Why Raila is unlikely to have his way this time around

Azimio leader Raila Odinga. [Edward Kiplimo, Standard]

These have been testing times for citizens of the world. Hot on the heels of an unprecedented pandemic has been the Russia-Ukraine war which has curtailed, if not outrightly upended, supply chains of commodities crucial for everyday existence. Kenya, like many nations, has been caught up in the resultant crises.

Fluctuating global oil prices, the effects of drought and an onerous public debt burden have placed an inordinately high demand for the US dollar leading to a huge depreciation of the country’s local currency. This has had broad ramifications for the country which depends on imports for some of its needs.

It is against this backdrop that former Prime Minister Raila Odinga now stages what he promises to be bi-weekly protests. He purports to want the government to be more answerable to the insuperable economic hardships currently being experienced. He presents a litany of public challenges and demands instant resolution to intractable problems. He then gives an ultimatum to the government; his way or the highway for those in authority.

Not for the first time, Mr Odinga has hectored his way into leadership positions riding on a groundswell of public disaffection against the government. He has in the past been a minister after an enforced cooperation pact with former President Daniel Moi.

He was Prime Minister in the Kibaki administration in a détente following fractious and violent confrontations that resulted in loss of lives. He also was the de facto second-in-command in Uhuru Kenyatta’s second term in a deal pejoratively known as the “Handshake.”

Odinga’s latest gambit follows a similar script. The modus operandi is clear; use of street demonstrations and other tools to force another power-sharing arrangement by whatever name. Here are reasons why these adventures may come a cropper. 

First off, Mr Odinga’s pet grouse, “stolen elections,” no longer has the traction it once held. He has been a presidential candidate on five occasions and been unlucky as many times. The latest was last year when the presidential election was his to lose.

But in arguably the freest, fairest and most transparent elections in Kenya’s post-independence history, he lost to the incumbent William Ruto. The presidential election has since had the approbation of international observers and the apex court in Kenya.  Consequently, allegations of electoral malfeasance cannot hold.

Second, Raila has an intransigent opponent in President Ruto. Unlike Moi, Kibaki and Kenyatta before him, the president may not cede ground. In fact, he has publicly told Mr Odinga that no power-sharing negotiations will be in the offing in the near future and advises his adversary to try his luck a sixth time in 2027.

Third, Raila through his mass movements, hopes to drive his agenda across by bringing the city to a standstill. But he has failed to reckon with the changing dynamics. Nairobi’s CBD is no longer the nerve centre of the country’s economic life. The banking and insurance industries have relocated to the tranquility of the Upper Hill area which is now becoming the financial hub of the region.

The Nairobi Securities Exchange is no longer at its old Kimathi Street address but in Westlands. Last week’s demonstrations did not stop trading at the bourse. Nor did they exact a bank holiday. Flights in and out of the country continued uninterrupted. At the end of the day, it was the very small-scale traders that Mr Odinga purports to fight for who suffered debilitating losses on account of time lost and looted businesses.

Fourth, Raila hopes to foment a revolution to drive Ruto out of State House. Such a revolution can only succeed with the participation of the middle-class. These are the drivers of the economy and can bring every facet of public and private life to a standstill. But they are now too busy working hard to pay their loans and mortgages to be caught up in the disaffections of a sour loser.

Demonstrations have served Raila well in the past. Not this time!

Mr Khafafa is a public policy analyst