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Raila Odinga swims in unfamiliar waters

POLITICS
By Jacob Ng'etich and Allan Mungai | September 29th 2021
ODM Leader Raila Odinga (left) talks to Maoka Maore during a meeting scheduled between Raila and Mt. Kenya business community at Safari Park on September 28, 2021. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

In the run-up to next year's elections, ODM leader Raila Odinga has changed strategy as he endears himself to new vote blocs.   

From his combative style of politics, Raila is now less confrontational.

The man who acrimoniously lost an election having fired 'the last bullet' is now a presidential aspirant fronted by government insiders. Today, the former prime minister is pro-system.

He is employing his tact to endear himself to the business community and President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Mt Kenya backyard.

Where Raila was the central cast in running street battles and the target of teargas canisters, he now he sits in meetings with policy makers and has the attention of influential individuals whose pockets can sway political outcomes.

Yesterday, Raila met top businessmen from Mt Kenya at the Safari Park Hotel, Nairobi.  This same group was critical during the 2013 and 2017 elections, and played a big role in delivering victory for President Uhuru Kenyatta.   

“The people of the mountain will be looking for a leader who will not seek followers but will come to inspire us with what we need,” said Peter Munga, Mt Kenya Foundation chairman.

The foundation's support not only comes with the political mobilisation, but with billions to finance the campaigns.

Raila's strategy is not short-term. In fact, he drew the plan immediately after the contested 2017 presidential election. His transformation begun after the 'handshake' with Uhuru on March 9, 2018 when he dropped the hardline, anti-establishment stance that had driven all his presidential bids.

By appearing to sacrifice his political ambition for the bigger goal of unity, Raila made the most significant step into the inner sanctum of the presidency.

After the 'handshake', the Raila Kenyans knew who would not mince his words when the Judiciary was facing an assault from the Executive or when the fuel prices hit new highs, now found justification for the government's actions. And when the criticism came, it was in the form of a whisper from someone eager not to antagonise the government.

Even his voice against corruption in the Jubilee government has turned into a murmur.

Critics have questioned Raila’s silence on key policy and governance queries.

The previous Raila would have been loud in his condemnation of scandals reported under Jubilee's second term, or Uhuru's failure to appoint six nominees as Court of Appeal judges despite their approval by the Judicial Service Commission.

He would have been leading the voices speaking against perceived nepotism and tribalism in State appointments, the recent Laikipia clashes and public outcry on the Competence-Based Curriculum (CBC). 

In most cases, Raila has issued media statements without the sting as witnessed in the run-up to the 2017 polls when his allies took the State head-on, even through street demonstrations.

Yet in the face of the ODM leader’s dalliance with President Kenyatta establishment, are critical questions of his political end game.

Will Raila retain his traditional political bases as he hunts for new allies with this change of tack?

Some critics think the ODM leader has abandoned his ideals at the alter of  political expediency.

But could Raila as well be the State’s secret card against Deputy President William Ruto's ascension to power, hence his change of strategy?

His elder brother Dr Oburu Odinga says all is well that they have the system on their side, and they are confident that Raila is well placed for victory next year.

"We have previously won elections but did not get power, we now have the system. What we hope is that it does not work against us then we will win," said Oburu.

Last week, the former Head of Public Service Francis Kimemia confirmed about the State's hand in elections.

The Nyandarua Governor fell short of saying that the so-called Deep State had the power to subvert the electoral process.

“Of course the (Deep) State exists,” he said. “It could be deeper than deep... If you have two candidates – let’s say – at 50-50, and the Deep State backs one, you can be sure that one will win the election… but that candidate must be credible and electable.”

Could the Deep State and the system be behind the new Raila? Could they have convinced him to change his approach? Time will tell. 

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