President Uhuru Kenyatta’s presidency has had a clique of powerful men and women. And depending on politics of the day, the characters have been changing.
In the past two years, no one has been seen to wield more influence in the president’s circles, either by commission or omission, more than ODM leader Raila Odinga.
Once Uhuru’s harshest critic in the first and part of his second term, Raila has turned into the president’s strongest supporter.
But he is not only the president’s man by conjecture or innuendos, he has easily and ebulliently charmed his way to become the defender of the man he claimed stole his presidency twice.
Today, he is ensconced in the trappings of power, elbowing himself to the enviable position that Deputy President William Ruto had as Uhuru’s right-hand man.
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Since the March 9, 2018 handshake, Uhuru and Raila have walked a tight political journey including launching the latest bid to amend the Constitution, under the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI). This push has isolated the DP, while making Raila the second most sought after politician.
However, there are those who see Raila’s moves as painting a picture of Kenya’s pendulous politics.
On Wednesday and Thursday, Raila accompanied Uhuru to Moyale and Lamu where the president was on official duties.
As the African Union special ambassador for Infrastructure, Raila’s presence in Moyale during the opening of the one stop Kenya-Ethiopia border and the visit to the Lamu port could have been well within his realm of work. While on a tour of Mombasa on Thursday, ODM candidate Omar Boga was pictured with President Kenyatta and Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho, with some leaders referring to him as the ‘handshake’ candidate.
“If this was not the surest message from the president and even the picture being released by PSCU, it indicates that Raila is in government and they are working together with the president,” said a top Jubilee party official.
Yesterday, Raila was in Ol Kalau, Nyandarua County where he met Mt Kenya governors, five senators and MPs as a sure support for the handshake and BBI process.
“The train has left the station. Watch this space. There is no going back and we are united more than before,” said the official.
In October, a delegation of elders from Mt Kenya visited Raila’s Bondo home “to cement the relationship between Mt Kenya and Nyanza regions.”
On Monday, Raila suffered political backlash for calling out doctors over their plan to go on strike, as a section of Kenyans on social media, accused him of being insensitive to the medics.
As he spoke, the president was silent on the matter. “All I want to do is to appeal to our doctors to be more understanding. We are in a crisis at the moment, people are dying, ordinary Kenyans are also dying of this Covid-19,” said Raila on Monday.
He said this was not the time “to hold the government to ransom” as Kenya is faced with hard economic times. “We’re in a dire situation in as far as the economy is concerned. Doctors took an oath to protect life. How then do you justify downing your tools when people are dying?” Raila asked.
But political analyst Martin Oloo said Raila had not changed an iota. “Raila only makes noise when outside government, then when he gets in, he turns around completely,” said Oloo. But ODM chairman John Mbadi and Nyando MP Jared Okelo said Raila has been a reformer.
“Raila is a reformist who has fought for political space, fundamental freedoms and pluralism. He has tried to reform the system from within and without, his reforms are not about election as an end,” said Mbadi.
Okelo emphasised Raila’s support for devolution and system of governance as some of the things that have driven him to the latest push for reforms. “This is why the BBI has proposed 35 per cent of revenue raised nationally to go to counties. Raila supports the parliamentary system of government and that are some of the reasons he is pushing for BBI,” he said.
Raila also shared power with former President Mwai Kibaki after a contentious election in 2007, from where he became Prime Minister in a coalition government.
Former Machakos Senator Johnstone Muthama faulted Raila’s stand on issues at the tail end of his career after an illustrious period.
“Raila no longer knows what he is supposed to stand for. He wants to be two people at the same time. He can no longer retreat and be himself again after he joined and became Uhuru cheerleader,” said Muthama. Tiaty MP William Kamket said Raila is now in government and is aware of happenings within it while Ruto was technically sacked in 2018 and that is why he is an “outsider.”
Nandi Senator Samson Cherargei said Raila is more Jubilee than an opposition leader. “The ODM leader has shed his camouflage and shown his true colours as someone who only minds power,” said Cherargei.
But Senate Majority Leader Samuel Poghisio said by virtue of being AU ambassador, Raila was a government envoy and therefore a government operative. “The handshake brought a lot of dynamic things, his relationship with the president is close and now that there is a role for him, why not?” posed the West Pokot senator.
During Jubilee’s first term, Raila exposed graft, including the National Youth Service and Eurobond scandals, which put the government on its toes.
But, in August this year, the former premier caught himself offside when the Kemsa alleged scandal exploded. Raila cautioned those terming it as graft to wait for a forensic audit.
Central Organisation of Trade Unions Secretary General Francis Atwoli said Raila is not the government’s spokesperson, but only talks as a statesman. “Raila speaks on issues of national concern where there are gaps. People should not confuse it for being a spokesperson for government,” said Atwoli.