Raila: State project or change in strategy?

ODM leader Raila Odinga in Ndhiwa, Homabay County, January 22, 2022. [Emmanuel Wanson, Standard]

Over the last few days, the United Democratic Alliance, under the stewardship of Deputy President William Ruto, has been on a concerted and overzealous campaign to paint ODM leader Raila Odinga as a State project in his quest to succeed President Uhuru Kenyatta.

Previously viewed as a politician with deep conviction, the ‘State project’ cloud hovering around the head of the former Prime Minister has made him a subject of ridicule to his competitors in the upcoming general elections.

Therefore, this begs the question, is Raila a State project or has he just changed his strategy and approach towards presidential campaigns?

Undoubtedly, since his handshake with Uhuru Kenyatta, the ODM leader walks around with an aura of distinct State power.

From a visibly enhanced security, influence over government’s policy directions to hosting delegations of senior government officials such as Cabinet Secretaries at his Capitol Hill offices, it would be easy to come to the conclusion that he is the system’s preferred candidate.

President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga at Harambee House, 2018. [File, Standard]

This is a sharp detour from his previous demeanour, underscored by constant collision with government over its management of the country’s affairs and being largely perceived as the defender of the people.

However, if history is anything to go by, then Raila’s leftist brand of politics has been his greatest hindrance on his path to the presidency. While it has won him the people’s votes, it has often denied him State power.

Consequently, there was a sudden realisation within the circle of Raila that for one to win the presidency, popular vote was not just enough.

Presidential victory is a whole cocktail of factors such as relationships with the international community, the corporate world as well as the establishment, famously known in Kenya’s lexical landscape as the deep state.

That to become a president in Kenya and any other country, one must look beyond resources and organisation. For a very long time, Raila has cherished what Disembe Dikembe, in one of his articles on the star describes as loved buzzwords such as ‘human rights’, ‘good governance’, ‘zero tolerance to corruption’ among others.

A renowned defender of the rights of the people, Raila has often stayed the cause even when it was politically inconvenient for him. Carrying this tag for the general good of the public but to his personal detriment has cost him the presidency several times on the account of his radical approach to politics.

But truth be told, the business of politics, in the long run, is power. On top of this, it is a difficult task to effect meaningful social change in the society from the periphery of Opposition politics. Yet, this power seems to abhor the idealism of leftist politics that often drive opposition parties.

For Raila, his quest for presidency has surpassed his penchant for Opposition politics. It is now time he steers the affairs of this nation from a position of power to fulfil what he fondly refers to as the dream of the founding fathers of the nation.  

ODM leader Raila odinga. [File Standard]

Surprisingly and ironically, it is the Deputy President at the epicentre of this campaign. This is despite the fact that he never shies from reminding us that he is the second most powerful person in the country, sitting at the apex of the most crucial institution of the State: the Executive.

But if our collective memory as a country serves us well, it is the DP who previously craved State support. Countless are the number of times that those allied to him have lashed out at Uhuru for reneging on his promise to support William Ruto after his ten-year term tenure expires.

In fact, the animosity that underpins the frosty relationship between the president and his deputy emanated from the general feeling of betrayal on the part of Ruto during Jubilee regime’s second term.

If the state were to turn its back on Raila Odinga today and, in turn, support the deputy president, would he town the offer on account of automatically qualifying as a state project. Your guess is as good as mine. 

Mr. Nyainda writer is a journalist.