Raila succession: Scramble begins in Azimio and ODM

Azimio Leaders Raila Odinga and Kalonzo Musyoka in April 2023. [Sila Otieno, Standard]

The race to succeed Azimio leader Raila Odinga in the country’s opposition is on, and political titans are lining up with optimism to inherit his mantle.

It is a debate that has been ongoing since Raila lost the  2022 presidential elections but has gotten a new lease of life after he announced his interest in shifting his attention to continental politics.

The decision by the ODM leader to offer himself to be the next chairperson of the African Union Commission has increased the political undercurrents related to his succession.

Observers predict that the scramble is bound to take two fronts and will be fought in the larger Azimio coalition and his ODM party.

Other insiders believe that the ODM leader will have a direct hand on whoever succeeds him but may choose not to side with any of his allies and instead opt to let the strongest rise to the occasion.

Intense lobbying

The Standard has established that intense lobbying has begun in earnest in the Opposition as members start preparing for the possibility of politics without Raila.

In Azimio, among those hoping to fill Raila’s big boots are Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka and Narc Kenya leader Martha Karua, alongside former governors Wycliffe Oparanya (Kakamega) and Hassan Joho (Mombasa).

According to insiders, Kalonzo’s allies are secretly lobbying to have Raila endorse Wiper leader as his replacement and help him inherit his political bases across the country.

A similar script is also said to be developing in ODM where a host of his allies are hoping to inherit a slice of his political base and get his endorsement to enable them to steer the Orange ship.

The list includes youthful politicians who have been hoping to blossom under Raila’s guidance and experienced politicians who have served for several years.

Raila’s allies Joho, Oparanya, Homa Bay Governor Gladys Wanga and his Kisii counterpart Simba Arati, MPs Babu Owino (Embakasi East), John Mbadi (nominated) as well as Minority Leader in the National Assembly Opiyo Wandayi are all hoping to be the face of ODM should Raila clinch the AU job.

Although it remains a mystery whether the former Prime Minister will finally turn his back on the party that has been the force behind his political successes over the years, his failure to groom a known successor has opened room for speculations and a contest.

No successor

Yesterday, several ODM leaders told The Standard that no one has the political mettle to succeed Raila and are downplaying talks of his succession.

While some believe it is too early to talk about succession, others admit that political jostling is already underway and claim the succession race will not be for the faint-hearted.

Mbadi described the succession talk as premature but admitted that someone will rise to the occasion when the time is right.

Awendo MP Walter Owino argues that talking about Raila’s succession is a bit too early and claims Azimio leader has assembled a strong team of allies who can weather the storm.

“Of course, they can’t become a Raila, but I believe there are people who are capable of doing what is supposed to be done politically,” Owino says. 

Rangwe MP Lilian Gogo, who also says that it is too early to speak about Raila's succession in opposition, holds that nobody can fit into Raila’s shoes.

She says there are so many things they can credit to the leadership of Raila, which include county governments, the Constitution 2010, truthfulness in the opposition leadership, fighting for human rights in Kenya, and whistle-blowing on matters that involve governments.

Gogo adds that Raila has even sacrificed his life to bring up new leaders.

Rongo MP Paul Abuor thinks that there is no one from the current crop of Nyanza leaders who can consolidate the entire Nyanza block behind him and also attract support from other regions.

“It will take a while for a leader to emerge, and one of the main attributes this time will be a clear development track record in addition to being a team player,” Abuor says. 

Political analyst and lawyer Clifford Obiero argues that confusion is bound to rock Nyanza and the region is likely to split into factions in the scramble to replace Raila.

He notes that no one has been groomed or has groomed himself to command the Luo community just yet and all of Raila’s allies are still struggling to find a footing.

Not easy

Prof Eric Nyambedha, a political analyst, argues that it will not be easy to fill the void in ODM and Nyanza because of the historical circumstances that propelled Raila to the helm of Kenya's politics.

"And the fact that he propelled himself without necessarily telling people that he is striving to be anybody's kingpin," says Prof Nyambedha.

Political commentator Salim Odeny, however, argues that there will be no void in Nyanza even if Raila gets the position of AUC chairperson. 

Odeny says Raila has held sway over Nyanza politics even when he was not vying for the presidency, for example in 2002.

Odeny notes that Raila has a solid following in Nyanza, who will take his word even if he is not running for any seat.

Siaya Governor James Orengo, in a press statement, said Raila has built a political machine and nationwide base and support that cannot disintegrate.

"ODM will remain a progressive movement and a bastion for freedom justice and democracy," says Orengo