Focus on Kalonzo as Raila eyes UA top job

Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Alliance Co Principal Kalonzo Musyoka during an exclusive interview with The Standard. [Ndungu Gachane, Standard]

How Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka will benefit if ODM leader Raila Odinga exits the local political scene should he win the AU Commission chairperson’s job is the question on the lips of many.

The Azimio coalition has lately been reorganizing itself in preparation for the 2027 presidential election in its bid to dislodge President William Ruto who has declared he will seek a second term.

There have been fears that the opposition coalition is falling apart due to differences between its leaders, who also include Narc Kenya boss Martha Karua.

As the opposition coalition prepares itself, the other nagging question among its supporters is whether Raila will be giving the presidency another shot in 2027 and if Kalonzo will support him for a fourth time. The Wiper leader has supported Raila in the last three presidential elections. They did not win any.

Those in Kalonzo’s camp are pushing him to go for the presidency in the coming elections, whether Raila contests or not. They have warned that backing Raila again will not be a welcome idea.

“If Kalonzo decides to back Raila again, then he will face serious difficulties convincing the Kamba community and his supporters, including myself, to vote for him. I don’t see it happening because his support base will most certainly revolt,” says Kitui senator Enoch Wambua. 

Wambua said for the opposition to appeal to the masses in the next elections, it needs serious rebranding and a fresh look.

This thinking is shared by Makueni governor Mutula Kilonzo Junior who has advised Kalonzo to go flat out to rebuild himself to appeal to Kenyans without necessarily waiting for Raila to endorse him.

Mutula Jnr however notes that the ODM leader, who has benefitted from Kalonzo’s support in three elections, must now find it within his conscience to do what is right - support Kalonzo.

Supported Raila

“Kalonzo and Wiper support base supported Raila unconditionally. How they treat Kalonzo will ultimately have a bearing on Raila. If he can’t keep his word, why should Kenyans entrust him with a whole country?” said the governor, who insisted that the Wiper leader is the best bet to lead the opposition and take on President Ruto in 2027.

He however wants Kalonzo to be his own man and quickly walk out of Raila’s shadow even as they strengthen Azimio.

“Kalonzo must extricate himself from the notion that he must be endorsed by Raila to win an election. Raila’s supporters in ODM have made it look like Kalonzo needs Raila more than Raila needs him. That is not the case,” says Mutula Jnr.

So how should Kalonzo play his cards if Odinga wins the AU commission’s top job and exits the country’s political space?

Some feel this scenario technically gives Kalonzo a through-pass and an opportunity to show his political prowess and ability to solidify the opposition in its quest to take over political power. Others say if Kalonzo manages to steer the Azimio coalition and make his bid attractive to Kenyans, then Odinga will have no choice but to throw his weight behind him. They say Raila will only support Kalonzo if the former VP manages to solidify the opposition and rally Kenyans to support his quest for top leadership.

A week ago, during the burial ceremony of Kalonzo’s brother-in-law at Ikutha, in Kitui County, Raila said Kenyans should not cry because of his absence when Kalonzo is around.

Small break

“Sometimes back, I took a small break and when I came back people were telling me; ‘baba while you were away’ this and that happened. That should not be the case because Kalonzo is here and he can also steer our team,” Odinga said, in what some interpreted to mean Raila wants Kalonzo to step out and prove his political worth before winning his support.

Wambua says to give Azimio a fresh look, a rearrangement needs to be done as soon as possible, with DAP party leader Eugene Wamalwa deputizing Kalonzo but still with Odinga backing them up.

To others, Kalonzo needs to aggressively push for the implementation of the National Dialogue Committee (NADCO) report that proposes, among other things, the creation of the position of opposition leader which he should take over to build himself ahead of the next elections.

Should the report’s recommendations be adopted, they say, Kalonzo who is the second senior-most politician in the opposition coalition stands a better chance to occupy that position, thus giving him a chance to build himself.

However, some say the AU post cannot quench Odinga’s thirst for presidency. They say even if he lands the position, the opposition leader is likely to quit when it is convenient for him and storm back, probably sometime in 2026 with his signature rallying call of “Aaaayah …. kumepambauka (hey hey, the dawn is finally here…” and declare his interest in the presidency.

Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka, Siaya Senator Oburu Odinga and Opposition Chief Raila Odinga in Bondo during the thanksgiving ceremony for Oburu on Otober 15, 2023. [Michael Mute, Standard]

Those who hold this view accuse Raila of feeling entitled to the presidency. They said the ODM leader has mastered the art of political acrobatics, betraying allies while looking them straight in the eye. They also say Raila will ‘politically reactivate’ to resuscitate his political orphans, particularly in ODM, who need to ride on ‘Raila wave’ to win political seats.

Kilonzo Jnr argues that Odinga’s possible AU posting is not an automatic transfer of his support base to Kalonzo. “His body language and pronouncements indicate that he will run for the presidency again,” Mutula Jnr said.

“I doubt that Raila will quit local politics altogether in favour of the AU position. It might easily be a temporary hiatus before he comes back in a big way in 2027. I see Raila going for it, all indications show him taking a sixth stab,” says the governor who is Wiper’s national vice chairman.

On Odinga’s recent remarks that the Azimio flagbearer will be chosen through delegates, Mutula Jnr said that was another gimmick to humiliate Kalonzo for a second time.

“Raila was never interviewed and neither were there delegates to pick him as the presidential candidate. We will certainly not allow Kalonzo to be humiliated in a fresh round of interviews in the guise of delegates. It reeks of bad faith and political histrionics,” he stated.

He was referring to a scenario during the last election where the former VP was subjected to an interview on his suitability to be Odinga’s running mate, a position he finally lost to Narc Kenya party leader Karua.

To some, the issue of Kalonzo being on the presidential ballot is not debatable and it does not matter whether Odinga supports him or not.

“In 2017 Raila fired his last shot. In 2022 he had only an empty gun which he threw out. He has nothing left to use in 2027 and so he has no choice but to pass the baton to somebody else,” says Campbell Munyambu, the coordinator for the Mwingi professionals’ forum and a close ally of Kalonzo. Munyambu explains that 2027 will be a Kalonzo moment, and advises the Wiper leader not to relent on his countrywide campaigns to strengthen Wiper and seek new political allies across the country.