Orange Democratic Movement leader Raila Odinga is fast emerging as the President’s most trusted point man in politics and public affairs.
Whether in Parliament or public rallies or official functions, Raila is increasingly taking on a leading role in championing President Uhuru Kenyatta’s cause.
For example, the former Prime Minister is leading a national drive for constitutional and institutional reform under the Building Bridges Initiative- whose schedule of the next seven public meetings starting with Mombasa on January 25 and capping in Nairobi on February 26 emerged yesterday- on behalf of the President.
Whether he’s meeting local leaders or international investors, addressing a rally or receiving guests at his Nairobi office, Raila’s message has consistently echoed the President’s call for political stability for economic sustainability.
Raila’s speeches leave no doubt that he has a stake in government and its successes particularly with regard to BBI campaign.
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Echoing the President
“This (BBI) report is not about one person. The changes are not meant to benefit Uhuru, Raila or any other person. Raila will be there today but he will go, and so will everyone else,” Raila has consistently said.
Unlike in the past when he would be ambiguous on contentious matters such as inflation, cost of living and runaway debt, Raila amplifies the President’s position.
“I know the issue of the VAT on fuel is the biggest issue affecting Kenyans now. The budget deficit meant that if the VAT was to be reduced to zero, it was going to hurt our country,” Raila told a crowd protesting the high cost of living in Kisumu in 2018 in the wake of government’s push to increase the taxes.
All this is happening as the influence and visibility of Deputy President William Ruto appears to be diminishing. Raila’s ODM party is now Uhuru’s biggest defender, ironically at a time the President faces a rebellion from a faction within his own Jubilee Party allied to his deputy.
The launch of the Building Bridges Initiative report was billed as an anti-climax, which saw Ruto’s allies celebrate the document that was interpreted to have short-changed Raila as it did not detail radical proposals like executive prime minister considered dear to him.
Recent rallies have, however, again turned the tide against the DP’s camp. Ruto has been left firing hard-hitting statements targeting Raila, alleging misuse of State resources in BBI rallies that the ODM leader is championing and questioning the need for public campaigns yet there was consensus about the report.
The DP has dismissed the rallies so far held in Kisii and Kakamega, and which move to the Coast next, as forums for crafting ODM’s 2022 political lineup alluding to the high profile leaders including Cabinet Secretaries and governors in attendance.
Reports that Uhuru intervened to have Musalia Mudavadi and Moses Wetangula attend the Kakamega meeting, despite their initial opposition, besides rallying the presence of governors from outside the region, demonstrates Raila has the President’s blessings; and the Head of State is determined to pull strings behind the scene to smooth the way where the ODM leader encounters resistance.
Interior CS Fred Matiangí recently captured the ODM leader’s new high profile role when he revealed during the first BBI consultative meeting in Kisii that he only takes instructions from the President and Raila.
“Inche n’omogaka oyo ngobwatia amo n’omogambi bwense”, Matiangí said, which loosely translates as “I don’t take instructions from any other person apart from Raila and the President.”
Since the March 9, 2018 truce with the President, Raila has transformed from a harsh critic of government to an effective Uhuru mobiliser, helping the President push through his agenda, as was the case later that year when he helped Jubilee administration overcome resistance to new taxes in Parliament.
And last October, Raila’s staunch allies including Junet Mohamed, John Mbadi and Gladys Wanga were on hand to help government in Parliament raise the debt ceiling to Sh9 trillion, with Wanga putting up strong justification that no economy grows without borrowing. Raila has become a dependable ally of the President, rallying support to his war against corruption.
Such has been the rising influence of the opposition leader in the Jubilee administration that Ruto’s allies have described the former premier as “an outsider in government”, and demanded that Uhuru comes out clear about his role.
High profile visitors
But politicians allied to Uhuru and Raila say the DP has pushed himself out of government by fighting the BBI, which is expected to lead to constitutional reforms including change in the structure of government.
Besides being the face of the ongoing BBI consultative meetings, which are being bankrolled by the State and attended by high profile civil servants, Cabinet Secretaries in the Jubilee government have since become part of delegations that visit Raila’s Capitol Hill to brief him on various government projects.
Mid last year, Raila led CSs James Macharia, Peter Munya and John Munyes to inspect progress of Kisumu Port project. It is also instructive to point out that Raila was in Mombasa chairing a regional ministerial meeting on Lamu Port-South Sudan-Ethiopia-Transport (Lapsset) project when Uhuru announced changes in his Cabinet at State House Mombasa.
In Parliament, ODM MPs have taken up the role of pushing government agenda more zealously than their counterparts in the ruling party. During the controversial passage of the eight per cent value added tax on petroleum products, National Assembly Minority Leader John Mbadi plotted a walkout from the chambers that effectively handed Uhuru a win on the basis of lack of quorum.
Mbadi, who is ODM chairman, and nominated MP Maina Kamanda say Ruto and his allies should understand that political dynamics have changed following the handshake. They explain that the two leaders have to constantly consult on various issues.
“In 2013 they formed government with Ruto and that is why they kept consulting. But after the 2017 election, Uhuru agenda changed. He decided to unite the country through the BBI, but Ruto is against his decision. He has instead decided to incite people against the President. These MPs allied to him stand in a podium and start attacking the President in the presence of the DP. What do you do? You ignore them and work with people who are helping your cause,” said Mbadi.
He added: “The two settled on an agenda to work together that needed consultation in other things like development projects. It is not the question of Raila being a Mr Fix it for Uhuru. That would be diminishing Raila’s stature.”
Kamanda says Uhuru handed Ruto more role in their first term but things have changed because he has decided to defy his boss.