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Like father, like son: The case of Jaramogi and Raila succession

Senator Oburu Odinga and Azimio la Umoja leader leader Raila Odinga ready to perform tero buru ritual at their father's home in 1995. [File, Standard]

They are distinguished for their eye for political talent.

Most of the current generation’s consequential politicians have passed through Raila Odinga’s academy of politics, while most in Raila’s generation have been through the hands of his father, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga.

Two of their mentees have become president. It was Jaramogi who recruited former President Mwai Kibaki into Kanu. A young Kibaki, who was lecturing at Makerere University, impressed Jaramogi with his prowess in constitution-drafting.

Similarly, President William Ruto gained national outlook when he broke out from Kanu into Raila’s Orange Democratic Movement, where he was among the five (later six) members of the ‘Pentagon’, a formation of regional leaders under Raila’s stewardship.

Such is the calibre of politicians that father and son have attracted - the most ambitious, eager to carve a name for themselves. This eagerness has been palpable in recent months.

Taming ambitions

Amid the reality of Raila’s looming exit from the national stage, his most ardent allies have thrown their hats in the ring. Former Governors Hassan Joho (Mombasa) and Wycliffe Oparanya (Kakamega) want to lead ODM, as does National Assembly minority leader Opiyo Wandayi “if Raila retires”. Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka also has his sights set on inheriting the Azimio la Umoja-One Kenya.

Raila has made seemingly futile attempts to tame his allies’ ambitions. The difficulty of such a task - calming those only looking to claim their space - is not lost on him. A budding politician within his father’s Ford Kenya, Raila fought to distinguish himself from the pack of youngsters making a name for themselves in significant ways.

There were lawyers and human rights defenders and veteran politicians under Jaramogi’s guidance. And they were fearless against a regime reluctant to entertain civil liberties. Any of them - James Orengo, Gitobu Imanyara, Paul Muite and the late Kijana Wamalwa, among others - could have led the opposition. Raila emerged to be the most consequential opposition figure in the last three decades.

The former premier has arguably surpassed his father’s influence. Forced into political Siberia through detention and a ban on opposition parties, Jaramogi spent most of his political career out of circulation. And when he finally had his shot at the presidency in 1992, after the return of pluralism, he was no longer the main opposition figure.

Stab at presidency

Kibaki was fresh from dumping Kanu to form his Democratic Party and the late Kenneth Matiba had splintered from the original Ford into Ford Asili. Both men beat Jaramogi in votes garnered in the 1992 presidential race, with the opposition stalwart emerging fourth.

Azimio Leader Raila Odinga (2nd left) flanked by Minority Leader Opiyo Wandayi, Kibra MP Peter Orero and Nairobi Senator Edwin Sifuna during the Kibra TVET Grand opening and Handover inside Toi Primary School, Kibra Constituency, Nairobi. March 9, 2024. [Elvis Ogina,Standard]

Raila’s lowest showing in a presidential contest was in 1997 when he trailed the later former President Daniel Moi and Kibaki. Since then, he has been one of the two horses in polls between 2007 and 2022.

He was first known as Jaramogi’s quiet son, then as a political detainee, accused but never tried of treason. Then he became a member of the Young Turks, a lobby group within Ford that also comprised Muite, Orengo, Imanyara, Anyang’ Nyong’o, Mukhisa Kituyi and Joe Ager.

The younger Odinga was a fighter ready to upset the status quo and established hierarchies. A clear succession plan for Ford Kenya would have Wamalwa succeeding Jaramogi as party leader, but Raila made him fight for the position upon his father’s death in 1994. Signs that Raila would not be contented with playing a supporting role were always apparent and he, at one point, stormed a Ford Kenya delegates meeting that his father convened, earning a reprimand from Jaramogi.

Similarly, many in the current opposition are restless. The hierarchy in ODM demands that either of the two deputy party leaders Joho and Oparanya takes over when Raila eventually retires. As Raila’s history shows, succession is hardly black and white. Choosing one from the other is not a job many would fancy.

Former Makueni Governor Kivutha Kibwana, who worked closely with Jaramogi during the second liberation push, remembered him as selfless and keen to build the younger generation.

“Mzee Jaramogi is the president we never had - in terms of love for country. Even when the British were handing him the prime minister position, he rejected it saying that it was Jomo Kenyatta’s. That shows that he was not selfish and was big-hearted,” said Kibwana, recalling his later mentorship of the Young Turks that saw them thrive later in life.

“Even as he aged and was preparing his exit, he was their mentor, assuring them that they could achieve what they set out to do and would have his blessings, protection and wisdom at their disposal. He was an exceptional leader who did not believe in getting to a position and sticking there but gave tips to newcomers,” added Kibwana.

He said that Jaramogi led an inspiring life for leaders aspiring to be influential, likening him to Bildad Kaggia and Pio Gama Pinto, among others, stating that there was an apparent leadership deficit among the current generation, even as he waded into Raila’s succession.

