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Raila embarks on life beyond reggae strategy as polls beckon

POLITICS
By Oscar Obonyo | July 4th 2021

From left,  Musalia Mudavadi, Raila Odinga, Kalonzo Musyoka and Moses Wetangula at Okoa Kenya headquarters, Nairobi, February 1, 2018. [Pius Cheruiyot, Standard]

Even as the Court of Appeal retires to consider the fate of the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI), political backers of ODM leader Raila Odinga have embarked on a “life beyond reggae” strategy to aggressively market the former prime minister as a presidential candidate in next year’s polls.

Over the last two weeks alone, the Orange party has rolled out several activities, including official launch of the voter registration drive, setting up and reopening of party offices across all the 47 counties, as well as organising grassroots party elections.

Raila has separately held a series of meetings with political leaders from various regions, the very latest involving delegations from Mombasa, Kisii, Nyamira and Kakamega counties.

The past couple of weeks have seen the ODM leader on a charm offensive to consolidate his traditional political backyards in Nyanza, Western and Coastal regions.

On Tuesday, for instance, he met with leaders from Abagusii community that included Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i, Kisii Governor James Ongwae, Senator Sam Ongeri, Woman Rep Janet Ongera, Kitutu Chache North MP Jimmy Angwenyi, Roads and Infrastructure Chief Administrative Secretary Chris Obure and ODM treasurer Timothy Bosire.

According to National Assembly Minority Whip Junet Mohamed, who is also ODM’s director of elections, the move was aimed at uniting the political players in Kisii, following a highly divisive by-election in Bonchari in May, where ODM faced off with rivals-turned allies, Jubilee.

Emerging rifts

ODM’s Pavel Oimeke won the seat.

“Nyanza being Baba’s (Raila) rural backyard, it was incumbent upon us to move in fast and seal the emerging rifts. And we are happy to report that the differences have been resolved and we are forging ahead as a united front,” said Junet.

ODM secretary general Edwin Sifuna singles out the recent meeting between Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya and Raila in Nairobi as a pointer to “great things to come”. “The discussions with Oparanya were lengthy and crucial and aimed at structuring our campaigns in Western region ahead of next year’s elections,” Sifuna said.

Yesterday, the ODM leader was in Mombasa to preside over the launch of Mvita Medical Cover Programme that has provided 12,000 families with access to National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF).

Raila also met with some ODM leaders on the eve of the event.

ODM leader Raila Odinga at burial of Esther Ngonyo in Kieni, Nyeri. [Kibata Kihu, Standard]

His latest visit to the Coast comes just two weeks after he went to the region where he also met some ODM leaders.

Raila has also in recent weeks hosted Kikuyu Council of Elders, led by their chair Wachira Kiago, at his Karen home. The elders were accompanied by politicians, including Ndaragua MP Jeremiah Kioni, former Gatanga MP Peter Kenneth and a number of leaders from Nyanza.

“The country is now in the middle of an election cycle and we (ODM) are in the right mood with the right candidate. We have less than a year to get our act together and that is why we are in full motion now,” Sifuna told The Sunday Standard yesterday.

Laying the ground

Raila said he was essentially laying the ground for the political processes and outcomes envisaged in the BBI.

“The run-up to and the post-2022 politics must be based on a platform of inclusion with a government in which all regions and communities feel included,” he told The Sunday Standard through his spokesman Dennis Onyango.

Raila said he was meeting with converts to this cause to strengthen their faith. He was also on a mission to meet the doubting Thomases in order that they embrace the idea. And he happily noted that he was making “very good progress”.

An optimistic Raila still believes that BBI will proceed to a referendum and be approved by the people. According to the ODM leader, BBI is not just a mere document now stuck in court, but rather an idea that will eventually come to be realised in another format “just like other reform ideas that were once banned and declared illegal but came to pass”.

His fears, though, are that if the country returns to the politics of confrontation and combat after 2022, the work of reform and reconstruction in light of the Covid-19 pandemic will be impossible.

