Raila Odinga's clearance by IEBC to contest best chance for top job

Azimio-One Kenya Alliance Presidential candidate Raila Odinga and his running mate Martha Karua display their clearance certificate from IEBC on June 05, 2022, at Bomas of Kenya. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

Having been cleared yesterday by the electoral commission to run, Raila Amolo Odinga has formally unleashed his proverbial “last bullet” in a presidential bid observers and supporters say is the most potent ever since his first attempt a quarter century ago.

Members of Raila’s campaign team believe this time around, the Azimio la Umoja-One Kenya flag bearer will clinch the coveted seat.

“It is baba’s destined time and the stars have aligned perfectly. The obstacles hitherto placed on his path are falling away and it’s incredible to watch this happen,” says Edwin Sifuna, the ODM Secretary General.

Sifuna says Raila has assembled a stellar cast with 16 regional teams “capable of holding their own even in his absence”. The ODM official points out that his ticket with Narc-Kenya party leader Martha Karua “has captured everyone’s imagination with every sign that we are at a point of something historic”.

And asked about Raila’s chances at the ballot, Murang’a Woman Rep Sabina Chege said: “What would I be doing with a man who has over the years not been a darling of my people of Mt Kenya, and even forsaken my ambitions to seek re-election for the sake of his national campaign, unless I am confident that he is winning this time around?” 

However, it is not lost to supporters of the 77-year-old politician that they are coming up against solid opposition of DP William Ruto.

And even though Raila is enjoying the backing of President Uhuru Kenyatta, the Ruto political juggernaut has not been subdued to this day. The DP continues to whip up emotions among the masses in what promises to be a mother of all contests. 

Sifuna argues, however, that Ruto’s confidence is of a person who knows he has already lost: “To be in the position he has been in the past eight years essentially as the presumptive 5th president and then see that slowly fall apart and start playing catch up to Baba must hurt him deeply. We have been in his position before and we know the script”.

On the flip side, though, Raila’s candidature comes with a lot of baggage too – courtesy of the fact that he has been on the political scene longer than most opponents. He is accused – rightly or wrongly – of not keeping friends. This is exhibited in the difficulties he has faced in cobbling together the Azimio outfit. His partners in Nasa Musalia Mudavadi (ANC) and Moses Wetang’ula of Ford-Kenya fled to Ruto’s side, while Wiper Party leader, Kalonzo Musyoka only returned on Thursday after dilly-dallying for months.

Another circumstantial weakness is his association with Uhuru. There are those who see him as the face of the government in the August poll. Others have gone ahead to term his a ‘state project’.

But the entry of Karua has partly helped him to shake-off the Uhuru project tag. This is because she is a fairly independent-minded politician and is not a member of Uhuru’s party.     

And since her arrival, the Azimio fraternity is in agreement that Karua has been doing well in voter mobilisation in Mt Kenya region, a development that has convinced some into believing that Uhuru can stay all together from the ill-tempered campaigns in the region.

Off the campaigns

According to Chege, there is no need of pushing Uhuru to join the campaign trail because so far the team is progressing relatively well. Noting that the President has already set the ball rolling, she says it is now upon the presidential candidate and the rest of the team to kill off the game. 

“President Uhuru has done his part, especially in assembling the Azimio machine and for his tacit approval of Raila’s candidature. Anything he does going forward is a bonus really. It would be appreciated if he desires to join the trail but in all honesty he has already done more than he needs to,” says Sifuna.  

Nonetheless the Uhuru-Raila pact is like the proverbial power saw which cuts both ways. Some Azimio-allied politicians have claimed that the anticipated boost from the so-called “system” is bound to cause complacency amongst Raila’s supporters with some thinking the battle is already won.

In 2020, for instance, Dr Oburu Oginga was quoted as saying his younger brother had been losing previous elections because he “lacked the system” and that they were set to win this time around presumably because they now had the “system” on their side.

The sentiments caused uproar among Raila’s supporters and in April, Dr Oginga explained to this writer that the issue of the system had been taken completely out of context: “Apparently some politicians misinterpreted this to imply that we were going to use “the system” to rig elections in our favour. I meant to say that the system, which includes the police, the provincial administration and the Office of the President, has always been hostile towards us. However, this time around we hope they will not stand in our way or impede our campaigns.”

Raila’s critics separately argue that since teaming up with Uhuru, he has greatly changed his persona – a factor which they warn will negatively affect his performance at the ballot. A member of Ruto’s think-tank Prof Edward Kisiang’ani, for instance, says the present Raila is a shadow of his old self.

“This is not the Raila that we knew – hard working, abrasive and steady defender of the people’s rights. That role has since switched to the DP as today’s Raila has been reduced to a collaborator and government apologist,” claims Prof Kisiang’ani.

But Prof Adams Oloo, one of the long-serving advisors of Raila on political affairs, maintains that Kenyans are not seeing a different Raila: “In the overall optics of political strategies, you have the grand strategy that projects Raila as the same person with the same ideology, the same person who wants real change in the country and who dreams the same dreams of this country as the political forefathers of this country”.

In other words, the political science lecturer at the University of Nairobi argues that the only change that has occurred in Raila’s career is the tactic of achieving the same ideals he has fought for all his life.

Most strategic

From a tactical perspective, Prof Oloo says Raila’s decision to work with Uhuru is perhaps the most strategic and successful move he has ever made in his political career spanning three decades.

“Raila did what he was unable to achieve in 2001 when he teamed up with the late President (Daniel arap) Moi and his political marriage came tumbling. This time around, his marriage with another sitting president has ended up with a coalition where Uhuru is chairman and received endorsement as presidential candidate. Nothing beats that,” says Prof Oloo.

Nonetheless, it has not been a smooth ride all through for Raila especially on the legal front – a factor that has led his critics in the rival camp allied to Ruto to nickname him alongside President Uhuru Kenyatta as “Mr Null and Void”. This is in reference to a series of losses in courtroom battles over the Building Bridges Initiative – a product of the handshake whose legal status was challenged by the High Court and the ruling subsequently upheld by the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court.  

Despite the tumultuous moments of popularising BBI across the country, Raila somehow managed to pull through the legal setbacks to push through his candidature.

Sabina, however, says marketing Raila has been an uphill task. Noting that Raila has been a very strong presidential candidate who has come up in the last three races against aspirants from Mt Kenya region – Mwai Kibaki and Uhuru – she says this scenario “naturally elicited resistance and disapproval of Raila by our people”. During this period, Chege says all manner of negative narratives were crafted against Raila with a view of dissuading the local voter from aligning themselves with the seasoned politician. Terrible things were reportedly said about Raila to the point of some getting persuaded that he was some kind of lethal creature from another world. 

“And many, including younger politicians like us, believed that Baba (Raila) was dangerous. But after interacting with him enough times, we have realized that this was a mere perception deliberately created to scare away the Mt Kenya voters from him. As leaders we are now telling the electorate the truth by unpacking these lies and repackaging Baba afresh,” Chege told this writer.

And because of the bloody 2007 post-election violence, there are pockets of supporters of Raila residing in Mt Kenya regions, especially in the peri-urban centres of Gachie, Banana, Ruaka, Wangige in Kiambu County, as well as in Thika, Naivasha and Nakuru towns, who have been fleeing to their rural backyards every election period. Sabina believes that this group of the “silent minority” will this time around make a huge impact on Azimio’s presidential tally.

“Add to this the number of those of us who have embraced Raila and who continue to do so each passing day and you realize that it is dying wish of Ruto’s team for the elections to take place today. They can no longer gain anything, except continue losing to us,” says Sabina.