Joho, Oparaya eye Raila Odinga's crown as succession war in ODM intensifies

ODM Leader Raila Odinga (centre) consults with Chairman John Mbadi (left) and Deputy party Leader Hassan Joho during the ODM National Governance Convention at Bomas of Kenya on February 25, 2022. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

The scramble for the soul of opposition chief Raila Odinga’s ODM party by his loyal lieutenants has gone a notch higher despite spirited efforts to keep their ambitions in check.

Party stalwarts fear the campaign mode adopted by a number of leaders in the outfit is threatening cohesion in the party and might scuttle planned grassroots elections.

They claim it is part of the reason the party opted for scattered elections devoid of competition for national seats to avert a potential crisis and cracks in the party.

The Sunday Standard has established that the heightened political activities have placed Raila in an awkward position as he struggles to keep his allies intact.

“The competition to inherit Raila’s cradle is misplaced and has ushered in mistrust in the party because the ambitions of some leaders are overboard,” said an ODM MP.

The leader claims some leaders had already identified potential grassroots leaders they are hoping will clinch seats in the party polls to strengthen their support.

This is happening as the party battles other flames of disagreements as sibling rivalries deepen. Last week, the party’s leadership convened a meeting to discuss political violence witnessed in Migori among members eyeing governorship.

But it is the ambition of former Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho who has been moving around ODM strongholds to galvanise support that is raising eyebrows. ODM internal politics appears headed to a full circle as mistrust and jitters meet Joho’s bid to succeed Raila.

Mr Joho has intensified his intent to take over the party leadership, rekindling memories of the 2014 botched party elections. 

Rejuvenating the party

Last week, Joho led a host of ODM leaders to Homa Bay to improve his credentials as potential heir to Raila’s throne.

Speaking in Homa Bay, the party’s top brass maintained that they are united and rallied their supporters to remain steadfast behind the party.

ODM chair John Mbadi, Homa Bay Governor Gladys Wanga, Senate Minority Leader Stewart Madzayo, Homa Bay Senator Moses Kajwang and Mombasa Governor Abdullswamad Nassir, they said ODM is positioning itself to win the 2027 polls.

Yesterday, Joho allies said his tours were to rejuvenate ODM support, although the former governor has used the opportunity to declare his bid for the ODM presidential ticket.

Joho claims to have sacrificed his life for ODM and Raila’s leadership while pledging to promote unity at the Coast and vie for the party’s leadership.

Yesterday, his former political advisor Major (Rtd) Idris Abdirahman said the jitters in ODM are of fear of the former governor’s rising popularity.

“Joho has given Raila unfaltering support since 2004. We expect opposition against him because ODM is a democratic outfit. We will continue to persuade them to support him,” he said.

He said Joho has gained support from Coast, Nyanza, Nairobi North Eastern and Western, adding that “most of Joho’s supporters cut across the political divide, especially among the youth.”

At the Coast, ODM leaders have vowed to support Joho’s bid to be ODM party leader and presidential candidate, putting him in the direct crosshairs of Raila’s legions of supporters.

According to Kaloleni MP Paul Katana, Joho was moving across the country to fire up and solidify the ODM support base, dampened by the outcome of the 2022 elections and concerns about Raila’s proposed exit from local politics.

“There is no vacuum in ODM leadership. Raila is still our party leader, but if he goes to the African Union Commission, Joho will be the preferred candidate for ODM leadership,” said Katana.

He said Coast leaders from all political divides support Joho. “Our tour of Luo Nyanza was great. The reception was good, and so it has been in Nairobi, North Eastern, and across the country,” he said.

After 18 months’ absence from high-octane politics, including ODM protests, some analysts say Joho’s return was bound to be viewed suspiciously by party stalwarts.

Other political analysts say Joho’s major undoing was his inability to reinvent or rebrand his modus operandi like his “political father”, Raila.

Evans Mayaka, a political analyst, said an all-out campaign by Joho and his team for ODM party leader would work against him, especially in Nyanza. “Some will interpret his aggressive campaign as a sign of defiance against Raila, who has called for the end of such campaigns. I hope Joho won’t repeat the 2014 mistake because in him Coast has a chance at the seat at the table of national politics,” he said.

Kilifi South MP Ken Chonga said Joho was a product that could sell across the country and urged Coast leaders and residents to rally behind him.

In the same meeting of Iftar in Malindi, Wajir Governor Ahmed Abdillahi said Joho understands the leadership of Raila and ODM. “You understand the party leadership and we want you to take over the leadership of ODM,” Abdillahi said.

But despite his forays, Minority leader in the National Assembly Opiyo Wandayi is also not taking chances in the succession race and is enjoying the backing of several ODM MPs.

Some MPs who have thrown their weight behind Wandayi include Samuel Atandi (Alego Usonga), Joshua Oron (Kisumu Central) and Jared Okello (Nyando), among others.

Also marshaling support is former Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya who is enjoying the backing of a number of leaders from Western and parts of Nairobi.

Yesterday, ODM chairman John Mbadi said they have one centre of command and downplayed the rising tensions on the party.

“Anyone who would try to sabotage any meeting of either the party leader, the two deputies, or chairman or even secretary general would be an enemy of the party,” Mbadi opines.

He said Raila still stamps his authority in ODM and there is no vacuum. “Raila spoke clearly at the National Governing Council and since that time there has been no issue in the party,” he said.

He said Raila has already told Joho and Oparanya to be holding meetings even in his absence. “We must keep the party alive and it must not be seen as a competition,” Mbadi said.

Communication Strategist Barack Muluka said with or without the African Union Commission, Raila will still hold grip of the party. “And yes, he (Raila) will be on the presidential ballot paper in 2027. And that might be the day he’s been waiting for. Those wishing him out of the way, both in ODM and in UDA, should be warned, accordingly,” said Dr Muluka.

Family interests

He said in the Lake basin, where men inherit wives from departed kinsmen, you don’t begin prancing around someone’s wife ati “inheritor, inheritor,” when the man is still around.

Muluka said the person to take over will not be any one of the leaders now running all over the place, but rather someone very close to Raila.

“A hidden person who will hold together the traditional Luo base, hold the party together and protect the Raila family interests. It’s unlikely that any one of the people running across the country today is that person,” Muluka added.

Lawyer Joshua Nyamori said supremacy wars in ODM would significantly affect the grassroots elections. He said if Raila succeeds at AU, it is most likely that he will secede his position.

“And therefore what ODM is going through is something they don’t have experience on because they have never changed party leadership. We are seeing for the first time various leaders like Joho, Babu and Oparanya angling for that position,” Nyamori said.

[Report by Benard Sanga, Anne Atieno and Harold Odhiambo]

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