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Raila succession saga: Inside ODM's turbulent journey

 ODM Leader Raila Odinga and his Deputy Party Leaders Wycliffe Oparanya (left) and Ali Hassan Joho during ODM National Governance Convention at Bomas of Kenya on February 25th 2022 [File, Standard]

ODM leader Raila Odinga has moved to save the future of the party and arrest an internal turmoil threatening to implode the party that has been a force behind his political influence for several years.

This is happening as the party prepares for grassroots elections this month as part of an effort to steady a ship that is battling several waves in the country’s political matrix.

There are fears the party may be losing ground in some key places and several party offices have remained closed and without activity, causing an alarm to the party’s leadership.

This is compounded by claims of luckluster performances by some party officials who have not been participating in membership drives and other key party activities.

While on paper, his allies are quick to downplay cracks in the party and campaigns to succeed the ODM boss, in rallies and public functions, allies are reading from a different script and are singing songs of praise for Raila’s potential heir-apparent.

Party insiders admit there are cracks in the party that Raila is keen to address as he strengthens the party he hopes will remain at the core of the opposition fold to checkmate the government.

Today, the ODM leader will chair a meeting of the Central Management Committee to draw a plan on how to address some of the teething problems in the party.

However, the ODM leader faces an ultimate test to untie the political knots that have bedeviled the party, which appears to be presenting other parties with an opportunity to eclipse ODM as the backbone of the opposition.

Although the party is working on a process to ensure that its party elections is not impeded with several controversies that may create fresh problems for its cohesion, party members believe it is a recipe for chaos if not done properly.

"The grassroots elections is a turning point because several leaders are already aligning themselves with allies to help build grassroots support within the party. The jostling is out there in the open," said an ODM MP.

Observers and members believe the biggest fight dividing Raila’s party and threatening to derail even the grassroots elections is the succession race, which has thrown the party in a state of campaign, albeit without Raila’s blessings.

With Raila’s focus consumed by his quest to succeed Moussa Faki as the next African Union Commission chairperson, the move has opened a page of succession scramble and rifts in ODM.

Some analysts, however, warn that the supremacy wars can also split the party.

"This is because a political party is by its nature a democratic entity. There should be competition of ideas and competition for leadership," argues Communication Consultant Barrack Muluka.

He explains, it is possible that it could actually split the party because the one who actually gets defeated may look for alternative spaces where they continue trying their luck.

The division between the younger party members and experienced stalwarts appears to be widening by the day and threatens to re-erupt during the party elections.

The younger politicians believe their time to eclipse the old and show them the way has arrived with Raila’s potential exit to the African Union Commission.

“ODM is a big party and it will continue to rule. Having several flames to put out at this time is not good for the party, lest we risk crumbling,” said an ODM MP.

The scuffling in the Orange party has been peaking in recent weeks as key members rally members to back them to rise to the occasion in Raila’s absence.

The internal tussle over who will succeed Raila as the party leader, should he opt to focus his full attention on the African continent is a hot cake within the party ranks.

In Western, deputy party leader Wycliffe Oparanya has rallied ODM leaders from Western and Nairobi to back his quest to pick the power button from Raila. He is, however, quick to dismiss tensions.

"At the moment there is no tension because I don't see why there should be one," Oparanya says.

He claimed the meeting they will be having will outline their plans for grassroots elections.

Similarly, former Mombasa governor and co-party leader Hassan Joho is also rallying the Coastal legislators to back his bid to ascend to the ODM throne. He has the backing of key members of the party from Maa region and Nairobi.

And in yet another front, several younger MPs have also lined up behind Minority leader Opiyo Wandayi. The group believes ODM leadership in the succession discourse should be preserved for Nyanza.

“The last time we had a key party, Ford Kenya was handed over to Kijana Wamalwa, and the party went to the dogs. We cannot allow that to happen again by handing ODM to questionable characters,” said a senior ODM official.

Furthermore, Embakasi East MP Babu Owino, another hopeful in the succession race, has also aligned himself with other youthful MPs and has declared they are the new face of opposition.

These are some of the controversies Raila will be hoping to solve as the party braces for grassroots elections.

Several camps have emerged in the party as leaders keen to align themselves with potential heirs to the throne, who are leaving nothing to chance.

Party chairman John Mbadi said the time for people to contest the position of the party leader has not reached. He said that the grassroots elections will be the top agenda when they meet today.

"There is no succession. AUC is next year hence there is no succession in ODM. We have the party leader and two deputies," Mbadi says adding that there is no vacuum.

In the past, the party's elections have been marred with controversies and claims of underhand dealings. This has seen some officials hire goons to scuttle the process.

Constitutional Lawyer Bruce Odeny thinks that if left unchecked, the supremacy wars in ODM will lead to its split.

According to lawyer Odeny, both Joho and Oparanya need relevance in national politics, having served their full terms as governors.

"They feel senior having given their loyalty to the party. The younger generation of Mps, on the other hand, wish to exploit the vacuum Raila will leave to position themselves, especially in Luo Nyanza," Mr. Odeny says.

He believes what is being witnessed are the last days of a unified ODM.

Constitutional Lawyer Joshua Nyamori says ODM is past its sell-by date.

He believes the party cannot survive the absence of Raila Odinga.

"This is because Raila did not allow the party to develop strong institutional structures independent of him," Lawyer Nyamori says.

He believes the party is dead in Raila's absence.

"Raila is ODM and ODM is Raila. The ongoing Internal fights will lead to internal haemorrhage from which the party cannot survive," Mr. Nyamori says.

Rangwe MP Lilian Gogo says the campaigns are okay and a sign of democracy but maintains that there are no wrangles in the party.

"This is not a church and there are political systems that have to go on. People have to keep campaigning, back and forth and there is controversy and that is politics," Ms. Gogo says.

Awendo MP Walter Owino says should there be a vacancy in ODM leadership, then they will get the right person if subjected to an election by party members.

In Azimio, Raila also faces a tough test to restore the confidence of Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka who believes he might have been shortchanged with the National Dialogue Committee report.

This is after courts blocked implementation of the report, casting a huge doubt on Kalonzo's possibilities of claiming the seat of the Official Opposition leader as proposed by the report.

Yesterday, a senior ODM official claimed they will also explore how to strengthen Azimio, with ODM party as the lead alongside Wiper party and other key parties.

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