“A winner-takes-all approach will not work, meaning an all-inclusive government of unity is the way out of this situation,” he said, pointing out that his partners are in agreement with him “even though they differ on who should lead it.”

Observing that the rationale of the Handshake is uniting the country for posterity, Amani National Congress (ANC) leader Musalia Mudavadi’s spokesman Kibisu Kabatesi opines that Raila’s legacy will not be served by an electoral defeat.

“It will be served better by supporting and leaving the country in the hands of an able protégé,” he says.

ODM leader Raila Odinga at the burial of former Gem MP Jakoyo Midiwo on June 26, 2021. [Collins Oduor, Standard]

Indeed, the former PM’s relentless push for execution of the BBI proposals notwithstanding, political players, especially Raila’s rivals, view it differently.

They believe Raila’s recent moves are a pointer to him having kicked off presidential campaigns in earnest.

In fact before the High Court ruling, when the BBI train momentarily stalled in the courts, Raila gave mixed signals on whether or not he would vie for presidency, indicating only that he would make that decision known after the anticipated BBI referendum.

At some point, he even failed to meet the deadline set by his own party to present papers for nomination as the presidential flag bearer.

The notion that Raila had finally hit the campaign trail full throttle was however projected by ODM chair  John Mbadi, when he recently pointed out that the Raila campaign needed the support of Mudavadi, Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka, Kanu’s Gideon Moi, among others, to successfully make a stab at the presidency.

By striking a reconciliatory note, Mbadi seemed to send the clearest political overture to coalition partners in the now troubled National Super Alliance (Nasa).

Reciprocity

However, this gesture was not well received by Mudavadi and Kalonzo, with the latter declaring a couple of days later that he would be “the most stupid individual” to support Raila’s presidential bid for a third time “without any measure of reciprocity”.

Kitui Senator Enoch Wambua similarly said the former VP was independently charting his presidential campaign. He said Kalonzo can only team up with Raila on the understanding that the ODM leader supports his bid instead.

But former Teso North MP Arthur Odera opines that the Wiper leader’s realistic political opportunities lie squarely with Raila.

“On his own, he will be eaten alive politically. He needs power, and teaming up with Raila alongside other key players provides him with the opportunity to get into power. He may play hard to get with the view to raise his stakes, but he is surely headed there,” says Odera.

Pointing out that Kalonzo’s statement has a rider to the effect that he cannot support Raila “without a measure of reciprocity”, he suggests that the word ‘reciprocity’ gives room for a renewed partnership.

However, according to Kabatesi, Mbadi’s apparent overtures are “a trial balloon to tempt Nasa partners to bulk and support Raila.”

ODM leader Raila Odinga making his remarks at Jomo Kenyatta International Stadium in Kisumu on June 1, 2021. [Collins Oduor, Standard]

That is, however, quite a long shot, he said. 

“Mbadi is acknowledging and speaking to a commonplace fact. Who doesn’t know that Raila support has since 2007 ridden on endorsements and the shoulders of others? 

“There has been this illusion too within ODM that Raila is able to raise support independent of coalition colleagues, but the reality appears to be dawning on them that left alone, Raila will be exposed for who he is – a political paper tiger,” says Kabatesi.

Sifuna, however, maintains the invitation extended to Mudavadi and Kalonzo “does not in any way amount to lack of political capacity on our part”.

Instructively, all the main political parties, which have teamed up with the president in support of the BBI process have entered into a working arrangement of sorts with Jubilee, except Mudavadi’s ANC and Bungoma Senator Moses Wetang’ula’s Ford-Kenya.

Both Wiper and Kanu signed an agreement of cooperation with Jubilee in relatively low-key events.

But ODM has gone a notch higher by engaging the ruling party in merger talks. Observers point out that this is the clearest indication of Raila’s presidential bid in next year’s poll.

Download the BBI Judgement by all seven Judges - Civil Appeal No. E291 of 2021
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