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How the enigma altered politics and shook 2020

By Steve Mkawale and Moses Nyamori | December 29th 2020

Raila Odinga at a church service in Bondo on December 25, 2020. Handshake and later BBI came to shatter the prevailing political order, and not even the Covid-19 pandemic could slow his “reggae” clarion call for referendum. [Collins Oduor, Standard]

Dubbed the “enigma”, opposition leader Raila Odinga’s hand is traceable to every major political development and trends the country experienced this year.

2020 was the year when the full might of the Raila phenomenon – painstakingly built over the years through scores, losses, betrayals and retreats – was fully felt. Still, he told Citizen TV last night that the year was equally challenging for him.

Together with the combined might of President Uhuru Kenyatta, they created new political pathways, including the ongoing drive to change the 2010 Constitution. They halted bustling political careers, slammed brakes on the speed of others, boosted the prospects of others and sent their rivals racking their political brains.

Not even the Covid-19 pandemic could slow his “reggae” clarion call for referendum. And when President Kenyatta was fully convinced he could fall back on his arms, he pulled the axe on the bulging rebellion in his Jubilee Party.

“Let us give it to him, Raila has set a political agenda that will keep the country busy up to the next General Election. He has always done that in the past but in 2020, he revived his political career through the push for a referendum and at the same time that of President Kenyatta,” observes Philip Chebunet, a senior lecturer at the University of Eldoret.

Broad-based alliance

Decisions made by him and his court, which currently includes select few governors, senators, MPs and influential individuals such as Francis Atwoli, the Cotu secretary general, fundamentally altered the conduct of politics, including the opening of new fissures of rebellion.

On the one hand, a broad-based alliance featuring the president, Raila, Baringo Senator Gideon Moi, Amani National Congress leader Musalia Mudavadi, Wiper’s Kalonzo Musyoka and former Gatanga MP Peter Kenneth took form. On the other, a grumbling group coalescing around Deputy President William Ruto is holding out.

The very idea of Handshake and later BBI came to shatter the prevailing political order in the country. Ruto’s failure to embrace the idea gave fodder to the Jubilee purge, which was witnessed mid this year. All his allies at the National Assembly, Senate, Cabinet and parastatals were kicked out.

The axe also turned on rebellious governors and two – Kiambu’s Ferdinand Waititu and Nairobi’s Mike Sonko – fell to the combined might of President Kenyatta and Raila’s numbers in the Senate. Those who began the year swinging curses Raila’s way ended it singing his psalms.

“He’s truly an enigma. He holds no constitutional office in Kenya and is not a member of our party but he managed to destabilise and at the same time settle matters in Jubilee this year. Right now he is President Kenyatta’s greatest ally, a brother, as they refer to each other,” Laikipia Woman Representative Cate Waruguru says of him.

Waruguru was in Ruto’s camp, but switched sides in the heat of the Jubilee purge. She was accordingly received at Raila’s Capitol Hill office, rewarded with committee leadership and placed at the centre of BBI campaigns in Mount Kenya and Rift Valley.

Her fate is inversely proportional to those who went against the grain of his politics. They include former majority leaders Kipchumba Murkomen (Senate) and Aden Duale (National Assembly), former Senate Deputy Speaker Kithure Kindiki, former Cabinet Secretaries Rashid Echesa and Mwangi Kiunjuri, and the many parliamentary committee chairs booted in the last one year.

“Those changes were a clear indication that Raila’s influence in President Kenyatta’s government had grown immensely,” says Gitile Naituli, a professor of management and leadership at Multimedia University.

In his interview with Citizen TV last night, Raila claimed what many think has been a smooth sailing year for him was actually quite challenging at a personal level.

“I went for an operation in Dubai, I was completely immobile for three months. Those were low moments,” he said.

He spoke of his retirement, and why it may not be soon as some people want it, his beef with the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), why referendum must happen in good time ahead of 2022 and whether he will accept the results of the referendum.

His demeanor was that of a man whose plans are panning to the script. Of late, he has adopted the composure of a statesman, speaking for the greater good at the expense of the political good, and measured to the core in his pronouncements.

President Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga display a copy of the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) report at Kisii State Lodge on October 20. [File, Standard]


“I hold the view that there is a crisis, doctors are having a problem but I say if you are protesting against the government, the government is not being hurt by downing your tools; it is the people who require treatment who are the victims. I have also asked the government to behave more responsibly,” he told the station.

Raila blamed lawyers, courts and media for protecting the corrupt through representation, bail and glorification, respectively. He gave every impression that his last pending grievance as he crosses the year is the reformation of the IEBC to be responsive to the country’s needs.

He maintained that IEBC’s budget for the election was warped and that the commission must be composed of political party nominees because such composition “cannot conspire”.

“This is why we are trying to reorganise IEBC so that we can have a commission that is responsive to the needs of the people. The only elections where there were no issues was the one of 2002. Why was that? The electoral commission was a compromise of political parties, the IPPG formula,” Raila said.

What he started in 2020, he implied, must be sealed in 2021 for it to have meaningful effect. The referendum, for instance, cannot wait for 2022 because some of the issues in question, like representation of women, will have an impact on the credibility of the very election.

And he is ready for whichever outcome Kenyans accord a BBI referendum. He said it will not stop his reggae, and that it is not the horse gallivanting him to State House in 2022.

“If the country says no to the changes they would have passed their verdict. The world will not stop moving because the country has said no. But I know Kenyans, they know what is good and not good for them. I believe given opportunity they will make the right choice,” he said.

Throughout 2020, Raila dodged the question of his position in 2022 elections. He did not disappoint in his interview last night. He reiterated that he never loses sleep over 2022, that they had agreed to ignore that bit, but used the occasion to warn those preoccupied with 2022, on the strength of his own experience:

“Some people think State House is ordained for them, that they had promises that they need fulfilled. State House is for the people of Kenya. You see, I have won elections before but I am not in State House. For me and Uhuru, our task is to deliver the BBI. Once that is done, then Kenyans will make their own choice going forward.”

When the question was flipped, riding on the retirement of the president and whether he should retire with him, he quickly sought to separate his fate from his brother, Kenyatta: “We are two different animals. If I want to retire from politics nothing stops me. I will make my decision when the right time comes.”

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