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Inside Raila strategy designed to ensure a resounding victory

ODM party leader Raila Odinga making his remarks during NARC and Muungano joint National delegate convention on February 18, 2022, at Bomas Of Kenya in Nairobi. [Edward Kiplimo,Standard]

Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) leader Raila Odinga’s poll team has been burning the midnight oil to craft a winning strategy for his State House bid.

With just about six months to the August General Election, the team tasked with ensuring the success of Raila’s fifth stab at the presidency is leaving nothing to chance in designing “solid campaign avenues.”

Multiple sources in the Azimio la Umoja movement, who are leading the Raila presidential campaign, have divulged to Sunday Standard that they have several campaign teams, split according to geographical areas, with varying mandates and targeted messaging. The move is aimed at synchronising campaign efforts of various formations and teams, including those of Azimio member parties. 

Unlike Deputy President William Ruto-led Kenya Kwanza Alliance, whose national campaigns revolve around the Ruto-Musalia Mudavadi-Moses Wetangula triad and are confined to one location at a time, Kenyans have lately been treated to multiple Azimio rallies running concurrently.

Mudavadi and Wetangula are leaders of ANC and Ford-Kenya, respectively.

The rallies, says ODM’s director of elections Junet Mohamed, are a product of the Elizabeth Meyo-led team, which draws up a daily schedule of events.

The National Assembly’s Minority Whip, who is a key cog in the so-called “Azimio Mitaani”, said that this is a special outfit whose goal is “to spread Baba’s poll message” across the country – ideally in all townships and villages.

Rapid response group

According to a source at Orange House, the team which Raila fondly refers to as “Young Turks” is led by deputy party leader, Governor Ali Hassan Joho and comprises Junet and MPs Sabina Chege (Murang’a County) Kanini Kega (Kieni), Babu Owino (Embakasi East), Mishi Mboko (Likoni), Caleb Amisi (Saboti), Gladys Wanga (Homabay ) and Godfrey Osotsi (Nominated) as well as Narok Senator Ledama ole Kina.

Clad casually and in trendy outfits, the “Young Turks” is tasked with targeting the youthful population – the largest voting bloc – in its messaging. On the wings is the ‘rapid response group’ that includes MPs Abdulsamwad Nassir (Mvita), Simba Arati (Dagorreti North) and former Cabinet Minister Paul Otuoma. 

According to Otuoma, they have specific instructions from Raila to “be on standby” and fill up any campaign void caused by skipped events or his absence. This team is also meant to keep the regions busy, regardless of whether there are rallies.

“The situation in western Kenya and Busia County in particular, is fairly challenging considering that it is one of Raila’s strongholds. Unlike other areas which require prior planning and even mobilisation of supporters, Busia is home to ODM and party leaders visit on very short notice as it happened a couple of days ago when Joho came calling,” said Otuoma, who is eyeing the Busia governor’s seat.

The third layer of the campaign teams involves the regional coordinators, who are mainly governors. This team has Kakamega’s Wycliffe Oparanya (Western) and Prof Anyang’ Nyong’o of Kisumu and Kisii’s James Ongwae for Nyanza. Nakuru’s Lee Kinyanjui and Elgeyo Marakwet’s Alex Tolgos are for Rift Valley, Nyandarua’s Francis Kimemia (Mt Kenya region), Kitui’s Charity Ngilu (Ukambani), while Kilifi’s Amason Kingi is in charge of the Coast.

ODM secretary general Edwin Sifuna, who is member of the team led by Ngilu, said that their brief is to popularise Raila’s candidature in the Lower Eastern part of Kenya. “I have no idea what criteria was used to place me in this group, but I am fine and enjoying myself.”

Nominated MP Maina Kamanda, who is the ODM secretary general’s rival for the senator seat in Nairobi, has curiously been placed in the same group with him.

While the technical team draws the daily work plan and campaign schedules among other tasks, according to our source, Raila himself has taken charge of organising and assigning the political class: “Under the multipronged approach, the rapid response team works interchangeably within different regions – say one day the Western Kenya team moves to Mt Kenya as the latter goes to Western. And the governors work with all these teams, sometimes overseeing their operations.”  

And just what is the role of media mogul, S K Macharia, who is present in many of Raila functions? Not many people understand Macharia’s role, except that he “is actively involved in everything about his friend’s campaigns.”

