Azimio la Umoja-One Kenya leader Raila Odinga’s uncanny survival in every political cycle keeps on confounding critics because of how he regenerates himself despite losing elections.
After fighting from the wall since he lost the August 2022 presidential elections, Raila has again made little gains, bouncing back into the political limelight and in the process brushing shoulders with the powers that be.
It is no wonder that political followers in his Nyanza backyard nicknamed him ‘Agwambo’ which in the Luo language translates to The Mysterious or Unpredictable.
Only four months ago, the opposition leader was a man under siege from the Kenya Kwanza government as President William Ruto raided his ODM party, convincing some MPs to support his parliamentary agenda.
Kenya Kwanza leaders led by the President, his deputy, Rigathi Gachagua and Kenya Kwanza MPs also repeatedly claimed his 2018 handshake with former President Uhuru Kenyatta was the cause of the economic and governance challenges the country is facing.
The President also reportedly called Raila and asked him to call off the mass protest demos last month when high-profile visitors came around recently.
And then came his meeting and shaking of hands with President Ruto at public functions a week ago which caused ripples in political circles with many pundits reading some political rapprochement between the two leaders.
Political scientist and former cabinet minister Prof Amukowa Anangwe who worked with both Raila and Ruto in President Daniel Moi’s administration says it is natural for such high-octane political conflicts to fizzle out.
“Raila started it five months down the road after losing the elections and then prosecuted it to the best of his ability but found Ruto was also resolute. That is why Raila could have created some compromise,” says Anangwe.
From his analysis, the current happenings are an upshot of an engagement that also created room for the two leaders to talk as they navigate issues being handled by the parliamentary by-partisan process.
He also thinks the optics and body language from the shaking of hands were deliberate because it was a mutual initiative that they both needed in the prevailing circumstances.
“They may not have talked but the body language of both suggests they are willing to sort out their differences amicably, hence the thawing of the toxic relations between them,” added Anangwe.
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The former political science lecturer at the University of Nairobi and Dodoma University also thinks Raila could be exploring other options other than riots and mass action by changing tack after not getting everything he wanted and finding Ruto unyielding.
“Whether the bipartisan talks will be conclusive or not only time will tell but there may be some hidden cards somewhere that will later come out, whose endgame could be more discussions,” he said.
Anangwe was supported by Kakamega deputy governor Ayub Savula who hailed the meeting between the two leaders as a good step towards creating harmony and a good atmosphere for development.
Prof Gitile Naituli of Multi-Media University has written extensively on party politics and leadership in Kenya. However, he argues that Raila somehow manages to find his way back into the limelight.
“He has the uncanny way of transforming himself and fitting into new roles. Nobody else can play that game the way he does. His persistence has made positive political gains for the country,” he says.
Naituli credits the opposition leader for presenting himself as a nationalist and handling issues with dignity and decorum even when provoked.
Prof Peter Kagwanja of The African Policy Institute however has a very different view of what is going on between Ruto and Raila, arguing that the latter only mellowed after getting outwitted.
“There is no talk of any kind going on between them because if there was anything happening, then former President Uhuru Kenyatta who is also in Azimio would not be holding a Jubilee NDC on Monday,” said Kagwanja.
He says Ruto got the better of Raila by working his way through diplomats and foreign powers, making the opposition leader look rogue.
He further adds that nature also worked against Raila when rains came, thus slowly eradicating the food campaign agenda that Azimio was using.
That aside, he also thinks fellow Azimio principals Kalonzo Musyoka and Martha Karua could be jilted by Raila’s talking with Ruto.
“They should be asking what are they talking about which we don’t know. And so again Raila will be seen as someone who is selfish and only thinks about sharing power for personal gain,” he added.
The opposition leader is however on record stating they will not accept any handshake or working agreement with the Ruto government.
Anangwe also describes Raila as a malleable politician who changes moves depending on the challenges he encounters as was witnessed during the Kanu-NDP merger, the 2007 grand coalition agreement talks, and the 2018 handshake with Uhuru.
Easy to please
He says Raila initiated the 1997 Kanu-NDP talks at a meeting he (Anangwe) attended, where the current ODM leader accepted to get only two Cabinet slots from the Kanu government after dejectedly saying “hata mkia ni nyama”.
Anangwe says Raila can settle for the leader of the opposition or anything else other than whatever he demands the way it took a bit of time for him to get positions in 1997 after Moi took him around in circles while buying time.
Kibaki similarly played hardball and was in no mood to compromise in 2007 after Raila asked for a Prime Minister position.
He says in Uhuru’s government, Raila had one leg in the opposition and one in government and Kenyans can similarly anticipate some amorphous outcome emerging out of the current bromance.
“You can’t say it will be a handshake but some kind of mutual accommodation with Raila yielding considerable ground as he has always done when pushed to the wall is possible,” adds Anangwe.
Fellow political analyst Martin Andati is of the view that the current state of affairs in the country gives Raila a good platform for regenerating his profile at the expense of Ruto and his government.
He says a lot of mistakes have been made as the government is getting rocked by scandals.
“Challenges Ruto’s administration is facing and the unfulfilled expectations give him a platform to hit at Kenya Kwanza as he redeems himself while pushing up his ratings,” says Andati.
He credits Raila’s style of politics for his evergreen performance over the years with the example of how he handled the recent raid into his ODM party for MPs by President Ruto.
Raila’s status politically remained high because he not only used it to drum up public support but decided to go to the people and create more discontent against the MPs and the government.
The fact that he is talking about issues affecting Kenyans like the cost of living is also resonating well with the masses as people increasingly feel they were cheated by the government through campaign promises.
Former Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission chairman Ahmed Isaack Hassan who is currently promoting his book titled “Referee of a Dirty Ugly Game” also gave his views on Friday morning.
He said as long as Raila remains in active political contests, nothing much will change until a solution is found when losers are also given fallback positions. The recent handshakes and good humour at meetings between Ruto and Raila created a lot of cheer on social media where lawyer Donald Kipkorir said: “Only political brokers aren’t happy. But the rest of the country is.”