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) leader Raila Odinga as the coalition’s foremost flag bearer taking centre stage.

Last Thursday's abortive coalition meeting is perhaps the biggest indictment on the coalition’s unity as fault lines deepen in the opposition outfit that came short of clinching the presidency in the 2022 polls.

The Sunday Standard has established that Raila was forced to call off the meeting owing to concerns that it would further widen the cracks.

The meeting had been called by Azimio’s National Coalition Executive Committee chairman Wycliffe Oparanya to take stock of the coalition’s status and to quell emerging differences.

“You are hereby notified that the meeting scheduled for tomorrow Thursday 25th January 2024 will not proceed as scheduled," read in part a message sent out to NCEC members.

"The cancellation is occasioned by an overlap of the meeting with ongoing membership recruitment drives by one of our affiliate partners happening in Mombasa this week, where the chairman and other members of the NCEC are actively involved."

But despite the communique, insiders have revealed that the meeting was postponed in light of the escalating tensions and 2027 presidential ambitions in the Raila-Kalonzo-Karua axis.

Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka on January 16 announced that he would be throwing his hat in the presidential contest ring come 2027. Having backed Raila in the last three elections, he is this time seeking assurance from the former premier that he will support his bid.

Kalonzo has already set his presidential bid in motion as evidenced by the party’s recent National Executive Committee meeting during which a strategy to extend his political influence beyond the Ukambani region was mooted.

The former Vice President’s party has also hit the grassroots with mass recruitment of members.

It is, however, his ideological differences with Narc Kenya leader Martha Karua, a constituent member of the Azimio coalition, that have rocked the ship. Their point of departure is a report by the National Dialogue Committee (Nadco) which Kalonzo co-chaired alongside National Assembly Majority Leader Kimani Ichungwáh.

While Kalonzo and Raila are pushing for the implementation of the report as currently drafted, Karua has expressed dissent.

And with her presidential ambitions imminent, Karua is now spearheading her Kamwene Forum in the Mt Kenya region alongside Jubilee party Secretary General Jeremiah Kioni. While maintaining that they are firmly in Azimio, they have championed the forum as an alternative voice for the Mt Kenya region.

This development has however not been welcome by Kalonzo, who now sees it as an impediment to his chances of clinching the 2027 presidential ticket.

“This thing means individualism. It's a terrible political philosophy. I would advise my friends to leave it and we stick together in Azimio," Kalonzo stated during an interview on KTN News.

To which Karua retorted: “What about Kamwene scares my brother Kalonzo Musyoka that he must drag it in every conversation he has?"

The Raila question, on whether he will hang his political boots or take a stab at the presidency for a sixth time, further muddies the 2027 equation for the Azimio co-principals. Raila has remained mum and instead opted to take on President William Ruto's government over its excesses.

Raila is currently on a nationwide ODM members’ recruitment drive. Severally, he has dispelled the notion of infighting in Azimio, yet his focus seems to be solely on the future of ODM. Conspicuous is also the fact that he is rarely accompanied by his co-principals.

Then there is former President Uhuru Kenyatta, Azimio’s patron, who seems to have taken a political backseat since the 2022 elections even as his Jubilee party disintegrates. Supremacy wrangles have split his once monolithic party into two, with one half leaning towards Ruto.

Uhuru only emerged in public last December as he sought to rally opposition leaders to reject the Nadco report. His efforts pointed to a man who was wary of any rapprochement between President Ruto and Raila.

Azimio MPs who spoke to the Sunday Standard now seem to have adopted the all-is-well-that-ends-well approach to the 2027 power plays within Azimio.

Kathiani MP Robert Mbui asserted that there was no split within Azimio and held that each party was out to strengthen itself through activation of political bases.

“There is no split within Azimio. What is happening is competition because each party is jostling for the leadership. That does not mean that we will disagree. Just because you don’t see Kalonzo with Raila does not mean that we are not working together,” said Mbui.

Mobilisation plan

“A strong Wiper party, ODM, DAP-K and Jubilee party means a strong coalition. After mobilisation is when we can unseat Ruto. Without it we will not be strong enough to do so.”

Mbui also spoke to the Raila succession at play, stating that Kalonzo was the rightful successor.

Kioni also dispelled claims of Azimio’s disintegration. He went on to clear up happenings surrounding the abortive Azimio meeting.

“I am only aware of the fact that the activities of the coalition parties were such that they would not have allowed the parties to come together. When you have Jubilee, ODM and Wiper out there, even the other coalitions would want those parties to be part of the meetings and discussions,” said Kioni.

ODM's Caleb Amisi, while reiterating the coalition’s unity, threw a spanner in the works with the revelation that a new coalition could be in the offing ahead of the 2027 polls.

“Our coalition of mind is strong. A group with shared vision and goals can always regroup, restrategise, and rename themselves. It is important that Azimio parties go to the ground to consolidate their bases and come back energised and form a new movement,” said Amisi.

“The formation of a new coalition that will be used to unseat Ruto come 2027 is in the works,” he added.

His sentiments were similar to those by National Assembly Minority Leader Opiyo Wandayi who, during a recent media interview, foretold of a new coalition.

“The political landscape is changing. There will be political alignments and realignments between now and the 2027 elections. Azimio could evolve into a bigger movement, which could be named something else,” said Opiyo.