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BBI tops Raila agenda in 2021 as next election draws closer

By Harold Odhiambo | December 29th 2020 at 00:00:00 GMT +0300

ODM leader Raila Odinga. [File]

Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) party leader Raila Odinga strolls into the New Year with a full in-tray of political goals and secrets that could define his 2022 General Election plans.

Two big battles await the ODM chief in the first three months of 2021, and he has said he is not taking any chances.

Regarded as one of the country’s political heavyweights, Raila is also widely expected to take a fifth stab at the presidency.

Top on his to-do list is the proposed Building Bridges Initiative referendum, which he hopes will be done and dusted by April, as well as the titanic race for Nairobi’s gubernatorial seat.

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Raila will be hoping to make amends after a shocking loss in the Msambweni parliamentary by-election by mobilising his troops for a bruising contest to reclaim the seat ODM clinched in 2017.

On matters Nairobi, it is, however, not yet clear if ODM will field a candidate or back a Jubilee Party nominee for the seat following his handshake with President Uhuru Kenyatta.

His main focus is the push for a referendum, which risks running into a brick wall over the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission’s (IEBC) lack of preparedness due to lack of funds.

The ODM chief has already made his intentions clear about rallying Kenyans to ensure that the process is a success, and that he is working to ensure the Constitution of Kenya (Amendment) Bill, 2020 is passed and adopted.

On Christmas Day, Raila sought to breathe fresh life into the BBI quest by declaring that the process will enter a new crucial phase next year.

He is hoping the initiative will be concluded in the first quarter of 2021 to pave way for implementation of the document should the plebiscite go in his favour.

In his speech, Raila urged Kenyans to brace themselves for the next chapter of the initiative even as he vouched for its support to help unlock the country’s economic potential and boost national cohesion.

“We are crossing into the New Year and it will open a new chapter for the BBI process. The process will improve the living conditions of our people and I urge all Kenyans to support it.”

With less than two years before the next elections, Raila envisages that he and President Kenyatta will stamp their legacies by ensuring the BBI sails through.

According to Raila, the process will improve women’s representation in elective posts and enhance growth in the counties by increasing the devolved units’ equitable share from the National Government to 35 per cent.

The IEBC has pushed for more money to be allocated for the referendum. Already, the National Treasury has given Sh93 million for verification of the signatures endorsing the document.

Raila’s foot soldiers have piled pressure on the electoral body to state exactly how long it will take to complete the verification process.

Ugunja MP Opiyo Wandayi and his Gem counterpart Elisha Odhiambo, who accompanied Raila during the Christmas Mass, said the IEBC should not be allowed to work without a timeframe.

“We are aware that what is standing between us and the referendum is the IEBC. We cannot give IEBC a blank cheque. The chairman of IEBC must come out and tell us when they will complete the verifications to pave way for the next move,” said Wandayi.

Raila, too, is hoping that the electoral body will complete the exercise as soon as possible. If all goes according to plan, the country will go for a referendum by April. In his speech, an optimistic Raila told congregants at Nyamira ACK in Bondo that there was no turning back in the quest to change the Constitution. “We want a referendum where people will say yes or no within the first quarter of the year. After that, the implementation of the document can take place.”

This crucial phase of the BBI as well as the Nairobi gubernatorial race are set to open a fresh contest between Raila and Deputy President William Ruto who is still cagey about the quest to change the Constitution.

Although Ruto has not come out openly to oppose the document, he and his foot soldiers have been giving mixed signals and tough conditions if the exercise is to proceed. But his sentiments have been viewed by his opponents, including Raila, as a red herring intended to derail the plebiscite.

For the better part of the year, Ruto has played on the theme of ‘hustler’ and ‘dynasty’ politics to market his 2022 presidential ambition and challenge Raila’s claim to the throne.

The hustler narrative has been part of the issue the DP has claimed needs to be reconsidered in the BBI process.

On Christmas Day, Raila sought to debunk Ruto’s narrative and termed it a ploy to dupe Kenyans. He recounted his predicament when he was imprisoned during the struggle for Kenya’s second liberation.

“Once upon a time, I was down there. I was prisoner number 15423 and that is how I was identified in Kamiti and Shimo La Tewa prisons,” said Raila.

He narrated how life was difficult in prison and how they were subjected to suffering by the authorities. This, he added, did not lessen his resolve to improve his life. “I managed to come out of all that and even became the prime minister. Someone should not tell us that they are a hustler.”

Raila’s sentiments were shared by his brother, Oburu Oginga, who claimed that Ruto should stop acting like someone in the opposition because he holds a key office in the country.

In 2021, Raila is also faced with the daunting task of rebuilding confidence in ODM after the Msambweni by-election defeat. His party won the seat in 2017.

The Nairobi gubernatorial by-election will be the first litmus test for his party, which is building a campaign war chest ahead of the 2022 General Election.

When asked by journalists whether his party will field a candidate, Raila declined to respond and said the country was still in a ‘festive mood’.

It is also expected that Raila will next year declare his political intentions that he has kept close to his chest since the famous handshake.

In the new formula inked in the BBI process, it is unclear which power arrangement he will be part of should the country embrace changes to the Constitution that has proposals for the creation of the seat of prime minister and president.

His supporters want him to announce his candidature for the presidency. While they view him as Uhuru’s heir apparent, Raila has restrained himself from making promises that may undermine his peace accord with the president.

The ODM leader will also face a daunting task to control the ambitions of his foot soldiers, which could be a recipe for chaos in the Orange party.

In Homa Bay, senior ODM members including party chairman John Mbadi, Woman Rep Gladys Wanga - who also serves as ODM branch chair - as well as former Nairobi Governor Evans Kidero have declared their intentions to replace Governor Cyprian Awiti.

Former Kasipul MP Oyugi Magwanga, who returned to the party recently, has also thrown his hat into the political ring.

In Siaya, Senator James Orengo, Wandayi and former Rarieda MP Nicholas Gumbo are lining up to take over Governor Cornel Rasanga’s seat. This is bound to give the party leader another headache.

Focus has also shifted to parliamentary seats. During Christmas Mass, two aspirants eyeing Bondo MP Gideon Ochanda’s seat were introduced by Oburu.

[Additional reporting by Isaiah Gwengi]

Raila Odinga 2022 General Election ODM
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