The Raila campaign will even be smoother once the One Kenya Alliance (OKA) team, which consists of Wiper Democratic Movement leader, Kalonzo Musyoka and Gideon Moi (Kanu), Martha Karua (Narc-Kenya) and Cyrus Jirongo (United Democratic Movement) get on board.

Although the OKA principals are yet to formalise a working arrangement with the Raila campaign team, they have separately confessed to “ongoing talks” with optimism.

The former United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (Unctad) Secretary General, Dr Mukhisa Kituyi, is similarly being wooed to join Azimio.

“These are very experienced and respected politicians, who share a lot with our presidential candidate in terms of ideology and the general need to rescue Kenya from sliding into the wrong hands. If and when they finally get on board, we shall be very grateful,” Junet said. 

Ideally, should members of the OKA team dock at Azimio’s political pier, it shall be “game shot” for the Raila team which, according to its key players, will beat the Ruto-Musalia-led rivals hands down in the August 9 poll.

Indeed if the ongoing talks between OKA and Azimio proceed without a hitch, the presence of Kalonzo, Gideon, Karua, Jirongo and Kituyi, will greatly boost Raila’s campaign. The five, according to sources within Azimio, are “politically powerful individuals with the capacity of leading our campaign teams.” 

But even as they look forward to their arrival in the Raila Kraal, the Azimio strategists are ready for any eventualities: “This being a game of politics, one is never too sure.

Kalonzo, for instance, is an experienced and astute politician who knows where he wants to go. We cannot dictate to him, just in the same way we cannot dictate to the rest,” said Junet.  

With the campaign flowing just fine, most of the aspirants however anticipate teething problems in the next phase of the strategy, which is identifying candidates for the poll.

Otuoma hopes that this can be done diligently at party and inter party levels “because if not done smoothly, it creates sibling rivalry and could erode a lot of gains so far made.”

In fact, while Raila’s presidential campaign is progressing well, the main headache is at the lower levels, where Azimio member parties are fighting for space.

There is a simmering problem in western Kenya and the Coast where the Defence Cabinet Secretary Eugene Wamalwa- and Governor Kingi-allied parties, DAP-K and Pamoja African Alliance (PAA) respectively, are declining to participate in joint nominations  to identify candidates for various seats.

ODM has been accused of being bullish, especially following sentiments by Junet that other parties in Nyanza and Western will be considered enemies of the Orange party at the polls.

Gather all scatter none

But pointing out that the Raila campaign’s motto is “gather all and scatter none”, Junet said that individual parties have their own goals and getting to a common understanding to push the Raila candidature while retaining a bargaining chance is a challenge that may take some time and more efforts to be resolved.

Separately, as the Raila campaign pursues Kalonzo, concerns are being raised over perceived ‘harassment’ of the Wiper party leader by Ukambani governors, Ngilu (Kitui), Prof Kivutha Kibwana (Makueni) and Dr Alfred Mutua of Machakos to team up with Raila.

This approach, some fear, could backfire and force Kalonzo to look the other way or go it alone. Describing this development as “rather discomforting”, Sifuna, however, said all politics is local.

“My guess is that the three Ukambani governors and Kalonzo may each be jostling for political space locally and nationally. It is a delicate matter that we cannot interfere with,” the ODM spokesman said.

In the meantime, time is running out for Raila’s campaign team. Owing to the element of mistrust, directed specifically at Raila by Kalonzo, a lot of time is being spent in the boardrooms fine-tuning and firming up political pacts.

It is even more complex in the case of OKA whose principals agreed to first concretise a deal amongst themselves before entering into the second phase of talks, probably with Azimio.

Kalonzo has insisted on structured talks. This is unlike the case between Ruto with Musalia and Wetangula, who agreed on teaming up during ANC’s National Delegates’ Conference and hit the campaign trail two days later as details of the deal were being fine-tuned.

In the meantime, the Raila team is fighting to shake off the “project” tag now targeted at the former PM by Kenya Kwanza Alliance leaders.

Barely three hours after landing in the country from a 10-day trip to Ethiopia, India and Dubai, Raila weighed in on this question saying it was laughable to brand a seasoned politician of his standing as a “project”.