New generation of Young Turks poised to shake Opposition as old guards stay put

ODM Young Turks Embakasi East MP Babu Owino, Senator Edwin Sifuna and National Assembly Minority Leader Opiyo Wandayi. [File, Standard]

A political storm is brewing in opposition leader Raila Odinga’s ODM as youthful politicians forcefully join the succession race in a bid to edge out old guards keen to extend their stay in political leadership.

They are keen to replicate Raila’s own journey when he blossomed among other Young Turks and experienced politicians after the death of his father in 1994 to elbow his way to the heart of the opposition for four decades.

The Sunday Standard has established the Young Turks are determined to replace the old guards and are crafting strategies to ascend to the top of opposition ranks.

The heart of the contest is in the ODM party but is also flickering in the larger Azimio outfit where several youthful politicians are also keen to challenge veteran politicians led by Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka and Narc Kenya leader Martha Karua to become the new faces of the opposition.

Observers believe the changing dynamics will present Raila with a major headache should he opt to have a hand in how his succession script plays out.

Among the youthful politicians keen to edge out old guards are National Assembly Minority leader Opiyo Wandayi, Embakasi East MP Babu Owino, Nairobi Senator Edwin Sifuna, and Kisii Governor Simba Arati.

On the flip side, senior politicians in the party, including deputy party leaders and former governors Hassan Joho (Mombasa) and Wycliffe Oparanya (Kakamega), are also plotting to step into Raila’s shoes. Already, the two leaders have embarked on a mission to rally support to their side and are consolidating support from the Coastal and Western regions respectively.

But the youthful MPs are also not taking chances and appear ready not to cheer for them at a time they feel fortunes will favor the bold and brave youth.

In a cryptic post on Thursday, Babu claimed that he has already been shown the way by Raila and will not give a chance to anyone.

He is rallying behind the tag of “generational change” and believes the younger politicians have the mettle to put the government in check. He is part of a group of young MPs who have formed a group “Team Ground”, which is targeting to change the dynamics of the opposition.

The group entails both ODM and non-ODM MPs, who have now declared to be the official opposition team.

“The team will hold rallies and call for protests where need be to achieve anything that will benefit Kenyans,” said Babu.

For a man who enjoys a lot of popularity from the younger generation, it remains to be seen how his quest to ascend to the top of the opposition will pan out.

ODM chairman John Mbadi, however, argues that the older generation of politicians still has a significant role to play. He believes Joho and Oparanya are still young despite the several years they have under their belt in opposition politics.

“As a party, we have said we are going to include youth in the leadership of the party,” he says.

Moreover, he says youthful leaders can also be officials of the party as they have not stopped anyone.

“You can’t also do away with experience in managing the party affairs. Party affairs also need some level of maturity,” he explains.

In ODM, Wandayi’s political star is also flickering bright as Raila’s heir-apparent. Nicknamed “intellectual” by his peers in Parliament and supporters, Wandayi is making significant strides in the quest to become the next leader of the opposition and in Nyanza.

Party insiders believe whoever will succeed Raila as the party leader of ODM will be at the forefront of becoming the next opposition leader because ODM is the backbone of Azimio. 

“ODM enjoys a lot of support across the country and is the major party in Azimio and there is no question that the majority should take priority. However, the coalition will have its own consensus if members decides to replace Raila if he wins the African Union Commission bid,” said an ODM MP. 

In the party, a number of MPs have thrown their weight behind him and have proposed him as the next in line to take over the opposition.

In Raila’s inner circle, Wandayi is the conspicuous figure in Raila’s key meetings, including some key consultations with international partners. He is also the mouthpiece of the opposition.

He is one of the leading think tanks in Raila’s quest to checkmate President William Ruto’s regime, whose rise to political stardom has left many baffled.

In Nyanza, however, Wandayi appears to be on a mission to strengthen ODM at the grassroots level and has been on overdrive as he traverses the region to market the Orange party and its visions.

According to MPs Jared Okello (Nyando), Joshua Oron (Kisumu Central), and Sam Atandi (Alego Usonga), Wandayi is fit to take over the party leadership as Raila moves to fill the African Union Commission chairmanship.

Okello argues that even as Raila is going to be the African Union Council chairman, he remains the Luo leader and ODM boss.

“I have done my research and nothing stops Wandayi from being our party leader and also Azimio’s leader once he clinches the AU seat,” he said.

For a man who shelved ambitions for the Siaya Governorship in 2022 for another term in parliament, his rise in the national arena appears to be steady, calculated, and on track.

Communication Strategist Dr Barrack Muluka thinks the younger generation lacks maturity and needs to be patient and learn what leadership is about.

He believes Joho and Oparanya have now reached maturity. 

“They have mellowed. They are ready to lead,” Dr. Muluka says.  

According to Muluka, the youthful leaders exhibit confounding eagerness for power and self-aggrandizement. 

He says what is seen in them are puffed-up egos, the search for personal status, power for selfish personal greatness and wealth. 

Muluka thinks a majority of youthful leaders would implode. 

“Those who will bid their time are likely to succeed in the decades ahead. The rest will be consigned to the dustbin of history after this rat race to nowhere,” he says. 

In Raila’s ODM party, Sifuna is also enjoying significant growth and is building his profile as an intelligent and straightalking political titan.

He has been defending the opposition in public forums and in talk shows and is one of the brightest prospects in opposition. 

Political analyst Mark Bichachi says the younger cadre of leaders simply do not have enough to hold a candle to the older generation.

“Like in many areas of life, politics requires both resource accumulation and accumulation of the networks needed for one to able to lead,” Bichachi says. 

Constitutional Lawyer Bruce Odeny says the old guards feel like they have been loyal to the party leader.

“Their move is not a surprise. They feel they are entitled to leadership and the younger generation is supposed to follow them,” Odeny says.