Raila torn between fighting for the masses or securing top seat at AU

Azimio leader Raila Odinga walk to stage to pick a Public Service vehicle to Nairobi's CBD on July 10, 2023. [File, Standard]

Kenyans are baffled that Opposition chief Raila Odinga, uncharacteristically, is not exploiting every available opportunity to bash the Kenya Kwanza administration for its many shortcomings.

From the health workers’ strike that is causing patients untold suffering, the fake fertiliser probe that has made its way to Parliament, and the sudden increase in fatal road accidents that have left a trail of death. 

In the past, Raila would have called the press and issued hard-hitting statements. But he appears to have delegated these duties with most messages coming from his corner instead pushing for his African Union Commission chairmanship bid.

If this was 2017, Raila would have slammed the Transport ministry for the deadly road accidents and demanded the resignation of CS Kipchumba Murkomen. On Tuesday, eight people died in a road accident in Nakuru while seven others died in a grisly road crash in Kericho on Monday. The accidents, according to National Transport and Safety Authority data, have claimed more than 1,200 lives since January. The deaths recorded between January 1 to February 11 this year are more than double compared to the same period in 2023 where they stood at 537.

Raila has been following the unfolding events and, in some instances, directed ODM stalwarts to issue a statement.  On the health workers’ strike, Kenyans have continued to bear the brunt with pregnant mothers who cannot afford services in private maternity facilities being left to deliver under tough conditions, while patients suffering from chronic ailments such as cancer have failed to access specialists.

In developing countries like ours, doctors’ strikes leave no remedial measure for emergency services in public healthcare facilities. This means that the burden of poor socioeconomic status and deficient infrastructure means can have a more severe effect than in high-income nations.

Despite the suffering, Raila, who in January 2017 presented himself as the ‘People’s President’ has only issued statements through ODM party officials. Two months ago, the Azimio leader mounted a campaign against Health Cabinet Secretary Susan Nakhumicha and the principal secretaries. He wanted them held responsible for a Sh3.7 billion Kenya Medical Supplies Authority scandal.

He even criticised the sacking of Public Health PS Josephine Mburu as not enough, arguing that the CS bore the greatest responsibility for matters under her docket.

“A government should be administered as such, with ministers entrusted with specific responsibilities. Why do we not see ministers addressing key policy matters when it is the President making important policy decisions? If there is a major policy statement in education, it should come from the Minister of Education. Similarly, if there is a scandal at Kemsa, the Minister of Health should address the issue, not a Principal Secretary,” he said.

In January, Raila hit out at the government over alleged failure to disburse funds meant for learners in public schools.

In a statement to newsrooms, while responding to President Ruto’s New Year address in which he claimed that his administration had increased education funding, the opposition leader termed the Head of State’s remarks as a bald-faced lie.

Three months ago, Raila slammed the Kenya kwanza administration over what he termed as a straining of diplomatic relations between Kenya and East African Community (EAC) member states. In a statement, he claimed that the EAC leaders did not attend Jamhuri Day celebrations due to falling out with the Kenya Kwanza administration.

Raila accused President Ruto’s administration of perpetrating a series of blunders, such as opening a battle with Uganda and inflammatory remarks by Murkomen on Rwanda. 

“None of our neighbouring EAC countries were represented at the level of president, vice-president or prime minister as would have been expected in such a significant occasion that has been the tradition until we have taken it for granted,” he said.

“We must tell Kenyans that our neighbours are not to blame for this negative development in our relationship. At the centre of the continuing damage of our relationship in EAC is the unbridled greed and corruption as practiced by the Ruto government, and the arrogance and foul mouth that has come with it,” he said. 

On November 25, 2023, Raila hit out at Ruto for sleeping on the job over his administration’s response to floods across the country. He expressed dissatisfaction with the manner in which the Kenya Kwanza administration was responding to the crisis, noting that it was high time the government stepped up measures to address the situation and secure the lives of Kenyans.

According to political analysts, Raila is torn between assuming his opposition role and pleasing Ruto because he has become the government’s project for AUC chairmanship.

Governance and foreign affairs expert Peter Kagwanja says that since the Azimio leader’s name will be fronted by the Kenya Kwanza administration, he cannot bite the hands that seek to feed him, noting that he has zero options to hold it to account.

“He (Raila) kept quiet a long time ago probably because of the deal. He cannot present himself as a defender of the voiceless and the downtrodden,” said Prof Kagwanja.

Charles Njoroge, a political pundit, said as a result of Raila being caged, young leaders were trying to fill the void and become the peoples’ watchmen. “Babu Owino and the young turks have seen an opportunity and want to succeed Raila. It’s a good strategy because even if he (Raila) directs his party officials to speak on behalf of Kenyans, they can fill in his shoes and hence need for a fresh voice,” he said.

On December 12 last year, former President Uhuru Kenyatta, during a meeting with Raila and former Jubilee party elected leaders, urged people to stop ‘misusing’ Raila by demanding that he defends them from harsh economic times only to demonize him when he calls for protests.

“It’s very interesting that people keep saying demonstrations are bad for businesses but when the same are being closed down due to bad policies, they still want to be defended by Raila. It’s wrong to misuse someone,” he said.