Former Prime Minister Raila Odinga has always been a man carrying around an invisible weight.
For ages now, he has carried the weight of the aspirations of millions of supporters and their undying quest for change.
Then in 2018, in an apparent shift of direction, he announced that he and President Uhuru Kenyatta would work together.
Yet in that new direction that Raila took, he is still carrying a weight.
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More recently though, especially after his party’s candidate lost in the Msambweni Constituency by-election on Tuesday, the former prime minister is bearing a new weight – the weight of his words – that the outcome of the poll would be indicative of the popularity of the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) that he and President Kenyatta are aggressively pushing.
It was evident in the way he leaned forward on his desk at his Capitol Hill Square office as he talked on the phone, as ODM Director of Elections Junet Mohamed stood close by.
In an unexpected turn of events, ODM’s candidate lost to one of the party’s own who left to vie as an independent candidate and who, to prove a point to the former PM, was backed by allies of Raila’s nemesis Deputy President William Ruto.
But if Raila (pictured) is unsettled by Omar Boga’s loss to Feisal Bader, it is not because it portends a similar denial of the constitutional change drive he is championing.
The ODM leader has been on a relentless drive to popularise the BBI initiative that is borne from his 2018 Handshake with President Kenyatta.
But what is his personal interest in the document?
“It was never meant to benefit Raila Odinga. I am just an individual. We are addressing national issues. We were not that selfish to look at ourselves. Raila will only be here today, tomorrow there will be someone else,” he says.
Raila, while avoiding any discussion on a fifth attempt at the presidency, says his immediate interest is to ensure what he and Uhuru agreed on is implemented.
“That is why I do not even want to talk about 2022 because it is an event that will come and go and Kenya will remain,” he says.
But Raila’s immediate concern is the apparent reluctance of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) to play ball.
The BBI secretariat delivered to the commission some four million signatures required in their push to have a referendum, but the IEBC insists that they do not have the funds for the verification exercise. Raila says IEBC’s statement proved why they do not have confidence in the electoral body.
“They are in office and earning a salary every month, but elections are every five years, so what is it they do in office every day?” he asks.
“Why do they need money to verify a signature? They need to use what they have.”
Raila’s complaint against the commission is that it has been extravagant in its demands for money.
“IEBC must be brought down to earth and come up with realistic figures about the cost of running a referendum,” he says. While he enjoys that status that has gotten him the president’s ear, Raila’s relationship with President Kenyatta has come with criticism that he has become a government apologist and the opposition subordinate.
The former PM also now has to defend his inaction and silence over graft, and endorsement of those accused of corruption.
“I would be the last person to try and cleanse people who are accused of corruption,” he says, “what goes on in this country (corruption) pains me a lot.”
He also says he has not ceased fighting for democracy. “We are not quiet, as you can see we are not part of the Government.”
Yet, being a pseudo part of government is the very accusation levelled against him and the legislators in his party.
“It is not just opposition voice is missing, it is just that now we can do it in a different way, what is called constructive opposition where you don’t just oppose for the sake of opposing but also offer solutions. My own Members of Parliament have been speaking up about several other issues in Parliament,” says Raila.
His language, initially one of agitating for the masses who were feeling oppressed by the Government, has mellowed.
While the Government is taking flak for the poor management of the Covid-19 pandemic, Raila says it has performed well.
He, however, insists that his comments recently to medics that they were holding the Government at ransom by threatening to strike while people were dying, were taken out of context. The former PM says he is not averse to working with Ruto.
“They say politics makes strange bedfellows. We worked with Ruto before and he says that we chased him from ODM but we did not, he was the one who left,” he says, agreeing to the possibility that he could work with Ruto again.