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Down but never out: Raila Odinga reinvents himself for 2022

By Brian Otieno | December 8th 2021
ODM leader Raila Odinga. [David Njaaga, Standard]

Just when he looked the least attractive to his erstwhile allies in the National Super Alliance (NASA), ODM leader Raila Odinga has emerged as an object of awe.

The idea of a new alliance with Raila at the top, shunned by NASA partners Kalonzo Musyoka (Wiper), Musalia Mudavadi (Amani National Congress), and Moses Wetang’ula (Ford Kenya), is emerging to be an irresistible prospect. Some of Raila’s former friends are said to be seeking partnership with him.

And it has a lot to do with the ODM leader’s abilities, which have seen him sail through political waves. In his political career spanning three decades, Raila has encountered circumstances that would ordinarily sink one, emerging on the other side unscathed.

It was the case when President Uhuru Kenyatta was sworn in for a second term and everyone thought the ODM leader’s good days were behind him. Seemingly out of whim, he would declare himself the “people’s president” in a mock swearing-in ceremony at Uhuru Park.

The result, the arrest of lawyer Miguna Miguna and Ruaraka MP TJ Kajwang’ after then-Attorney General Githu Muigai said the ceremony was treason, and the absence of Raila’s Nasa allies at the event may have signalled the beginning of the end for the former PM’s political career.

And at that moment, the ODM leader would strategically shake hands with President Uhuru Kenyatta. This was a familiar move for the man, having entered into similar arrangements with former presidents Moi and Kibaki in 2002 and 2007 respectively.

The resulting Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) would buy him space in the limelight. With Uhuru’s blessings, Raila would hold campaigns for the push to amend the Constitution, meeting people and receiving regional resolutions. But the handshake and the BBI only served to alienate his former comrades in NASA.

The three kept close for a while but the centre could no longer hold. So they officially deserted him in July, exiting the coalition and declaring it dead. Kalonzo and Mudavadi would equate supporting Raila a third time to madness. Wetang’ula was more open to a reunion.

When they left him to form the One Kenya Alliance, alongside Kanu chairman Gideon Moi, Raila was isolated. A string of losses for the BBI at the High Court and Court of Appeal only worsened his predicament. Deputy President William Ruto thought Raila, and Uhuru, could feel much worse and rubbed their loss in their faces. In every sense, the ODM leader was down. He was supposed to be out. But he wasn’t.

ODM and Jubilee legislators during an inspection tour of Kasarani National Stadium in Nairobi,on December 7, 2021 ahead of Raila Odinga's Azimio la Umoja, conference. [Edward Kplimo,Standard]

Choosing to put ‘reggae’ (the BBI) behind him, Raila would chart a new path christened ‘Azimio la Umoja’ on August 17 in Nakuru. Rejected by his former friends, the ODM leader would assemble a new team – alternate pathways to the regions his backers commanded: Governors Alfred Mutua (Machakos), Charity Ngilu (Kitui), and Kivutha Kibwana (Makueni) to replace Kalonzo.

In Mudavadi’s place, he stuck with governors Wycliffe Oparanya (Kakamega), Wilber Otichillo (Vihiga), Sospeter Ojaamong (Busia). To neutralise Wetang’ula, he trusted Bungoma Governor Wycliffe Wangamati and lawmakers Wafula Wamunyinyi (Kanduyi) and Eseli Simiyu (Tongaren).

Then he brought on board improbable allies from Central and the Mt Kenya diaspora, where he won over seven governors: Kiraitu Murungi (Meru), Lee Kinyanjui (Nakuru), Francis Kimemia (Nyandarua), Martin Wambora (Embu), Muthomi Njuki (Tharaka Nithi), James Nyoro (Kiambu) and Ndiritu Muriithi (Laikipia).

“Raila is a good coach, who knows how to assemble a formidable team,” explains political analyst Dismas Mokua.

“He has done a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) on all politicians and knows their competitive advantage. He knows what each one of them brings to the table.”

When everyone thought him beaten, Raila has won over new allies. And with them he has walked across the country, spreading his ‘Azimio la Umoja’ message.

“Raila is a political genius. He understands politics. He had time to reflect on many issues during his nine-year detention. But his gifts could also be divine,” says commentator Herman Manyora.

“He has a solid understanding of the Kenyan voter and all political players. He has successfully made his supporters emotionally and irrationally connected to him,” adds Mokua, who attributes Raila’s successes to his early exposure to politics.

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