To accept or reject? Raila faces a fresh political dilemma over AU job

When Azimio leader Raila Odinga walked to the stage to pick up a Public Service vehicle to Nairobi's CBD on July 10, 2023. [File, Standard]

Azimio la Umoja leader Raila Odinga is facing several dilemmas with possible implications for his political future.

In a year that his supporters have been waiting for his next course of action in regards to pushing Kenya Kwanza back against the high cost of living, political tides are slowly changing for the ODM leader.

On one end, President William Ruto’s administration is keen to lock him out of local politics by lobbying for him a job at the African Union, which some predict will effectively clip his political wings and weaken the opposition.

The Standard has established intense lobbying to have Raila take up the position of AU chairperson with Kenya already reaching out to other partner States to consider the ODM chief.

In Azimio, his lieutenants are pushing him to start preparing his networks for another shot at the presidency in 2027 and are on an overdrive to ring-fence his key political zones.

Questions, however, abound about whether he will take up the position at AU and risk his own political ambitions and that of his allies, who rely on his clout to win seats.

While some experts believe a decision to take up the AU job will not influence his political strength, others argue that a shot at AU will be the changing point in Raila’s political career.

Yesterday, a senior ODM official said the AU job is on the cards but the ODM chief will not turn his back against local politics. “When he was appointed AU Special Envoy for infrastructure, he did not stop advocating for a better Kenya. He championed an increase of resources to counties through the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI),” said the leader.

He said the developments come at a time when they are exploring fast-tracking some recommendations made by the National Dialogue Committee.

Some analysts opine that the move by Kenya Kwanza is a desperate effort to contain the opposition and believe it will not have a major impact on Raila’s political journey.
Barrack Muluka, a political analyst, said Raila has had several jobs in the past but has never impacted his political plans. “Raila has previously held those jobs, and it has had no effect on his political goals; instead, it strengthened his audience,” said Muluka.

He said the push to have Raila ascend to the AU job could result from a closed-door meeting to tame any prospects of other mass protests spearheaded by the opposition against the government.
Nyando MP Jared Okello, an ally of the ODM chief, said Raila’s political endgame will remain the same whether he takes up the AU job or not.

Should he get picked for the job, his allies believe the contract will run up to February 2027 and will provide him with enough time to mount a campaign to dislodge Ruto from the presidency.
“The contract ends in February 2027. Kenya's General Elections will be in August 2027. That's more than enough time for a candidate to participate,” said Okello.

But as this happens, Raila is on an overdrive to bolster his support bases. His allies believe any decision to move to the AU is likely to open up spaces for other leaders in Azimio.

Already, a number of leaders in the outfit have started lining up for the battle in the coalition on picking its next presidential flagbearer for 2027.

On Tuesday, former Mombasa Governor and ODM deputy chairman Hassan Joho became the latest entrant to throw his weight in the quest to become Azimio’s next political force.

And Raila for the first time stated categorically that he was in the race declaring that he was ready to face any candidate aspiring to be the coalition presidential candidate.
Raila said in ODM it was the sole responsibility of the party's national delegates to decide who would be the flagbearer and rejected pleas to endorse other candidates including Joho.
In Azimio, Wiper party leader Kalonzo Musyoka has also insisted he will contest the coalition’s ticket and has asked Raila to back his bid. On Tuesday, Joho also sought Raila’s backing.
Joho, who has been conspicuously absent from Azimio politics since Raila lost in the 2022 presidential race, also rejected calls on him to vie for a seat in Mombasa County saying he is focusing on the presidency.

“I joined ODM as a young man and I have supported Raila Odinga in cash and kind, during good and bad times. Is it bad for me to tell him as our father to now endorse me as his child?” posed Joho.

Raila said as a democratic entity, ODM cannot insist that the presidential ticket belongs to Raila Odinga adding that it was the delegates who had the power to choose its leadership.
“No seat is reserved for Raila in ODM. I’m not indispensable. I can do other chores or serve in other capacities but we must first strengthen the party to make sure it can win in the next election,” he said.

Azimio Leader Raila Odinga when he formed the National Resistance Movement (NRM) along Jogoo Road with his supporters. [Edward Kiplimo,Standard]

The former Prime Minister said he wanted to pass a strong party, democratic system, and institutions.
“It should not be like if Raila is out of politics then ODM is dead. The ticket for the ODM presidential candidate is on the table, and if party delegates want to continue is ok but if they decide that I’m tired and someone else should take over it is still ok,” said Raila.

Raila appeared to decline Joho’s request to endorse Joho, saying he would only support the former Mombasa Governor if the delegates nominated him to be the party’s presidential candidate.
“I also promised I will back Kalonzo if the Azimio La Umoja One Kenya Alliance delegates select him as their flagbearer,” Raila said. It is the first time Raila has declared that he will be in the race.

Raila who arrived in Mombasa on Sunday to launch the county’s school feeding programme said it was important for each Azimio party to first strengthen their support base ahead of the 2027 polls.
“I’ve said a strong ODM is a strong Azimio, a strong Wiper, and Jubilee is a strong Azimio and that is why I’m moving around the country to recruit members for ODM,” said Raila.
But Joho’s bid for the ODM presidential ticket has divided Mombasa leaders, with Governor Abdulswamad Nassir and Jomvu MP telling him to allow Raila vie for the seat.
“My brother Joho is still young and should still support Baba (Raila) in 2027. He has more time,” said Nassir.

Raila who toured several nursery schools to launch a free feeding programme by Mombasa County, also faulted President William Ruto for blaming former President Uhuru Kenyatta over the public debt.
He said the blame game by Kenya Kwanza leaders was a sign of poor leadership insisting that when the late President Mwai Kibaki took over in 2002, he never blamed his predecessor.
"We took only three months and reorganised everything and ensured the first promise of free education took off in January 2004. Ruto’s blame game was a sign of poor leadership,” said Raila.

[Reports by Harold Odhiambo, Olivia Odhiambo and Willis Oketch]