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After unveiling 2022 State House bid, hard work begins for Raila

ODM leader Raila Odinga during the Azimio la Umoja convention at Kasarani , December 10 2021. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

Besides serving as his political vehicle to next year’s presidential poll, Raila Odinga’s latest political baby, the Azimio la Umoja Movement, is destined to cure a persistent political headache involving the Orange party and President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Jubilee Party.

After nearly 10 months since the proclamation of a possible merger or cooperation arrangement by the Jubilee and ODM parties, the Sunday Standard has authoritatively established that the move had essentially stalled, thanks to a misunderstanding on a power-sharing deal and a proposal to conduct joint party primaries.

Jubilee allied politicians were similarly uncomfortable with the cooperation arrangement, fearing association with Odinga’s party would cost them parliamentary seats. Some accordingly fled to Deputy President William Ruto’s United Democratic Alliance (UDA).   

However, the formation of the new movement appears to have a way around this concern. According to Mombasa Governor, Ali Hassan Joho, the new movement is an all-inclusive vessel aimed at getting everyone on board: “Baba, like his name suggests, is a loving father who is also a problem solver. And where there have been initial hitches, this new outfit will resolve.”

Launching the movement on Friday at the Kasarani stadium, the ODM leader said it was anchored on his pet pillars of utu, undugu, umoja, usawa na uzalishaji (humility, brotherliness, unity, equality and productivity).

But the absence of Raila’s former NASA compatriots at the Kasarani event was a drawback of sorts. Former vice presidents Kalonzo Musyoka (Wiper), Musalia Mudavadi (ANC) and Bungoma Senator Moses Wetang’ula (Ford-Kenya) command sizeable support in Ukambani and western regions, which are crucial for Raila’s bid.

Although they gave varied reasons for their absence, observers feel the trio abstained to send a coded message to their former co-principal. In the meantime, he continues to juggle balls with other players on the reserve bench, including the three governors of Ukambani region – Charity Ngilu (Kitui), Prof Kivutha Kibwana (Makueni) and Dr Alfred Mutua (Machakos). In Mudavadi and Wetang’ula’s backyard, Bungoma Governor Wycliffe Wangamati and MPs Eseli Simiyu (Tongaren) and Wafula Wamunyinyi (Kanduyi) have been warming up on the touchline.

However, it is this apparent double-marking that irks Kalonzo, Mudavadi and Wetang’ula, who are now allied to the One Kenya Alliance (OKA). Accusing Raila of exhibiting “a deficit of trust”, Mudavadi regards this as a selfish plot aimed at condemning partners to be mere pawns of “his game”.   

But Joho maintains that Raila has nothing against anybody, stating: “Baba’s is not a divide and rule ploy. He is focused on uniting the country. He simply wants everyone on board and he is not the type who is going to work with Kalonzo, for instance, and isolate Ngilu, or team up with Wetang’ula but be told to shun Wamunyinyi. That totally defeats the purpose of ‘Azimio la Umoja’”.

Financial backers

However, Dr Henry Wabwire, a commentator on political affairs, posits that Raila did not want his former NASA partners to attend the event. According to the political pundit, the presence of the trio was bound to crowd out his main supporters and financial backers in Mt Kenya region. Wabwire opines that Raila does not wish to give the indication that he has a backup force – a factor that could send shivers among his key backers.

“You don’t casually send written invitations to colleagues, you give them a call the way Gideon (Moi) and Kalonzo called Raila. By sending messengers to drop cards to the three, this is what he may have desired,” says Dr Wabwire

But reached for comment, National Assembly’s Minority Leader Junet Mohamed, a member of the organising committee, maintained that standard procedures of protocol require that such invitations be sent out by written mail and recorded.

“Calls can then be made as a follow up, but in this case, even before my party boss could make the call, the invitees had responded to us through social media declining to attend,” he said.

The Raila announcement now sets in motion a series of activities within ODM and Azimio Movement. As a party, says Sifuna, ODM must now sit and process information on the new development.

“We have to organise for a National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting to ratify a few things, including endorsing our party leader as our presidential flag bearer.”

Sifuna floats the second week of January as the possible time for the NEC meeting and a National Delegates Convention (NDC) a month later.

But challenging times lie ahead. While the Friday event at Kasarani, attracted huge crowds and was majorly successful, the pre-event hype was very pronounced to the extent that some Raila critics argue it did not live up to expectations.  

Indeed over the years, this has been one of Raila’s major follies. This time around, organisers talked of a guest list that included international dignitaries, including former heads of state, ambassadors, as well as confirmation of attendance by 40 out of 47 governors, over 200 MPs and a huge crowd that could exceed the 60,000 seating-capacity facility.

It is a style synonymous with Raila’s Orange party and one that an MP from Central Kenya region observes they have to work on.

“So far so good, but we have a serious disconnect between us that we must bridge. While our ODM colleagues are believers in braggadocio, we like fixing our thing chini ya maji (quietly) and that is just how we register crucial scores. We are a bit uncomfortable with their style, because it opens us up to unnecessary criticism,” said the second-term MP, who declined to be named for fear of being accused of undermining Raila’s presidential bid. 

The Sunday Standard has also established that a retinue of professionals from different fields and politicians are already part of Raila’s 2022 presidential bid team. It is largely a team comprising of new faces, which has pushed Raila’s cheerleaders of yesteryears to the periphery.

The team will be known as the Board of Raila’s Presidential Campaign. Key planks in the Raila campaign include governors Anyang’ Nyong’o, Wycliffe Oparanya (Kakamega) and Royal Media Services chairman SK Macharia.

Raila think-tank

Besides this layer of the Raila think-tank is a political caucus involving governors Joho, Ndiritu Muriithi (Laikipia), James Ongwae (Kisii) and Lee Kinyanjui (Nakuru). Other players said to have Raila’s ear include Cotu Secretary General Francis Atwoli, former assistant minister Peter Kenneth, Jubilee Party’s vice chairman David Murathe and former National Assembly Speaker Francis Ole Kaparo.

Dr Wabwire attributes the new faces in Raila’s team to “his new style of diversity and accommodation, as well as the need to portray himself as a reformed politician who is calmer and less combative”.

In the effort to project a national image, pundits also believe that Raila is trying to shake off the tag of over-dependence on members of his community. His campaigns have previously depended on strategists and managers from his community.   

Previously, Senate and National Assembly minority leader James Orengo and John Mbadi played lead roles in his presidential campaigns. Raila’s former campaign managers have been Caroli Omondi and Eliud Owalo, who has since teamed up with Deputy President William Ruto.