Baraka Karama and Oscar Obonyo
Opposition leader Raila Odinga’s muted 2022 political game plan has left leaders in his ODM party confused, especially those nursing ambitions of inheriting his national constituency.
The former Prime Minister, who leads the opposition party with the largest following in the country, especially in western Kenya, Coast, Nairobi and parts of Rift Valley, has stated he is “not interested in engaging the 2022 succession politics”.
But insiders in the Orange party have confided in People Daily that Raila is busy reorganising his party ahead of the 2022 elections.
In January, at a function in Butula, Busia county, Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho reportedly told his audience they had been instructed by the party leader to oppose Deputy President William Ruto’s presidential bid.
That Raila is opposed to the DP’s bid is not in doubt – at least judging from the actions and pronouncements of his political lieutenants. What remains in doubt, however, is whether he wants to go for the top seat himself or is plotting to endorse a candidate.
Presently, he has opted to keep his allies and the country guessing over his next move.
But his mixed signals are causing jitters in the Orange party with leaders who had been positioning themselves to succeed him, pressing breaks on their ambitions to avoid a possible backlash.
“The question of whether or not Odinga will be on the ballot is not for me to answer at this point, because I have no idea. What is clear to us, though, is that ODM will field a candidate in the 2022 polls,” says Leader of Minority in the Senate James Orengo.
While, for instance, Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya maintains his presidential ambition remains on course, Joho has gone quiet – if not adopted a wait-and-see approach – about his Raila succession push.
As joint deputy party leaders of ODM, Joho and Oparanya are regarded as first in line as possible successors of Raila in the party. Except for his support for the Handshake, Joho has lately opted to play his cards close to his chest. Efforts by People Daily to get his reaction on this subject yesterday were unsuccessful.
According to Oparanya, the ODM leader had instructed party officials to strengthen the outfit ahead of 2022. However, the Council of Governors boss confesses that none of them is certain whether the former premier will be on the ballot.
Orengo, a Raila ally for decades, and who is regarded by many as his possible successor in Luo Nyanza politics, explains that the ODM leader is not keen on mixing campaigns for the presidency in 2022 with his Handshake with President Uhuru Kenyatta, “which is pegged on electoral reforms” and his role as African Union’s High Representative for Infrastructure Development.
Nonetheless, Oparanya remains in campaign mode – partly for his party boss and partly for himself.
“When seeking a leadership position, you do not wait for anybody’s sign. I am hunting for votes – with or without my party boss’s endorsement,” he said.
ODM chairman John Mbadi aptly captures the open-ended mood in the party when he says: “Raila has on several occasions told us that 2022 is not his priority at the moment. His pre-occupation now is ensuring the success of the Building Bridges Initiative. We would have liked him to be on the ballot in 2022, but that is his wish.”
But Mbadi cautions that it is too early for anybody to write Raila off. According to him, the opposition chief is a unique politician with direct contact with the people.
“Write him off at your own peril. The guy is capable of striking a surprise. But what we are sure of at the moment is that he is determined to make ODM stronger,” Mbadi told People Daily by phone.
Former Cabinet minister Amukowa Anangwe maintains that Raila will be a candidate in the 2022 election.
“He doesn’t seem politically active at the moment courtesy of the Handshake with President Kenyatta, where he agreed to accord the Jubilee leader a peaceful atmosphere to enable him realise his development agenda.”
According to Anangwe, who teaches political science at the University of Dodoma, Tanzania, the former Premier regards Oparanya, Joho and the rest of the ODM brigade, “as his surrogates who will toe the line when push comes to push.”
East African Legislative Assembly member Oburu Oginga, who is Raila’s elder brother, dismissed those asking the ODM leader to pass the baton.
“How do you pass the baton before finishing the race. You must first accomplish your mission then pass it. He is yet to finish the race,” says Oburu.
Former Gem MP Jakoyo Midiwo says those positioning themselves to succeed Raila in his backyard are “daydreamers”.
But further complicating the situation, is Raila’s growing closeness to his erstwhile political foe, Cabinet Secretary without portfolio, Raphael Tuju.
His latest move to court new friends from within and outside his Nyanza backyard is being seen as a wider scheme to consolidate his support base.
Tuju, a former MP for Rarieda, is among leaders from the region who were Raila’s fiercest critics but has since changed tune.
Tuju, who severed links with Raila after losing his seat in 2007, now says he is ready to work with him, a move that has ruffled feathers among Deputy President Ruto allies who are accusing him of being a mole.