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Spoiling for a fight: Have Ruto, Gachagua fallen into Raila's trap?


 Azimio la Umoja leader Raila Odinga addresses supporters at Kamukunji Grounds in Nairobi on January 23, 2023. [File, Standard]

As pundits struggle to unravel Azimio leader Raila Odinga's whistleblower claims, an ugly confrontation that could wreak havoc with serious ramifications is slowly brewing in the country.

Raila and his men are gleefully rousing the emotions of the Kenya Kwanza leadership whose key men led by President William Ruto and his deputy Rigathi Gachagua are also spoiling for a fight.

Stakes are rising as Azimio politicians led by Raila Odinga return to Kamukunji grounds for what is expected to be another charged rally today.

Azimio claims the whistle-blower unearthed massive rigging of elections in last year's presidential poll but details of how it was done have remained scanty.

Governance and policy strategist Prof Peter Kagwanja is among those concerned with the rising rhetoric and harsh exchanges which he says is unnecessary.

"I think we should allow Raila to hold his rallies on weekends because that is his right as long as his supporters do not destroy people's property and if they do they should be charged in court," says Kagwanja.

He is, however, skeptical about Raila's whistle-blower claims, arguing that it has become the norm since 2016 for leaders and social media users to manipulate facts in the post-truth age.

He says objective facts are now less significant in shaping public opinion because facts don't matter anymore, especially because of peddling fake news and false information.

"All of a sudden, we hear about this whistle-blower. Who is he? Where was he when the court was speaking? What is his background? What is the source of his dossier?" wonders Kagwanja.

That notwithstanding, Raila has managed to raise emotions by invoking the figures he claims were unearthed by the whistleblower showing that he won by a wide margin.

Raila has explained that the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) used four servers, including one that was stationed in Venezuela.

"It is the server in Venezuela that was used to alter the results and add numbers to their candidate and feed them into the IEBC portal at Bomas of Kenya national tallying centre," says Raila.

President Ruto and Gachagua wasted no time in repulsing the claims and furiously fought back at a prayer meeting in Kirinyaga and at a burial ceremony in Gatundu the following day.

"You have looked for a foreigner called Jeffrey Smith who now has a contract with you and you tell us that he is whistle-blowing," Gachagua said at the prayer meeting in Kirinyaga.

Sounding agitated and angry, the deputy president told the president to continue working and leave him and his supporters to deal with the ODM leader.

The worry is that there appears to be no let-up and that the two sides seem determined to go all the way with their ugly public spats.

Political analyst Jevas Bigambo argues that Raila has chosen to "upset the apple cart" through his whistle-blower claims that ruffled Ruto and his deputy.

"What is worrying is that we are going back to 2007 because the language they are using does not bring dignity to the nation and the character of these politicians," said Bigambo.

So far, the Azimio leaders have not revealed who the whistle-blower is, although they claim his audit shows that Raila won the polls by garnering 8,170,355 votes ahead of Ruto, who allegedly managed 5,919,973.

Raila has since the 1990s used mass action to force successive governments into some political agreements but Prof Kagwanja does not see it happening this time because of existing political realities.

"If Ruto accommodates Raila, it affects the positions of deputy president Rigathi and Prime Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi because it waters down those two offices," says Kagwanja.

The president has already resolved challenges that were emerging in his government by harmonising Rigathi and Mudavadi's functions through Executive Order no 1 of 2023.

In that communication, the president also sought to create harmony in all the arms of government, including the opposition through the office of official opposition for correlation and oversight.

"It provides Raila room to consolidate the opposition, something he has refused because since the 1990s, he created a situation that saw him allowed into government," says Kagwanja.

He, however, blames Parliament for procrastination in creating the office of the official opposition to make the executive order fully operational.

"Raila should be allowed to consolidate a powerful position of the opposition leader not in the streets but through bureaucracy, with enough funds to play the role of oversight," adds Kagwanja.

The elephant in the room now, however, is how to deal with Raila and his mass rallies in heavily populated areas like Kamukunji, Jacaranda, Githurai, Kawangware and other places.

Issues that may arise include controlling unruly mobs, especially if police attempt to stop the rallies and clearing traffic jams that may be caused.

Pundits says Ruto will swing into action if people get hurt but that is what Raila and Azimio may be looking for because they will then blame the government for human rights abuses.

The headache of how to deal with Raila will therefore be a problem for the government now and in the future, despite Gachagua's outbursts against him.

"The president's men claim Raila is being pushed by people who have refused to hand over power but if rioters destroy property, they will be taken to court," says Kagwanja.

Constitutional lawyer Stanslus Murunga says politicians are rewinding the clock to 2017 because both sides are setting the stage for confrontation.

Murder plot

"The president came up with the allegation of a murder plot against Wafula Chebukati and shortly after Raila said he had a dossier to show Ruto is illegally in office," says Murunga.

And so the 2022 presidential elections result is still an issue for both sides, even as the thorny issue of reconstituting IEBC creates more tensions.

Political analysts say unless leaders engage in sober dialogue and deal with issues that affect Kenyans like the rising cost of electricity and food, they will not add value to livelihoods.

"They should stick to their portfolios instead of dealing with issues that are not a priority because we will only have a proper country when leaders are sober and taking the country in the right direction," said Bigambo.

He reminded those in power that Raila is a political irritant who does not like being ignored by the centres of power, especially now that he is in his sunset years of his politics.

Answering him every time he speaks is therefore unnecessary because he is just keen on being politically significant and possibly wants a handshake.

At Kamukunji last weekend, Raila told Ruto that he should not reconstitute IEBC alone and according to Bigambo that could translate to him being be on the discussion table.

But given the harsh economic realities facing the government, more people will be listening to the Azimio leaders because of the many promises the Kenya Kwanza made during the campaigns.

The pundits also challenged the government to create a good business environment instead of threatening to close all bars and have only one nightclub per constituency. "When Governor Johnson Sakaja is cleaning up the city, Gachagua says he is killing businesses. Now he says have one bar per constituency. Is that not killing businesses?" asks lawyer Martin Oloo.

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