“I am not sure that we should be discussing how Raila is handling his succession before he gets the continental position, which I believe he would do well there... We will have to wait for that to happen and see how he works to hand over the baton, at least in ODM since Azimio is splintered. 

“ODM is among the few parties that have shown some semblance of a political party and there is definitely something to hand over there,” he went on, also highlighting the ODM leader’s impact on the country’s politics.

“Raila has occupied a big portion of Kenya’s politics that even a potential exit is making too many waves. It is like a boulder plunged into a pond, causing many ripples. But many of us miss his father, and the Kaggias and Pintos.”

In assessing Jaramogi’s and Raila’s legacy of crafting their succession, political risk analyst Dismas Mokua credits the senior Odinga more.

Young turks

“Jaramogi surrounded himself with young and ambitious talent that had demonstrated capacity and competence in leadership. He had a huge appetite and opened doors for visionary politicians... and was not intimidated by the political ambitions of his team members. Young Turks thrived under Jaramogi, who would hold court with them for purposes of intellectual conversations and idea cross-pollination,” said Mokua, who argues that ambition secured one a seat in Jaramogi’s kitchen cabinet and that he was not worried about succession.

“On the other hand, Raila has suffocated talent, which explains why there is no clear succession planning in both ODM and Azimio. Politicians like President Ruto, Prime Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi and Senate Speaker Amason Kingi moved out of ODM because Raila had no room for talent nor capacity to accommodate divergent progressive ideas. While both ODM and Azimio have leaders with intellectual and leadership infrastructure, most leaders have taken a back seat because demonstrating political ambitions is a double-edged sword,” added Mokua.

“All signs point in one direction. Raila desires to remain the de facto ODM leader even if he assumes the AUC role. ODM will have de jure leaders,” he stated.

ODM party leader Raila Odinga chats with Former Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho during his tour of Wajir County for ODM recruitment drive on March 07, 2024. [Mohammed Saman, Standard]

Many of his allies would disagree, given that Raila has groomed plenty, leaving the masses spoilt for choice. At a rally in Wajir, the opposition veteran boasted of the immense talent within his fold, saying that any of the leaders he has groomed could eventually lead the party. By chance or design, his father also groomed many politicians, never publicly endorsing any of them. Political analyst Barrack Muluka made this observation during a previous interview with The Sunday Standard.

“These leaders are spread across the country and one of them will rise to take over the opposition cradle that the Odinga family has built,” said Muluka.

Indeed, it was Jaramogi’s allies who would talk of his preference for Orengo to succeed him. In the same way, Raila’s kin has expressed Raila’s feelings regarding a preferred successor. While his brother Oburu Oginga revealed that Raila preferred Wandayi, the Azimio leader’s wife Ida Odinga also touted ODM Chairperson John Mbadi as the favoured successor.

“Many people will try to take over. Sometimes you can see who deserves to succeed you by looking at who is quick to do so. If I was Raila, I would be careful about those that think I am finished. Maybe they are not the people I should leave the party to,” said Kibwana, also noting that other factors, such as the spat between Kalonzo and Narc Kenya leader Martha Karua, as well as realignments in Raila’s bases could decide the succession matrix.

Wandayi and Mbadi are just among the many who have studied politics under Raila. The illustrious list comprises current and former Members of Parliament and Cabinet Secretaries, among other professionals in different fields.

Nairobi Senator Edwin Sifuna is among the notable figures Raila has groomed into fine politicians and he is full of gratitude and praise for his teacher. “Baba took me from a virtual unknown to what I am today,” said the ODM secretary general. Not very many people in the political space would do that for upcoming leaders. He has taught me everything I know and I remain forever grateful.”

Sifuna, who announced his entry into politics through an attempted coup against then Secretary-General Ababu Namwamba, is among the names that feature as a potential running mate to Kalonzo in 2027. The youthful politician has distinguished himself through his oratory and grasp of national issues.

Mentor

Remarks such as Sifuna’s are common within ODM. Joho and Oparanya credit Raila for teaching them politics as well, as does National Assembly Minority Whip Junet Mohamed.

“An entire day’s sitting would not be enough to tell you everything Baba has done for me,” said Junet. “That man mentored us when we were young and has never left us behind. After Moi, the other person who can be counted for his mentorship of many politicians is Raila.”

The Suna East MP is a staunch ally of Raila’s and has been trusted with leading his last two campaigns. And Raila has been the first to defend him whenever he has been blamed for the opposition leader’s losses, retaining him as his coalition’s whip. Courtesy of Raila’s support, and personal efforts, the man of Somali origin has led a constituency dominated by Luos for three successive terms.

Raila’s chances of succeeding outgoing African Union Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat are growing brighter as he continues to secure the support of more countries, meaning that his exit from local politics is all but assured. The continental role bars its holder from engaging in partisan politics.

“Even if he goes to Addis Ababa, Raila will determine the next election spiritually. I know what he is planning and his hand in the 2027 election will be felt,” he added.

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