Raila latest surprise moves leave many guessing his plan

ODM leader Raila Odinga (centre) with several Nyanza leaders during the burial of former South Nyanza County Council's Origa Opiyo in Ndhiwa Constituency, Homa Bay yesterday. [Collins Oduor, Standard]

ODM leader Raila Odinga has left many guessing what he is up to following his recent actions that included trading barbs with his former National Super Alliance (NASA) partners and cautioning against criminalisation of the ‘hustler’ narrative.

Outside Raila’s circles, the move to defend the hustler talk has been interpreted as him warming up to Deputy President William Ruto, after the grouping of his NASA partners with Kanu Chairman Gideon Moi.

In Raila’s circles, however, his asking of MPs not to formulate a law against the Ruto-led ‘hustler’ narrative is seen as an opportunity for him to return himself and his party to the push for defending of human rights and freedom of expression.

Political commentator Barack Muluka says Raila’s statement on ‘hustlers’ followed a protest letter by his former spokesman Salim Lone, a former editor who fled the country in the Kanu era during a clampdown on human rights activists. Mr Lone argued that criminalisation of the ‘hustler’ talk would return the country to single party dictatorship.

But it is Raila’s Saturday bold move to tell NASA political bigwigs Kalonzo Musyoka, Musalia Mudavadi and Moses Wetang’ula not to expect his endorsement for the presidency for failing to attend his swearing-in as the People’s President in 2018 that has sparked a debate.

Prior to making the sentiments, Raila had met former UNCTAD secretary general Mukhisa Kituyi and Makueni Governor Kivutha Kibwana in the company of Siaya Senator James Orengo, in what has been described in some quarters as a congregation of reformists.

Prof Kibwana and Dr Kituyi are interested in the presidency and are seen to carry less baggage of corruption or tainted political image.

An ODM insider who spoke to The Standard on condition of anonymity said although Raila had not stated he would vie for the top seat, he had started forming a team to face the electorate in 2022.

The official said it was a contradiction of sorts that while Raila had been campaigning on the platform of change, zero tolerance to corruption and defending human rights, some of the bigwigs in his past political formations were tainted.

“Boss (Raila) is keen on bringing on board a team that is untainted by baggage of current and past regimes, which the party has been fighting to correct,” the source said, adding: “That is why he is trying to bring like-minded leaders like Kibwana and Kituyi, who are known to have fought for the second liberation, to his fold.”

Kibwana and Maendeleo Chap Chap leader Alfred Mutua are seen as Kalonzo’s greatest challengers for the control of Ukambani, while Kituyi joins Mudavadi, Wetang’ula and Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya in the battle for Western.

Raila ran his past presidential elections on platform of change, but his opponents took a swipe at him for being surrounded by anti-reformists.

Despite having the highest number of MPs in Parliament after Jubilee, doubt has been cast on ODM’s reform agenda to address run-away graft, human rights abuses, public sector reforms and land grabbing.

With his focus on 2022, Raila has also changed tune to always highlight Jubilee government failures, which he mainly attributes to the DP, as he seeks to dissociate himself from the UhuRuto government mistakes.

The former PM has questioned the exorbitant costs of building the Standard Gauge Railway, failure by the Jubilee administration to provide laptops to schools and build stadiums, as promised before they were elected.

Raila is said to be keen not to be bogged down by the government failures during campaigns following his handshake with Uhuru, even as the Ruto camp insists he should share the blame.

Raila used the recent inauguration of the new Homa Bay Catholic Bishop to endear himself to Christians, saying he is not a witch, as claimed by Ruto, but a Christian who believes in God.

Moi University lecturer Nyaga Kindiki says Raila’s name will be on the presidential ballot. “There’s likely to be a new partnership between Central Kenya, led by Uhuru Kenyatta, and Western Kenya, led by Raila, with the ODM boss being the presidential torchbearer,” Prof Kindiki opined.

The Mudavadi-Wetang’ula-Kalonzo group, Kindiki said, may form part of the bigger alliance led by Raila, with an aim of alienating Ruto and boxing him to the opposition.

“That could be why Raila has been insisting people who have been opposing BBI should not join it so that Ruto is confined to the opposition,” Kindiki says.

On Raila’s attacks on the Mudavadi group, Kindiki says the former PM could just be playing politics, as NASA is still a legal entity. There is still a possibility of the team regrouping, according to Kindiki.

Mr Muluka told The Standard that Raila had been cornered by the Mudavadi-Wetang’ula-Kalonzo team that has demanded that he endorses one of them, forcing him to look for new friends.

“I am not certain if Raila could also reach out to the Deputy President and the DP says yes,” Muluka said.

He said Raila was also trying not to lose friends who believe in democracy. Kindiki says Raila could be re-inventing ODM with the party slated to rebrand as he injects youthful and fresh leaders from various regions to push the change agenda.

Raila has been meeting leaders from across the political divide and regions in his Nairobi’s Capitol Hill office.

In various meetings Raila has been attending in Nyanza recently, his lieutenants, including Mr Orengo, Anyang’ Nyong’o and Homa Bay Governor Cyprian Awiti, have also sought to show the ODM leader’s achievements, including infrastructure projects started when he was Roads Minister, and during his stint as Prime Minister.