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Raila's change of tack that has seen Nyanza reap benefits

By By Harold Odhiambo | May 8th 2021
President Uhuru Kenyatta with former Prime Minister Raila Odinga during the BBI Consultative meeting at Great Rift Lodge in Naivasha on November 2, 2020.[Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

ODM leader Raila Odinga appears to be slowly changing his brand of politics in what is even surprising his allies.

Loved and hated in equal measure, Raila seems to have gone a full cycle from a radical politician to a government operative now calling shots and working on the economic front of his Nyanza region.

From the happenings in the past few years, Raila is keen to discard the activism politics to pursue economic liberation for the region, which has suffered neglect for years.

Since he rose to political stardom in the early 1990s, the former Prime Minister quickly filled the shoes left behind by his father, the doyen of opposition politics, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, a former Vice-President in the Jomo Kenyatta regime who died in 1994.

Raila who has hold sway of Nyanza’s politics since the defunct National Development Party dalliance with Kanu regime which enabled him to enter government and be a Cabinet Minister has become the point man whose tight grip has been the force tilting the region's economic and political landscape.

Many a time, he has been compelled to strike a delicate balance between his political ambitions and the region’s economic scene.

He has always known the right buttons to press to ensure that the region also benefits from projects despite being marginalised for years for being an opposition base.

But yet, political pundits believe Raila’s contribution to Nyanza’s economic development is grossly underappreciated. Others however claim some of the developments he has lured to the region are peanuts as compared to what other regions are getting.

It is no longer a secret in Nyanza that Raila has maneuvered his way into the national kitchen where plum state jobs and development projects are cooked, thanks to his historic handshake with President Uhuru Kenyatta.

According to his foot soldiers, it is Raila’s efforts through the handshake that has unlocked national funding for several multibillion projects being undertaken in Nyanza.

The projects include the revival of the port that has been lying idle for years, multi-billion road projects, a market and sporting facilities.

Interviews with several influential leaders in the area established that Raila’s path to peace and focus on development is integral in opening the region’s economic potential.

According to political pundit and constitutional lawyer Joshua Nyamori, Raila’s leadership has its fair shares of positives and negatives even as he admitted his new style of politics is integral in unlocking the region’s economy.

“As an individual, he has made great contributions to the region. The handshake he had with the president unlocked funding for several projects in the region,” Nyamori said.

Nyamori recalls a similar move in the mid-1990’s when the now African Union Special Envoy for Infrastructure toned down on political rhetoric against the former ruling party Kanu’s administration deciding to use his National Democratic Party (NDP) to work with Kanu.

“When he decided to work with Kanu, it opened fresh avenues for the fight against HIV/Aids which was ravaging Nyanza region back then,” Nyamori said.

Before he became the region’s kingpin, his father Jaramogi and the late Tom Mboya were the faces behind Nyanza’s economic development.

Jaramogi’s contribution has had a long-lasting effect on the region. The largest referral health facility the Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Teaching and Referral facility was built courtesy of his connections to the Russians who set up the facility in 1969.

For Jaramogi, he engineered the establishment of an institution named after him to help train professionals in various fields.

Several of his foot soldiers told The Standard that his focus on development and his contribution to national liberation has played a significant role in unlocking development throughout the country.

Homa Bay Women Representative Gladys Wanga and Kisumu East MP Shakeel Shabbir described Raila as the beacon who has played a significant role in development.

“Raila is a fighter for liberation. All the infrastructural developments we are witnessing are because of his contributions,” Wanga said.

According to Wanga, Raila has been at the forefront in negotiating with the government to implement projects in the region.

Most of the projects attributed to his efforts are on at advanced stages even as some critics claim the projects came at heavier costs to locals and is a “lip service” as compared to projects launched in other parts of the country.

On June 1, 2021, the Raila leader is expected to host President Uhuru Kenyatta for the Madaraka Day celebrations where they are expected to unveil the projects that have been completed.

Contractors are racing against time to complete the projects before the celebrations set to be held in Kisumu.

Principal Secretary Karanja Kibicho on Saturday toured the Sh450 million Jomo Kenyatta Sports Complex, one of the “handshake projects”, which will host the celebrations when it will be officially unveiled to the public.

County Director of Sports Kenneth Otieno said the sports complex is 85 per cent complete with all key elements of the project in their final stages.

ODM leader Raila Odinga (center) while inspecting the ongoing construction at Mamboleo Showground in Kisumu which was commissioned into Jomo Kenyata International Stadium on December 4, 2020.[Collins Oduor, Standard]

Railway engineers are also working round the clock to complete the Kisumu-Nakuru meter-gauge railway while contractors are also on course to complete a new passenger terminus.

Experts tasked with delivering the Sh3.7 billion project are expected to complete the reconstruction of the 216-kilometer line. A cargo train will make a dry run to Kisumu port ahead of a maiden trip by the handshake partners.

About three weeks ago, Kenya Railways Managing Director Phillip Mainga told The Standard that rampant vandalism along the revived line by metal dealers was derailing their efforts to complete the project.

Several complimenting facilities to the rail network, including a marine school, are also being constructed to ensure the revival plan for both the port and the rail is successful.

Construction of an inland container depot at Kibos in Kisumu is complete while the construction of the line linking the rail from Nakuru to Kisumu port is also complete.

Israel Agina, the chairperson of the National Chamber of Commerce in Kisumu said it is Raila’s efforts and his deal with president Uhuru that has birthed the projects.

"He has done a lot to the economy. After the collapse of the port, he commissioned research and has been pushing for the revival of both the port and the railway line," Agina said.

His critics however claim his style of politics is the reason the region lagged behind in terms of developments.

Raila has led the region in opposition for more than two decades.

Four times he has contested the country’s top seat and lost. On three occasions he has come too close to give up after painstakingly convincing friend and foe to back him.

Before he rebranded himself through the famous handshake, Raila has always maintained a confrontation style of politics. His die-hard supporters have always backed him and taken to the streets each time they felt he was shortchanged in polls.

In the last three general elections held in 2007, 2013 and 2017, Nyanza is among regions that experienced political violence as residents took to the streets to protest the outcome of the elections.

But Nyamori said Raila developed a monolistic approach of leadership where he is the only one negotiating on behalf of the community. When he is quiet, no one takes an initiative.

Some of his critics including his former aide Eliud Owalo have started initiatives to challenge Raila’s style of politics which they claim affects the region.

Owalo who has been spearheading a quest to wrestle the region from Raila’s hands claims there is a need for a change in the region’s political leadership which he blames for underdevelopment in the region.

While unveiling the commissioning of Deputy President William Ruto’s Hustler Movement in Nyanza region in Homa Bay last year, Owalo urged the region to change the political narrative.

Other critics including a section of the clergy claim that his ODM party is to blame for the underdevelopment in some parts of Nyanza.

A senior cleric told The Standard that Raila’s party has always settled on unpopular leaders who are not inclined towards development to lead the people.

The cleric said Nyanza needed more political parties to compete with ODM and give voters more options.

“Some leaders supported by Raila’s party are only interested in allegiance to the party and not championing for development,” he said.

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