Raila takes his crusade to the people in big political gamble

ODM leader Raila Odinga. [Collins Oduor, Standard]

All eyes will today be on ODM leader Raila Odinga for what could be yet another defining moment in his political career spanning over four decades.

For the former Azimio presidential candidate, today’s meeting at the Kamukunji grounds in Nairobi County, dubbed a ‘public consultation forum’, could open a new chapter for a man that lost a closely contested race in the August elections.

Raila has made it clear that the meeting should not be mistaken for demonstrations and warned his opposers ‘not to sponsor hooligans’ to mar the event as he seeks to ramp up pressure on the three-month-old government over its handling of several issues.

At a press conference held by the Azimio leader in Nairobi on Monday, Narc Kenya leader, Martha Karua, who was Raila’s running mate in the elections, weighed in on issues that will be subject of consultations.

These issues include the push to have four commissioners at IEBC kicked out of office over their conduct in the August poll, recent appointments to public service, and lifting of the ban on GMO foods, among others. Today’s meeting, the first of several, has drawn varied reactions from across the board, with a section of Raila’s supporters jittery about his move to checkmate President William Ruto’s administration through rallies.

Besides the Kamukunji rally, the ODM leader has also called another meeting on Jamhuri Day, December 12, at Jacaranda Grounds in Nairobi’s Kayole estate.

“On December 12 we are going to Jacaranda Gardens in Embakasi. We will be celebrating Jamhuri day with Kenyan patriots and its also going to be a peaceful congregation,” Raila said. Yesterday, the government spelt out tough measures that Raila should adhere to should he wish to continue with his planned public meeting.

Speaking at Harambee House yesterday, Interior Cabinet Secretary Prof Kithure Kindiki said the Government will allow the rally at Kamukunji grounds, but would need details of the meeting to ensure adequate security measures are put in place. Kindiki, however, warned that should those attending the meeting violate the law, the Government will deal with them.

“We will remain professional to make sure that those who want to air their grievances are given space so that others who don’t agree with them do not interrupt bona fide and lawful activities around demonstrations and freedoms of association and assembly,” he said.

 Interior Cabinet Secretary Prof Kithure Kindiki. [File, Standard]

Political analysts and observers believe the meetings are a turning point in Raila’s career. They feel they will either break or make his political future. Unlike in the past when the ODM chief approached the rallies backed by his supporters and informed by weighty issues, the situation is not the same as he heads to Kamukunji.

The Standard has established there is disquiet within his own ODM camp while some partners in the Azimio One Kenya Coalition appear noncommittal on the rallies.

On Tuesday an ODM MP told The Standard he had other engagements and was unlikely to attend the meeting. Their absence at the meeting could send mixed signals on his quest to build a formidable opposition.

“We are many. I have several engagements and I do not think I will attend the meeting,” said the MP who sought anonymity.

According to him, he was hopeful the meeting would be a success but questioned its motive. “It is hard to comment on such issues because you are never sure of what is actually happening in the background,” said the legislator.

Raila’s troops remain unfazed with the developments and are optimistic that the meeting will be a success.

Yesterday, a number of ODM leaders told The Standard they believe today’s event will send a strong statement to Ruto’s administration on the intent by the opposition to ensure the new administration does not violate the law. They also believe the meeting will send a strong message to those that have started writing off the ODM leader.

Minority Leader Opiyo Wandayi said they are looking forward to a robust engagement with the public that has been going through tough times by providing them with the best platform to discuss issues affecting the country.

“We look forward to a robust conversation with the people even as we express our empathy to their suffering under the Kenya Kwanza government,” said Wandayi.

Minority Leader Opiyo Wandayi.  [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

MPs Lilian Gogo (Rangwe) and Tom Odege (Nyatike) said the meeting will begin their serious work as the opposition to stop any government’s excesses.

“We want to send a strong message that the country must be governed by the rule of law. We will show Ruto that we will hold him accountable for any of his decisions,” said Odege.

Political commentator and lawyer Joshua Nyamori says Raila boasts of a strong grassroots network that has given him the power and capability to take on the government.

“Raila’s opponents must be willing to invest human, material and financial resources into building new alternative grassroots political networks that can successfully challenge his networks,” said Nyamori.

Political analysts Barrack Muluka, however, believes the meetings will likely send him to retirement.

“People get tired when you are doing the same thing frequently and expecting different results. There are people around Raila who want him to continue staying in power and are misadvising him for their own political survival,” said Muluka.

[By Harold Odhiambo, Anne Atieno, Olivia Odhiambo, James Omoro and Kamore Maina]