Return of Baba? A firebrand Raila Odinga and AU dilemma

President William Ruto and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga during the Memorial Service for the Late General Francis Omondi Ogolla at Ulinzi Sports Complex, Lang'ata., Nairobi County. [PCS]

Former Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s condemnation of the government’s response to the nationwide floods crisis is the strongest he has come out against President William Ruto in recent months.

Coming after a prolonged lull, which  observers attributed to President Ruto’s support of Raila’s bid to chair the African Union Commission (AUC), many have interpreted Friday’s onslaught as the return of the firebrand Raila.

Indeed, he has measured his words when criticising the Head of State, a far cry from the abrasive politics the opposition veteran is known to adopt.

Amid this silence, some speculated that Raila had cut a deal with Ruto that included toning down his criticism of the Kenya Kwanza administration in exchange for the AUC endorsement.

That was despite assurances by the Azimio la Umoja-One Kenya leader that no agreement, besides that that had birthed the National Dialogue Committee, existed between them.

Raila called off the opposition’s anti-government protests at a time when the country had almost stood still on account of protests and has never hinted at them since. That was until Friday when he warned of demonstrations against the ongoing demolitions in Mukuru targeting Kenyans living in flood high-risk areas.

“They have been chest thumping a lot but if they demolish houses they will know we have the bigger chests,” said Raila, as he accused Ruto’s Cabinet of incompetence.

Allies of Ruto helped cement the idea of a silent handshake, asserting that Raila must toe the president’s line to bag the influential continental role.

“Raila should surrender to President William Samoei Kipchirchir arap Ruto and pledge loyalty to him,” Nandi Senator Samson Cherargei said in February.

This reality was apparent within Raila’s Azimio, too, with Wiper Leader Kalonzo Musyoka once joking about it.

“Our brother can no longer say Zakayo shuka (clime down, Zaccheus)... he needs every vote,” Kalonzo said two months ago during a function.

The disappointment over Raila’s remarks on Friday, in which he called Ruto a clueless driver in charge of an incompetent government, was mostly felt in Kenya Kwanza.

“Tinga’s constituency now is African Presidents. They hold the key to his next election. He is out here insulting a man they all hold in such high regard. On election day, when they evaluate his credentials, how do you imagine it will end? Maandamano in Addis?,” Senate Majority Leader Aaron Cheruiyot posted on X, earning a response from Raila’s lawyer Paul Mwangi.

“Firstly, I can tell you that the AU job is not a life-and-death deal for Baba. He would not sell his soul for it. Secondly, I wish you knew how many Kenyans out there are so unhappy about the AU job that they would believe God answered their prayers if Baba didn’t get it,” Mwangi responded.

Saboti MP Caleb Amisi faulted Kenya Kwanza for thinking their support for Raila would buy his silence on national issues.

 “Kenya Kwanza, confused lieutenants are highly disappointed that Raila Odinga is criticising the government. Ruto is running helter-skelter around Africa not to give Raila a job but to get rid of him from the political scene so that Kenyans can be molested properly. Verily, verily I say unto you, nine out of 10 Kenyans do not want Baba to go to AU because of this reason. In the meantime, disagreement on who gets what tender, when and how is soon cutting UDA into 2 camps and the rest will be history,” said Amisi.

Raila’s ‘comeback’ did not escape other Kenyans on X, such as former Mukuruweini MP Kabando wa Kabando.

“Asanteni, Raila & Kalonzo, for today’s reawakening of opposition oversight on Zakayo kakistocracy, fraud. It’s true as the duo reiterated that Ruto’s Cabinet is full of known thieves, incompetents & jokers. Stevo rejected Ruto’s job offer. Jakom should also reject Ruto’s ‘AU job’ con!” Kabando posted.

“Kenya Kwanza people misunderstood and underrated Baba the Enigma. Today (Friday) he has given Kenyans reason to send a powerful message that we will never go back to the dark days that created William Ruto. We have a Constitution that we will defend with the last drop of our blood. Raila Odinga has not disappointed us. He leads from the front. Defend the Constitution or perish,” responded former lawmaker Gitobu Imanyara.

Political commentator Alinur Mohamed also weighed in.

“Indeed, Kenyans had missed Raila Odinga. The attention of the nation has now shifted from Cyclone Hidaya, Mithika Linturi, and floods to Raila. Those who were saying Raila was bought by Nairobi Governor Johnson Sakaja and William Ruto so that he can get the AU job, you lied to us!” he said.