Which way? Raila AUC bid leaves Azimio allies in deep confusion

President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, president William Ruto and former prime minister Raila Odinga at his Kisozi country home in Uganda where they also discussed the candidacy of Kenya's former Prime Minister Raila Odinga for the Africa Union Commission chairmanship. [PCS]

Political confusion has rocked the Azimio la Umoja coalition and the ODM party as the future of the opposition continues to elicit debate within Raila Odinga’s fold.

The development presents Raila, who has kept everyone guessing about his next political moves in local politics, with a major headache as he bids to steady the opposition ship.

The Standard has established that Raila’s bag of secrets has also thrown Kenya Kwanza off-balance on whether the ODM leader is still planning to extend his stay in local politics as a weapon to entrench support from the government.

A behind-the-scenes race to replace him is gathering momentum and has started glaring out in public even as disquiet and elements of mistrust begin to hover around his coalition.

And even though both Raila and his allies have downplayed succession wars within his camp, a political tug-of-war and several uncertainties have hit the opposition leadership apex.

Big shoes

From some of his allies declaring to have the mettle to fill his shoes, his closest circles and family members singing different tunes in the succession race and alleged disquiet over the return of some Azimio leaders into the succession fray, a long supremacy campaign is in the offing.

On Wednesday, Raila’s decision to announce that he is not going anywhere only added to the confusion in the coalition and threw Azimio principals who were hoping for his endorsement off-track.

According to analysts, the entire country is in a state of confusion because of the ODM chief’s secret political cards that has implications on the future of the opposition.

“He is giving multiple signals. This equivocation is not good for him, or even his troops. Indeed, it is not even good for the government that is campaigning for him,” argues communication consultant Barrack Muluka.

“Raila needs to take a firm decision, burn his boats and go,” he adds.

Lawyer Joshua Nyamori believes that Raila is sending mixed signals about his transition and has kept the country guessing about his political cards.

"The entire country received his appointment with a lot of excitement knowing that he would cede local politics and move to the continental level and allow the country to also transit," he says.

Yesterday, several Azimio insiders admitted that the coalition is in a state of confusion but are hoping that the ODM leader will provide direction when the time is right.

They claim a number of activities that the opposition is pursuing including following up on the implementation of the National Dialogue Committee report depends on leadership certainties.

Wiper party leader Kalonzo Musyoka, Former Baringo Senator Gideon Moi, former Muranga Governor Mwangi Wa Iria and former Defense CS Eugene Wamalwa during Moi High School Kabarak Luncheon on February 28, 2024. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

According to them, should Raila clinch the AU Commission chair job, his participation in local politics will be a thing of the past and will pave the way for his replacement.

Government criticism

“It is already clear that Raila cannot criticise the Kenya Kwanza government the way he is used to. He needs Ruto’s vote and as a result, it is important that someone takes over the role,” said a leader who asked not to be named.

Observers believe that even though Raila may not be planning to relinquish his position in Azimio and ODM, his hands are tied, and cannot oversight the government.

Dr Charles Nyambuga, a political communication expert thinks Raila has left the opposition in a state of confusion.

However, he says for Azimio to keep on having the support they have been having, he needs to give mixed signals so that he gets the AU votes also.

"Raila needs to consolidate his base. He still needs to tell them that he is there," Dr Nyambuga says.

In Azimio, those jostling to replace him are hopeful of clinching the position of the Official Opposition fronted by the National Dialogue Committee. But this, too, is hanging on the cards based on Raila’s mixed signals.

Should he quit local politics, the position will be up for grabs for whoever will replace him as the leader of Azimio.

Kalonzo is widely seen as his ultimate successor in Azimio but his soft approach to politics is raising doubts among Raila’s inner circle, who believe Ruto’s administration can only be contained with high voltage and hard-hitting opposition.

While speaking in Homa Bay on Wednesday, Kalonzo moved to assure opposition supporters that he is up to the task and has the mettle to represent the opposition as he dismissed claims of a potential leadership vacuum in Azimio.

Yesterday, a senior Azimio leader told The Standard that they were concerned about the return of a number of leaders who have been missing in action.

“There are opportunists who have returned. They were not being with us when we went to the streets for mass action and have done absolutely nothing to strengthen our coalition but they are now back with succession talk,” said the leader.

Soft handshake

He claimed that some of the returnees have started lobbying for slots in Kenya Kwanza’s government that have been birthed by the soft handshake between Raila and Ruto.

Among those opposition members who claim to have been a no-show in recent months include Narc Leader Charity Ngilu, former Mombasa governor Hassan Joho, and Suna East MP Junet Mohamed, among others.

On the flip side, the political positions of other Azimio principals led by Narc Kenya leader Martha Karua and Jubilee Party Secretary General Jeremiah Kioni is also hanging on a thread.

They are opposed to some of the proposals contained in the Nadco report and are also fronting another outfit-Kamwene, which has attracted criticisms from a section of leaders.

The Standard has established that there are fears the soft handshake between Ruto and Raila is likely to tilt support to the Kanini Kega-led Jubilee faction, which will effectively signal the exit of Kioni’s faction from Azimio.

“It all depends on whether former president Uhuru Kenyatta is also backing Raila’s candidature for AU. If there is a sense that he has isolated himself, then there is a likelihood, we will choose those who back Raila’s AU candidature,” said an ODM insider.

In ODM, confusion also lingers over his potential successor who can steer the party and maintain its strong influence across the country.

AU position

Last week, the party’s Secretary General Edwin Sifuna dismissed claims that there is jostling to replace Raila. “May it go on record that Raila, in seeking the AU position, has not made any pronouncements regarding his local political future, and remains the party leader of ODM,” said Sifuna.

However, in the same week, Raila’s wife Ida Odinga hinted at the possibility of ODM chairman John Mbadi having the mettle to succeed the seasoned politician.

“Baba, as he goes to AU has mentored, many to take care of what he has left behind. Mbadi after all these years of mentorship do you still need more training? Should I continue?

“That’s Baba’s heartbeat,” said Ida during an event in Suba.

In the party, Minority leader in the National Assembly Opiyo Wandayi, who has been leading the party’s grassroots mobilization is also hoping to fill Raila’s big shoes.

The list also includes Kisii governor Simba Arati, former governors Wycliffe Oparanya (Kakamega) and Joho (Mombasa).

A number of Raila’s allies, however, have dismissed claims the opposition is in a state of confusion and claimed that they have structures in place to handle everything.

According to MPs Tom Odege (Nyatike) and Paul Abuor (Nyatike), there is still time for the opposition to plan on succession.

“There is no need to panic,” Odege says.

Abuor, however, argues that Raila will only take a sabbatical leave, should he clinch the AU job.

Observers, on the other hand, paint gloom for the opposition and believe that the changing political dimensions in the country have cast a cloud of doubt on the opposition.

Political analyst Mark Bichachi says the opposition is at a crossroads road.

 “Opposition has party leaders like Kalonzo, Eugene, Karua who should ordinarily not find it hard to do what Raila does with his assured blessing. They simply need to put in the work ethic that Raila has,” Bichachi says.

“This keeps people guessing on his next move. Raila is keeping his cards close to his chest and that is why he saying he is not quitting,” Odeny says.

He opines that Raila still needs the clout of the opposition head to negotiate with the government to back his candidature for the AU Commission chairman seat.

Additional reporting by Anne Atieno

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