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Rush to control Raila campaign

BUSINESS
By | August 14th 2011

By OSCAR OBONYO

The battle for control of Prime Minister Raila Odinga's presidential bid has kicked off, stimulating fresh intrigues in the Orange party, The Standard On Sunday has established.

Although the campaign has been building momentum, the PM signalled its official kickoff last Wednesday in Malava, Kakamega, during the burial of one of his domestic employees. The PM said he was ready to face the combined force of his challengers.

Prime Minister Raila Odinga leads the ODM brigade in recent Kamukunji campaigns. [PHOTO: FILE/STANDARD

He spoke as plans were afoot to set up his presidential campaign team, and at the same time weed out those perceived to be hurting his image.

But it is the easing out of the individuals perceived to be hurting the Raila campaign that has raised the storm. While a number of them have left with ease, some relatively high-profile ones like Miguna Miguna have brought the Orange strategy to focus.

The move to elbow out Miguna as Raila’s advisor on constitutional affairs has particularly turned out into an ugly one with Miguna taking a swipe at "forces around the Prime Minister".

Government Joint Chief Whip, Jakoyo Midiwo maintains Miguna has been hurting the PM’s image and campaign. According to the Gem MP, the PM’s aide is among those who have knowingly or unknowingly perpetuated the misconception about a Raila presidency.

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But another source within the party blames Miguna’s woes on the Permanent Secretary in the PM’s office, Mohammed Isahakia.

According to the source, the battle at hand is over control of the Raila campaign "and Isahakia is simply building up a team that is agreeable to him". Isahakia was Raila’s campaign manager during the 2007 General Election. Several calls made to the PS by The Standard On Sunday for clarification, went unanswered on Thursday and Friday. Isahakia did not respond to a text message posted to his mobile cell phone.

Another PS, who did not wish to be named because he is not authorised to discuss State affairs, traces Miguna’s misunderstanding with Isahakia to a retreat for Permanent Secretaries in Mombasa early last year. Muthaura reportedly stopped the proceedings on seeing Miguna at the meeting.

But he confirmed that indeed he had a letter from the PM directing him to attend the conference, a copy of which he gave to Isahakia.

The drama at the PM’s office has unsettled party officials. The "small jolt" notwithstanding, Midiwo maintains the party presidential bid remains on track. For a man who in 2007 got close to State House, the coming election is so critical for Raila. No doubt he, and his associates, will spare nothing in mobilising resources to run a formidable campaign. It is these expected resources that many are jostling to control.

Also according to opinion polls, the Premier remains the man to beat and his allies are positioning themselves in a campaign they hope would put Raila in the highest office they would benefit from when a new government is formed.

When reached for comment, ODM’s Parliamentary Group secretary Ababu Namwamba said: "My grandfather once told me that there were two kinds of people: those who do the work and those who take the credit. He told me to try to be in the first group, since there was less competition there."

The Budalang’i MP observed that what mattered most was not who spearheaded the campaigns, but rather how best to win the presidential race with a comfortable margin.

"This promises to be the mother of all electoral battles. It is a matter that cannot be compromised at the altar of egos," said Namwamba.

What has heightened the competition to catch the PM’s eye is a strategy that Raila seeks to deploy. Word is out that the PM is working on a line-up of MPs to co-ordinate his campaigns in all counties.

While the search and jostling continues countrywide, The Standard On Sunday has established that Bishop Margaret Wanjiru has been identified as co-ordinator for Nairobi County. The Housing Assistant Minister is already leading the Kamukunji by-election campaigns. At the same time lobby groups are being formed to drum up support for Raila in the run-up to the General Election due next year.

In the meantime the PM continues to sanction lobby groups whose primary goal is popularising ‘Brand Raila’ across the country. Last week, he gave a nod to Friends of Raila 2012 (Fora). The group’s key players include Micah Kigen, Lydia Ntimama and Nairobi politician KJ Kiarie.

And yesterday, The Standard On Sunday learnt of the emergence of another group known as ODM Network Team (Onet). The group complements Fora.

Onet is being spearheaded by JT Okinda, as its patron and includes a former deputy sergeant at arms, Capt Muhammed Yare, who is eyeing the Dujis seat. Okinda has unsuccessfully run for the Gem constituency seat, which Midiwo holds.

Members of the group are expected to meet officials of the party at the headquarters on Tuesday to discuss how to synergize its activities with those of Fora.

This is just but the beginning as more lobby groups and individuals come forth to jostle for space around the Raila campaign. Even then, the newcomers will have to fight for recognition or work with existing groups such as ODM Youth for 2012, and ODM Women Congress Lobby.

ODM supporters in the North Rift have also formed a forum whose main agenda is to counter anti-Raila Odinga campaigns by ODM dissenting MPs in the region.

The group has picked representatives from each of the 20 constituencies in six counties of the region to market Raila and ODM.

"We want to demystify the perception that Raila is a vengeful leader. We will counter orchestrated campaigns by rebel MPs who have shifted loyalty to other parties," said Wilber Kipsang Choge.

Choge added that Raila "is still the man to beat for the Presidency" in the General Election.

"We want to provide an alternative leadership in the Rift Valley. Raila is for reforms and we will campaign for him," said Choge.

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