Azimio coalition faces uncertainty as Raila eyes AU chairperson job

Azimio principals Kalonzo Musyoka, Raila Odinga and Martha Karua. [David Gichuru , Standard]

A political tectonic shift is reverberating through the country’s opposition after Azimio coalition leader Raila Odinga officially confirmed his interest in clinching the seat of Chairperson of the African Union Commission.

The Standard has established the decision has sent a series of shockwaves, opportunities and uncertainties in both his ODM party and the larger Azimio camp.

Political observers believe the move is the noble path the ODM chief has taken to gracefully exit politics by entrenching his profile as a celebrated African diplomat.

In his ODM party, some of his closest allies said they are fully backing him for the post but are anticipating a series of changes in the constitution of the Opposition.

His potential exit from local politics should he bag the post, however, is a major turning point for the future of the Opposition that he built and held with grit.

Yesterday, Azimio insiders claimed that the move will present other principals Narc Kenya leader Martha Karua, Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka and his deputies in ODM, and former Governor Hassan Joho (Deputy ODM leader) and Wycliffe Oparanya (ODM Deputy leader) to craft a new line of power to fill his big boots of opposition.

Kisumu West MP and Raila’s ally Rozaah Buyu claimed that the move is likely to weaken the opposition and believes they are headed for tougher times.

“His absence in the local scene will weaken the opposition. Raila’s boldness in pronouncements and leading from the front gives the opposition vigour and impetus and this will be missing,” said Buyu.

Similarly, in his ODM party, his potential exit from local politics is reverberating in a camp where his unrivaled influence has enabled his main allies to win elective seats with little sweat.

In the past five elections, Raila’s word and endorsement have been like the law in Nyanza, the Coast and parts of Western, where he has enjoyed significant support for several decades.

With the likelihood of his attention shifting to the AU job, there are fears the gap will expose some of his allies who have been riding on his influence to craft their own political standing.

Yesterday, some of his closest allies admitted that some may end up becoming political orphans because of their overreliance on Raila for political success.

“President Ruto will have a field day if Raila decides to focus entirely on his new job. Very few people can mount the tough opposition that Raila built. However, we are happy for Raila,” said a senior ODM official.

While his allies remain defiant that he will be back in local politics and will still sway a huge amount of support, some observers believe that the opposition is headed for a potential shift should Raila take up the job.

According to ODM chairman John Mbadi, Raila is likely to nurture someone who will lead the Opposition, adding that they will also organise themselves to see who can play what role.

“He may not be active in all the local politics but still no one will stop him from participating in politics so long as it is not too direct,” said Mbadi.

According to Mbadi, if Raila gets the position next year, their leader will decide the duration he intends to lead the AU.

It remains to be seen if he will quit local politics should he get the nod from the different States to take up the post. Something that may not come easy for a seasoned politician who has built his brand through the opposition lines and still has pints of hope of ascending to the presidency.

For a man who has held a strong grip on both Azimio and his ODM party, some observers believe his exit is likely to have a spiral effect and could scatter or strengthen the outfit.

Should this become a reality, tough questions remain whether any of the Azimio principals or his ardent allies in ODM have the mettle and willingness to stage a strong opposition against President Ruto’s Kenya Kwanza.

In the past, some of the principals were accused of being a no-show when the man had a special knack for rallying opposition supporters to paralyze key government activities to push for reforms and challenge the government through street protests.

In the last few months, the coalition has been struggling to keep its forces intact amid disquiet and suspicion following the decision by Narc Kenya leader Martha Karua to form an outfit dubbed Kamwene.

A senior Azimio insider told The Saturday Standard that the decision presents Kalonzo with a great chance to fill Raila’s shoes and build his own profile ahead of the 2027 General Election.

“Already there is jostling among Azimio leaders over who should fly the coalition’s flag in 2027. This is the best chance for Kalonzo to make a name for himself. It is a make-or-break moment for him,” said the official.

Dr Barack Muluka, a political analyst believes that the flames of opposition will continue to burn even in the absence of Raila from local politics.

“Opposition is a spirit that finds a home and expression in people, or groups of people. If Mr. Odinga vacates that space, someone else will take over. We may not know who, but someone will,” said Muluka.Muluka believes that Raila should not be left alone to carry the burden of keeping the government in check.

“It is wrong for us to think that only a certain individual should carry the burden of keeping the government in check and saying the he things we desire to be said; or to do what we desire to be done, but we are too cowardly, or comfortable in our spaces to do them,” he said.

Political analyst Mark Bichachi thinks it is a clever move on the part of Raila Odinga to bid for the AU job. He opines that the AU Chairperson is a respectable position, which will give Raila a graceful exit from Kenyans politics. Additionally, he says it will remove President Ruto’s biggest competition to the presidency from the national eye.

However, he thinks it will provide the opposition with an opportunity to ask themselves whether they can overcome the challenge of fitting into his shoes. “There will be a clamor of Raila to endorse one for the presidency. I think he should withhold from doing that and let the opposition luminaries of the day go to the people and let him give his blessings to the person who has wooed the people most,” Bichachi says.

The political analyst says, that although there is nothing that stops Raila from running for the presidency even after he has been an AU chairperson, it would seem untidy because the AU Chairperson is treated like a mini head of state.
“It will be untraditional. It is almost like being a Secretary General of the United Nations and then coming back to run for the presidency. It will just seem untidy,” he says.

In his ODM camp, his allies are bullish that the decision will not wane Raila’s political influence across the country. Edwin Sifuna, ODM’s Secretary General said that they are supporting his decision but are confident that it will not influence his grip on local politics.

He opines that Raila has held continental positions before including at the AU. “We did not see any difference in his politics or the opposition’s politics,” said Sifuna.

Rangwe MP Lilian Gogo said it is Raila’s personal choice and democratic right to undertake any position, adding that Raila will be able to juggle between local politics and serving the interest of the continent. 

Additional reporting by Anne Atieno and Olivia Odhiambo