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Raila succession sparks scramble for his political support bases

Azimio la Umoja leader Raila Odinga. [Collins Oduor, Standard]

A colourful cast of political titans are circling and preparing to take a slice of power and control of ODM leader Raila Odinga’s political empire as the country’s political landscape begins to undergo fresh realignments.

In almost all the regions across the country where the ODM chief has enjoyed nearly unrivalled support in the last three decades, political tectonic shifts and cracks appear to be emerging as a number of leaders keen on succeeding him begin their plans in earnest.

And although Raila is not exiting the stage anytime soon, the number of political suitors flexing their muscles to wrestle his political empire from him is growing by the day. A battery of leaders in his own ODM camp are also hoping for his endorsement and nurturing as his heir apparent.

The list includes his political students, allies as well as those who left his camp after falling out with the Orange party. President William Ruto is also keen to crack the traditional bases that have been firmly behind the ODM chief to help strengthen support for his administration.

It is a strong political empire that has taken Raila blood, sweat and tears to build for more than three decades in active politics. An empire that has earned him the nickname “enigma” backed by a strong army of supporters who have been loyal to his course in pain and happiness.

Among the areas where the ODM leader has enjoyed significant support in the last couple of years include Nyanza, Western, Nairobi, Maa and Coast regions. He has also enjoyed significant support in Ukambani where his ally Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka is also hoping for his blessings to inherit his powerhouse hails from.

With age catching up with Raila, 77, and the lack of a clear heir-apparent to take over his reigns, the scramble is on for those hoping to build their profiles to be in line to inherit his political empire.

While analysts believe the attempts to dislodge Raila from his political empire are wishful thinking that will not succeed in the near future, critics believe the time has come to challenge his dominance and force him to pass the baton.

The early activities, long before any campaign season, underscore how a section of leaders even in his ODM camp is already thinking about life after Raila’s political dominance as they begin to chat their own paths.

In Western, a number of allies are already plotting how to inherit the support the ODM leader has enjoyed in the region which made him eclipse Prime Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi with relative ease in the August 9 election.

His loyal troops who have been instrumental in strengthening his grassroots support led by ODM Deputy Party Leader Wycliffe Oparanya, however, appear to be reading from a different script with the ODM leader. He is among those eyeing to inherit Raila’s Western Kenya base.

Last Wednesday, Oparanya caused ripples in ODM’s pond when he suggested that he was now ready to lead the unity calls for the people of Western and is hoping Raila will back his dreams.

Sources told Sunday Standard that Oparanya who also had presidential ambitions in the last polls but dropped out to back Raila is marshalling support in Western to strengthen his own political portfolio and has bigger ambitions.

Speaking in Mumias on Wednesday, Oparanya alluded to the fact that he was expecting Raila’s backing for 2027 having stood with him over the years.

But he is not alone, in the same region, Mudavadi is also burning the midnight oil as he seeks to finally stamp his authority as the region’s kingpin.

For a man who has been accused of approaching the region’s politics with kid gloves, it remains to be seen how the man from Mululu will take advantage of the new push for a Luhya unity to finally declare Western, a Musalia Mudavadi stronghold.

A similar development is also taking place in Nyanza where several leaders who fell out with Raila are also warming up to challenge his dominance and control the region’s politics.

Among those that have been making strategic moves and calling for a change in the region’s leadership include former Nairobi Governor Evans Kidero, Jack Ranguma (Kisumu), Ugenya MP David Ochieng, former Kisumu senator Fred Outa and former Lake Basin Development Authority chairman Odoyo Owidi.

But it is ICT Cabinet Secretary Eliud Owalo whose recent political moves have thrown the region into a spin over his ultimate goals for the region. Already, he has managed to rally a section of leaders who fell out with Raila to back his in-roads through a development-oriented leadership script.

A few weeks since he was sworn into office, Owalo has visited the region several times and has distributed relief food while rallying the region to back Ruto’s leadership.

About two weeks, Owalo, a former political student of Raila who worked as his aide in the grand-coalition government, sought the blessings of the Luo Council of Elders led by the chairman of one of the factions Nyandiko Ongadi.

According to Owidi, the time for a change in Nyanza has come. 

“I strongly believe that it is time for another member of the community to emerge and take over the mantle of leadership,” said Owidi.

Analysts, however, believe inheriting Raila’s political empire will not be a walk in the park.

According to Joshua Nyamori, a political analyst and constitutional lawyer Raila has the power to rebound and should not be dismissed as he cannot be easily swept aside.

“I will however warn those who write him off that they may be in for a rude shock. Raila has a power of rebound, unique only to himself,” says Nyamori.

He says Raila has a strong backing of loyal supporters and is capable of crafting new coalitions and gains as much as he loses.

Political analyst Peter Bonge said Kenyans will be looking for people who can protect their interests and allow them to decide what policies should be implemented.

“There are going to be many realignments, and in areas like Ukambani, we are expecting Raila to endorse Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka,” he said.

Bonge claimed Raila’s absence from the government provided an opportunity for his opponents to weaken him politically.

Communist Party of Kenya (CPK) vice chairman Booker Ngesa Omole said Raila has continued to change in the last 10 years.

“First, he was known to champion people’s rights, and then he changed completely,” Omole said.

In the Maa and Coast regions, a number of leaders are also hoping to build their own profiles.

In the ODM camp, among those that are already shaping up their ambitions as Raila’s key point men include Narok Senator Ledama Ole Kina.

A darling to some members of the communities as a result of his abrasive approach to issues affecting the community, the ODM camp considers Ole Kina a key figure to cement Raila’s support and build his own profile.

Although he has not openly confirmed his own ambitions, his recent spat and calls for the inclusion of young people in leadership speak volumes.

According to ODM Secretary General and Nairobi Senator Edwin Sifuna, the party’s traditional support bases are still intact but admits that some members have raised valid concerns.

“Western was shortchanged in the house committees, and we have the right to protest. We will demand what is our right and push for our interests as a community,” Sifuna said.

All eyes are on how the ODM chief will also craft new alliances to ward off any attempts to inherit the Gusii region that has also been firmly behind his leadership.

In the recent past, Raila lost key allies including former Kisii governor James Ongwae and Woman Rep Janet Ongera who played a key role in strengthening his grassroots support.