ODM leader's political 'waves' that catch allies and foes by surprise

ODM leader Raila Odinga. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

It’s only a matter of time before Raila Odinga declares “a looming tsunami” if his political history should count for anything. By ‘tsunami’, the ODM party leader will imply a euphoric wave to sweep across the country.

Raila’s longevity in the limelight has everything to do with his ability to stir up and sustain momentum. He forged this brand of politics in the 1997 General Election, which saw his National Development Party gain dominance in Luo Nyanza.

Described widely as the champion of the ‘Narc dream’, Raila would write the next chapter of, perhaps, his most popular strategy five years later, declaring “Kibaki tosha” in a move that firmed up the idea of a Mwai Kibaki presidency.

Narc would ride on an anti-establishment euphoria that the then ruling party Kanu could not match, winning the election with a landslide.

Then came 2005 constitutional referendum, which Raila’s ‘No’ wing won, a victory that sprang his 2007 bid. As the leader of the ‘No’ campaign, Raila crafted a team dubbed Pentagon comprising William Ruto, Musalia Mudavadi, Charity Ngilu, Najib Balala and the late Joe Nyaga. 

The former prime minister would bank on the strategy of the 2010 constitutional review push, which he hoped to use to create a momentum for victory in the 2013 election. Unlike in 2007, the constitutional push victory did not reflect in the presidential race.

ODM leader Raila Odinga is banking on Azimio la Umoja to pave way for a Narc-esque coalition. [Courtesy]

To propel his current wave, Raila is seemingly banking on Azimio la Umoja, a prospective coalition of parties. ODM insiders have likened the new formation to Narc in 2002. Spurring Narc’s wave was the perception that Kibaki had succeeded to secure nationwide support.

Leading politicians were camping by his side, moving their parties into the new coalition. All indications point at Raila trying to repeat the Narc masterstroke. The script is already playing out; ODM, like Kibaki’s Democratic Party then, may not field a presidential candidate, choosing to make Raila’s bid a shared cause.

“The new arrangement may provide a presidential candidate. Many parties coming into the Azimio movement say they won’t field a presidential candidate,” ODM secretary general Edwin Sifuna said, terming the new formation “an umbrella party.”

The Standard on Sunday has learnt that the former premier and President Uhuru Kenyatta are lining up at least 10 political parties to join Azimio la Umoja.

Besides Jubilee and ODM, other outfits set to join the movement include newly launched Democratic Action Party of Kenya associated with Defence Cabinet Secretary Eugene Wamalwa and Upya Movement linked to Treasury Cabinet Secretary Ukur Yatani.

Others are Maendeleo Chap Chap of Machakos Governor Alfred Mutua, Party of National Unity, Ubuntu People’s Forum linked to Nakuru Governor Lee Kinyanjui, Narc of Kitui Governor Charity Ngilu, Kenya Union Party of West Pokot Governor John Lonyangapuo and Devolution Empowerment Party of Meru Governor Kiraitu Murungi.

“It has to be an alliance of the willing. The vision is to bring all Kenyans together irrespective of their political parties,” said Jubilee secretary general Raphael Tuju.

Already, Parliament plans to hold a special sitting before Christmas to fast-track a Bill introduced by National Assembly Majority Leader Amos Kimunya that will pave way for a Narc-esque coalition.

National Assembly Majority Leader Amos Kimunya. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

“We as Upya having listened keenly to our people, have their demands, whose resolution ranks highest amongst our assignments on the national table. The Odinga-led Azimio la Umoja Movement has proved the credible partner to the Upya aspirations,” said Eldas MP Adan Keynan.

In securing such support, mostly regional in nature, Raila, like Kibaki, will have succeeded in creating an impression that his bid enjoys support from across the board.

“We make political choices emotionally,” said governance consultant Tom Mboya. “It is not an academic process that would be inspired by manifestos and what not. Raila could be looking to inspire confidence within the electorate – that the kind of support he has secured could win him the presidency.”

Raila is a master of creating political momentum. Azimio la Umoja is in itself a culmination countrywide rallies, through which he had popularised the convention at Kasarani Stadium last Friday.

Had everything gone to plan, it would have fueled the steam of the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) – Raila’s apparent first choice ‘tsunami’ that was spawned by the 2018 Handshake.

Deputy President William Ruto had spotted Raila’s move from a distance and called him out for trying to spring his bid through BBI. That BBI remains in abeyance dents its dependability to rally the masses.

“Ruto, too, used his adverse stance on the 2010 Constitution to test his might and possibly up his political stature. But creating ‘waves’ is not the sum total of political strategy. It is just a small part,” said Mboya.