Court of Appeal judgement a blow to Raila, but still seems to have many options for 2022

ODM leader Raila Odinga. [Harun Wathari, Standard]

The pain of the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) heartbreak at the Court of Appeal weighs the heaviest on former Prime Minister Raila Odinga.

Of all politicians who stood to benefit from the BBI Bill, none had invested as much time and effort as the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) party leader.

So dear was the BBI to him that he held off everything else, including announcing his presidential bid, until he saw off the push to amend the Constitution.

And Raila yesterday made true his promise by declaring he was ready to face Deputy President William Ruto in next year’s presidential contest.

Alongside President Uhuru Kenyatta, Raila has been part of the handshake-cum-BBI constitutional amendment process for more than three years.

The president’s commitment to the process faced doubts several times, but Raila’s never did. In the face of disquiet from within his inner circle, the ODM leader acted swiftly to assert his dedication to the BBI.

Rarieda lawmaker Otiende Amollo lost his slot in the National Assembly Justice and Legal Affairs Committee for castigating Uhuru and Raila’s pet project in Parliament.

On the heels of the Court of Appeal judgement, Raila issued a philosophical statement on the BBI journey.

“It is likely that today’s Court of Appeal ruling is not the end of the conversation and the parties involved will each make their own decisions on how to proceed from the decision that has been delivered today. But we feel that we have to move on,” Raila conceded on his social media platforms.

His statement was an affirmation of his previous remarks about not contesting an adverse judgement.

But for a man who seemingly pegged what many have termed his last bullet on the BBI, what does moving on entail?

Moving on, for one, means abandoning a joint project between himself and the president – one that they had sold to the public as the silver bullet for the perennial disunity.

But more significant to his presidential quest, moving on means Raila must let go of the reggae that pushed for reforms.

Since his March 2018 handshake with the president, the ODM leader has championed the case for constitutional amendments vigorously on public podiums.

For a while, before the Covid-19 pandemic struck, his BBI rallies were the talk of town. At some point, noticing that they might end up trailing Raila, allies of Deputy President William Ruto wanted to be included in spreading the BBI agenda.

That was before they decided to oppose the Bill.

The Daniel Musinga-led Court of Appeal verdict left Raila with the task of fashioning another vehicle to sustain his momentum until next year’s election, for which he has already earned the endorsement of his Nyanza backyard.

Struggling to win back his former allies in NASA, Raila needed incentives that could soften their hearts. An expanded Executive in the BBI Bill would have worked perfectly. But the proposed slots of a prime minister and two deputies are now off the table.

If he insists on the presidency, Raila can only accommodate a deputy – perhaps the only position that can attract the greatest interest among his former allies, and which would not count as a demotion.

The other positions currently are cabinet secretaries and speakers of the respective houses of the bicameral parliament.

But the ODM leader’s statement after the BBI judgement not being the end of the conversation, is telling.

As part of his campaign messaging, he may popularise his bid by peddling the “good intentions” of the process. On the other hand, Raila could entice his former allies with promises of expanding the Executive through constitutional changes if he clinches power.

But that may be a tall order given the crowded presidential race with many interests to satisfy.

Politically, the seven-judge Bench dealt Raila a body blow, and he must shake off the perception of loss that his rivals have started using to pin him down.

Less than 24 hours after the BBI shocker, Raila expressed his interest to wriggle himself out of the loss. Observers contend that this is classic Raila, always thriving in uncertainty.

“This is a man with a million options. When one door closes for him, more open. The strangest thing about him is that you never know what his options are, and you only get to know once he emerges from the mud,” says Francis Owakah, a lecturer of philosophy at the University of Nairobi.

Timothy Onduru, a lecturer of history at Moi University, says the ODM leader must quickly pick himself up and get moving.