Is this another of Raila's calculated comebacks?

Azimio leaders Raila Odinga,  Kalonzo Musyoka and Eugine Wamalwa arrive at Kamukunji grounds for a rally on January 23, 2023. [Samson Wire, Standard]

Opposition leader Raila Odinga’s high-profile return to the country on Monday was well calculated to give him as much political mileage as possible in his fight against the Kenya Kwanza government.

It was reminiscent of 2014 when he returned after a long stay in the US to be welcomed by large crowds in Nairobi’s Eastlands area and along Jogoo road before holding a massive rally at Uhuru Park.

Like 2014, when he claimed that his victory in the 2013 presidential election was stolen, his Azimio la Umoja coalition claims he was the victor in the 2022 presidential elections.

In 2013, Raila claimed that President Uhuru Kenyatta’s victory was "vifaranga vya computer", which translated as a victory that was manipulated by IT-savvy individuals.

He aimed his guns at the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) and succeeded in instigating the departure of all commissioners at the time.

That is exactly what is happening now, as both sides of the political divide haggle over the reconstitution of the current commission that has been crippled by retirement and resignations.

He has, since 1997, put successive governments under immense pressure and somehow managed to gain political capital since his now-defunct National Development Party (NDP) merged with President Daniel Moi’s Kanu at the time.

Jubilee deal

More recently, he again came back to the country from foreign trips and pushed the Jubilee government into agreeing to work with him through his heralded handshake with President Kenyatta in 2018.

But as he raises the storm over claims by an alleged whistleblower that he won the elections, President William Ruto has maintained that all he is after, is another handshake which he will not accede to.

The ODM leader has however dismissed talk that he wants to join the government.

What is he therefore up to in this latest assault against Ruto and his government?

Prof Gitile Naituli of Multi-Media University argues that he is fired up because he believes the information provided by an alleged whistle-blower that he won the 2022 elections can assist him to push for IEBC reforms.

“He together with Azimio will want to be involved in creating a commission that will be non-partisan in 2027 so that they can stop the alleged rigging claims,” says Naituli. Raila’s intention is to make sure controls are put in to stop rigging and to ensure the new commissioners do not come in with political patronage and protection to mess up elections.

Azimio la Umoja leader Raila Odinga addresses supporters at Kamukunji Grounds in Nairobi on January 23, 2023. [File, Standard]

Naituli envisages a situation where Raila will insist on having an Inter-Parties Parliamentary Group (IPPG) kind of arrangement created in 1997 where political parties played a role in the nomination of commissioners.

Pundits agree that given the current developments, a big confrontation is building up over the reconstitution of IEBC, which may require both sides to engage in dialogue.

“They can all sit together and figure out how honestly they can create a strong electoral body with laws to ensure any officer who allows manipulation faces capital punishment,” says Naituli.

'Dealing with Raila'

Last week, President Ruto made some shocking revelations claiming that there were people who wanted to kill electoral officials to stop them from declaring winners of the 2022 elections.

Vice President Rigathi Gachagua also asked the President to continue with his official business and leave him and the sons of Mau Mau to deal with Raila should he call for demonstrations.

The harsh tone of politics is worrying, even as the president warns that a tribunal will be formed to investigate the murder claims and other transgressions against IEBC officials.

Critics however argue that the findings of the tribunal will have been pre-empted by the President because of the murder claims and other statements he has made.

“The prosecutor should arrest culprits and take them to a court or allow the tribunal to come up with its findings instead of preempting it,” added Naituli.

Political analyst Martin Andati thinks Raila will not achieve much from the rallies, because the information from the whistle-blower will not make him president.

“What happens after he has held the rallies? Because that does not change the fact that Ruto remains the president” says Andati.

He argues that the dossier could have been beneficial had it been used as evidence in Raila’s Supreme Court case after elections last year.

He also thinks Raila’s style of flying back into the country with a bang to hold his charged rallies after disputed elections is becoming predictable because it has never changed anything.

ODM leader Raila Odinga speaks at Mombasa ACK Memorial Cathedral during a past event. [File, Standard]

He however adds that it does make him stay relevant because he will go around the country and spew a lot of politics that can create tension.

Remaining relevant

Andati adds that Raila will try to raise stakes and temperatures but given the astronomical cost of living and other challenges Kenyans are going through, people will not care much about politics.

“What is critical to him is remaining relevant because he will become the talking point for some time and it also helps him hold on to his followers to continue having some false hope,” says Andati.

The meetings also give other Azimio leaders like Kalonzo Musyoka, Martha Karua and Jeremiah Kioni the platform to address supporters because they do not have the impetus that Raila has.

He however disagrees with President Ruto’s assertion that cartels are behind the funding of Raila’s rallies.

“Raila does not need funding to hold rallies because he has a fanatical following and only requires his troops like MPs George Aladwa and Babu Owino to mobilise them,” says Andati.

He does not see how Gachagua can counter Raila because he does not have the capacity to do so.

That is because it will require him to either organise parallel rallies or demonstrations, yet he cannot mobilise the kind of crowds that Raila pulls.

But more worrying to Prof Amukoa Anangwe is the possibility of Raila rallying together and regrouping all politicians who were with him in Azimio to, if possible, declare him President.