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Why ODM leader Raila Odinga faces steep climb to win 2022 poll

By Eric Wainaina
Tuesday, August 31st, 2021 00:00 | 5 mins read
ODM leader Raila Odinga.

Revelations by President Uhuru Kenyatta’s allies over the difficulties in selling ODM leader Raila Odinga in Mt Kenya region is the latest in the numerous hurdles on the Opposition’s campaign for State House.

With the 2022 General Election fast beckoning, the former Prime Minister is racing against time to wriggle himself out of a series of barricades that threaten to stall what could be his last stab at the presidency.

After three years of political cohabitation with President Uhuru Kenyatta, questions are now on everyone’s lips as to whether Raila will, as he has done in the past, pull the rug from under the feet of his political foes and reinvent himself away from the advantages brought on his way by the Handshake.

With the mountain proving hard to climb, the Orange Democratic Movement   (ODM) leader is also trying to dissociate himself from the criticism of the Jubilee government touching on unemployment, a struggling economy and a stretched healthcare system given the impression that he was part of it through the Handshake.

It is widely expected that ccould have accorded him structures on which he would have built an alliance to propel him to the presidency, but he suffered a seismic setback after the project was shot down in a stinging Court of Appeal judgment.

Months to the next election, Raila faces the daunting challenge of shrugging off the Jubilee Administration burden of broken promises, re-energising his base, catching up with a competitor perceived to be ahead of him.

Revamping himself

The former Premier will also have to shop for new friends after the death of National Super Alliance’s (Nasa) and step up efforts to penetrate Mt Kenya region which is expected to provide the critical swing vote in the 2022 General Election.

Macharia Munene, a professor of History and International Relations at the United States International University (USIU)-Africa says that after he detoured from his opposition course, with much focus on BBI, Raila no longer enjoys his old clout.

According to Prof Munene, Raila has the herculean task of revamping himself and demonstrate that he can be trusted with transforming the country.

“With or without BBI, Raila has been a presidential candidate and even if he fails in 2022, he will still be a candidate to reckon with. But BBI was one of his campaign tools and now that it has flopped, he has to find a way of re-engineering himself ahead of next year’s elections by convincing the voters across the country that he can address issues facing them. He has to create an emotional momentum which is what the Deputy President William Ruto has capitalised on,” Munene told People Daily.  

But according to Dr Joseph Simekha, one of the ODM leader’s strategists, their team is least worried by the propaganda by their opponents, especially Ruto, to create a perception that Raila is responsible for government failures.

“The Jubilee government’s failures started in 2013 and not March 2018. It won’t be difficult for us to talk about those failures as President Uhuru and Ruto’s responsibility from 2013 and give specific examples,” Dr Simekha says.

Derailing Jubilee agend a

He also argues that Raila is a political brand name that has been consistent with the fight for democracy and human rights since the 1990s that is known to almost all Kenyans.

“Only a few young people may believe the propaganda being spun against Raila because they hardly have any understanding of Kenya’s political and human rights history and his pivotal role in the push for good governance and human rights and reforms in government at a great personal cost,” he states.

To the younger generations, Simekha says, they spend most of their time ranting on social media and never vote.

The DP, who has been isolated from the government in favour of Raila, is on record saying the former premier and his Orange brigade should be held to account for derailing Jubilee’s agenda.

“You must bear the consequences for the derailment of Jubilee’s development agenda.

You cannot point fingers at others. You came and changed the Government’s priorities from the Big Four Agenda to alternative ones such as BBI.

Now, after you have failed miserably, you want to run away,” Ruto told Raila.

But Raila has resisted every effort to associate him with the Jubilee Administration:

“I am not in government. I do not draw a salary from the government and I am not involved in government planning. They cannot attribute their failures to me.”

To present himself as a source of hope for the future, Raila has been outlining his manifesto touching on issues that resonate with the common man among them turning around the economy.

Others are ensuring massive investment in manpower development through universal access to the top-flight public education system and pursuing a low and transparent tax regime, transforming rural areas through massive investment in infrastructure by providing cheap electricity, clean water and good public schools.

Simekha also says Raila will soon start traversing the country explaining to Kenyans why he decided to take the path of cooperation with Jubilee.

“Raila will be explaining to Kenyans why he and ODM chose to forego the right to pressuring the Jubilee government out of office for political and economic stability that would allow for inclusive reforms instead of a reform agenda driven only by the opposition,” he says.

In between, Raila has lost partners with whom he contested the 2017 notably, Musalia Mudavadi of the Amani National Congress, Wiper’s Kalonzo Musyoka and Bungoma Senator Moses Wetangula of Ford Kenya, who have since formed One Kenya Alliance (OKA).

Kalonzo and Mudavadi have resisted Uhuru’s overtures for them to back Raila, saying it was the ODM leader’s turn to reciprocate their past support.

The president has reportedly warned the former NASA allies that their continued disunity could give Ruto an easy ride in 2012.

Consolidate base

But Munene argues that Raila should concentrate on his presidential bid by re-packaging himself.

“Raila should consolidate his base because a time will soon come when what would matter would be Raila the presidential candidate. He needs to work on how he will win partners.

Remember BBI was giving new political opportunities to regional leaders and that is why they were hanging around him, but with its death, he has to find other ways to create new friends,” Prof Munene said.

Besides, his ODM party has a task of unifying his former lieutenants, who have since aligned themselves to the DP or announced plans to form their own political parties.

These include governors Josphat Nanok (Turkana), Okoth Obado (Migori) and Amason Kingi (Kilifi).

As the race for the 2022 hits the homestretch Raila has not only been fighting to reclaim his old political bases, but also put up a spirited campaign to win Mt Kenya.

On August 18, 2021 Raila hosted delegates from the six counties of Nyanza at Skiri in Homa Bay County and another one was scheduled for Western Kenya as well as the Coast region.

A new headache has emerged for the ODM leader in the name of businessman Jimi Wanjigi has been traversing the country, campaigning to dethrone Raila as the party’s flag bearer in 2022.

Raila has said they would not move to the Supreme Court to challenge an unfavourable BBI judgment but would instead concentrate on preparing for the 2022 elections.

New tactics

But Simekha says that Raila’s Orange party will not drop all the proposals in the BBI documents arguing that there were sections that could be implemented without necessarily requiring a referendum.

The ODM leader is also banking on the Mt Kenya vote bloc to ascend to power next year, as he emphatically says he has identified tactics of “climbing the mountain”.

“We know that Raila was hard to sell in the Mt Kenya region in the previous elections, but this time round, we are determined to break that jinx” Jubilee Party Vice Chairman David Murathe, who is among central Kenya leaders backing Raila, told People Daily.

Some allies of President Uhuru have insisted that selling Raila in Mt Kenya remains a difficult task and warned the President against fronting for the ODM leader.

On Sunday, it was businessman SK Macharia who seemed to hammer the nail on the head when he flatly told the ODM leader to his face: “Do not feed him (Odinga) with a lie that the ground is all that good... I own media houses that inform me on timely positions on the ground.

If the vote was to be called today, those in Mt Kenya who have been demeaning and belittling you, who even include our President, would take it. If you have to win, you have to move with speed to reduce that reality.”

Eric Wainaina

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