With Raila poised to exit, Oparanya is angling to take over Western bloc

ODM Party Leader Raila Odinga and Deputy Party Leader Wycliff Oparanya at Nairobi Kamukunji grounds during the Party recruitment drive on Sunday, February 04, 2024. [Samson Wire, Standard]

Deeper underpinnings attend to Jimi Wanjigi’s recent call on Wycliffe Oparanya, Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) deputy party leader, to team up with him in 2027 to unseat President William Ruto.

Jimi Wanjigi lays claim to having brought Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto together at a time the duo was facing crimes against humanity charges at The Hague.

Wanjigi is credited with having crafted the campaign strategy that eventually propelled Uhuru and Ruto, then popularly known by the acronym Uhuruto, to State House in 2013.

In 2017, he switched sides and became Raila Odinga’s strategist in the National Super Alliance (NASA).

That dalliance with the opposition earned him the government’s wrath in 2018 as he endured a 72-hour police siege on his Muthaiga home in Nairobi.

The police had sought to arrest him over the discovery of five rifles and 93 bullets in his Malindi home. 

“This home has been a privileged base where this government was set up. It is this home again that the same government has come to desecrate and destroy,” Wanjigi said at the tail end of the 2018 siege on his home.

As a pointer that the siege was politically induced, Wanjigi said, “My support for baba is unwavering. It is my democratic right to support whoever I want. It is unfortunate that we get victimised for it”. 

But being more of a businessman than a dyed-in-the-wool politician, Wanjigi’s entreaty to Oparanya made during a funeral service in Butere has led to speculation about the underlying meaning.

Oparanya is in line to succeed Raila Odinga as the ODM party leader alongside co-deputy party leader Hassan Joho. Raila is headed to the African Union to succeed outgoing chairman Moussa Faki. As ODM party leader, Oparanya will be in a vantage position to contest for the presidency in 2027.

It might not just be a coincidence that in January this year, Kakamega Senator Boni Khalwale paid a visit to Oparanya at his home where the two erstwhile political enemies vowed to work together and ensure a Luhya leader occupies the presidency. Hitherto, Khalwalwe and Oparanya were bitter political enemies.

“My community sent me to seek the support of Oparanya. We urge him to stand tall and realise he is at the forefront of this region as far as positioning in the national government is concerned. We encourage him to aim higher in 2027 and we are prepared to support him,” Khalwale said.

Persistent calls for Luhya unity in the past failed to get a kingpin, a clear frontrunner for the presidency in Western. With the changes that are likely to happen following Raila's exit from active politics, Oparanya's star might start to shine, and he is positioning himself to gain an advantage.

Political pundits believe Oparanya stands a better chance of giving Ruto a serious challenge in 2027 were he join the scramble.

Professor Gitile Naituli, a political analyst, believes Raila’s exit will propel Oparanya to the top of the opposition ranks.

“Oparanya was able to maintain ODM’s stranglehold on Vihiga, Kakamega, and Busia in the last general elections and delivered the votes to Azimio."

Naituli says that in the event Raila bequeaths the Luo voting block to Oparanya, the latter will become very powerful. 

“Raila’s exit may be an opportunity for Oparanya to rise within the Azimio ranks as a formidable force,” analyst and lawyer Kennedy Echesa says.

Prominent Luhya leaders, Prime Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi, and National Assembly Speaker Moses Wetangula are in government and have publicly said they will support Ruto in 2027 and try their luck in 2032.

It simply means they must play second fiddle to Ruto in order not to appear to challenge his authority or undermine the agreement that brought them together.

With Musalia and Wetangula out of the picture, that leaves Oparanya and DAP party leader Eugene Wamalwa to fight for political dominance in Western in readiness for the 2027 presidential election.