Opposition leader Raila Odinga is courting new allies, as some of his known close associates from Nyanza and western are edged out of his inner circle.
Raila has not publicly stated if he will vie for the presidency in 2022, but once again, he is shaping political discourse after his truce with President Uhuru Kenyatta, which has given rise to a proposal to reform the Constitution ahead of the next elections.
At the party level the ODM leader is rebuilding the outfit through a review of the party’s nomination rules, spearheaded by the Catherine Mumma-led task-force.
The team is tasked with helping the party shake off the chaotic primaries that have cost it seats in past elections.
It is this twin mission to influence national politics and revive the fortunes of what was once the largest political party that has seen the entry of new players into Raila’s inner circle, particularly in his perceived strongholds of western and Nyanza.
In Nyanza, the exit of Raila’s once-trusted allies like former Gem MP Jakoyo Midiwo and former chief of staff in the Grand Coalition government Caroli Omondi, is visible, as is the fallout with his former party secretary-general Ababu Namwamba, and former party vice-chairman Paul Otuoma.
Mr Namwamba and Mr Midiwo were among Raila’s most vocal allies, and fought many battles for ODM.
In their place, Raila now has equally vocal insiders, like ODM chairman John Mbadi, and the party’s director of elections Junet Mohammed — who has been entrusted with leading the outfit’s campaign to recapture the Kibra Constituency seat.
Kisumu Governor Peter Anyang’ Nyong’o, Raila’s sister and former deputy governor Ruth Odinga, MPs Jared Okello (Nyando) and James Nyikal (Seme) have also emerged as Raila’s allies in the region.
Prof Nyong’o, a political scientist, has long been one of Raila’s closest political advisers. Dr Nyikal, who is also the chairman of the Luo Parliamentary Group, has Raila’s ear, with reports that he is sometimes deployed to help whip party MPs.
Mr Okello has worked his way into Raila’s kitchen cabinet as ODM’s Secretary of Public Policy and Economic Affairs. He defends ODM positions with zeal, and has international networks.
Raila also has senators Sam Ongeri and Amos Wako as part of his team from Nyanza.
Yesterday Mr Mbadi explained that it was normal that after every election “you acquire new people around you for a formidable team”.
“I can tell you that we have recruited new people to our team as part of our preparations. People like Senator Sam Ongeri, Amos Wako are part of our team. We also have people from Jubilee who are now working with us,” he added.
“That new working relationship was demonstrated in how county assemblies rejected the Punguza Mizigo Bill. You could see central and Nyanza leading in rejecting the bill. I can assure you that we will have a very formidable alliance.”
In the Gusii region, Raila relies on Kisii Governor James Ongwae, while in southern Nyanza, Homa Bay Woman Representative Gladys Wanga is a key ally.
“Junet is not only Baba’s man in southern Nyanza, he is also a national errand boy. He is a trusted emissary. He is also a good negotiator,” said an ODM insider.
“This is why you always see him by Raila’s side in some very difficult missions, like during the March 9, 2018 handshake at Harambee House.”
In western, Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya, one of ODM’s two deputy party leaders, leads the team of Raila’s generals. With ANC leader Musalia Mudavadi having broken ranks with the former Prime Minister, new names are emerging. They include party secretary general Edwin Sifuna, Busia Woman Rep Florence Mutua, who recently accompanied Raila on a State visit to Uganda, Mr Mudavadi’s own nominated MP Geoffrey Osotsi, Kakamega Senator Cleophas Malala and Saboti MP Caleb Hamisi.
When reached for comment on his closeness to Raila, Nyando MP Okello laughed it off, saying: “Stop reading too much into this. I believe nobody can claim to be closer to the party leader than the other.”
Yesterday, Junet said: “It is too early to speak about 2022. The strategy we may have now may change before then. As a party, we will continue to strengthen our outfit.”
In Siaya, Ugunja MP Opiyo Wandayi, who is also the ODM director of political affairs, and East African Legislative Assembly MP Oburu Oginga are key figures in Raila’s political strategy.
Mr Wandayi chairs the Public Accounts Committee in the National Assembly, and his sentiments have been firm in regards to the running of the ODM party.
When reached for comment yesterday, Wandayi did not want to discuss his role in Raila’s new line-up, but said the party was adjusting to the unfolding political events.
Even as he holds his cards close to his chest, Raila’s troops are preparing for any eventuality. The former PM has pushed some of his radical allies to silence, and those alluding to his 2022 plans have been rebuked and somewhat isolated.
Siaya Senator James Orengo attracted the fury of the ODM leadership when he once alluded, in a television interview, to an Uhuru-Raila alliance for 2022.
Unity and development
For now, Raila is keen to tell his supporters that he and Uhuru are joined at the hip in pushing for Kenya’s unity and development through the Building Brides Initiative, whose report is expected any day now.
“Raila wants to build a new generation of leaders in western while scheming for better things. He has stopped shooting straight from the hip and has succeed in calming the hitherto hot waters in the region,” says governance expert Joshua Orero.
Ochieng’ Obiero, a political commentator and strategist, said Raila had changed tack from an abrasive politician to statesman - an indication that he has more up his sleeves. “It is difficult to say who is his man in Nyanza and western. It is only guesswork. Raila does not want to burn bridges.