Will Raila re-invent himself, evolve away from politics?
Having wriggled himself out of many tough situations, some life threatening, all eyes are now on Raila Odinga’s next course of action following the outcome of the August 9 presidential election in which Deputy President William Ruto won.
A man described by his supporters as having the proverbial nine lives, and who always emerges from the ashes stronger like a phoenix, Raila had made his fifth run for the presidency with the hope of it being his last.
But the outcome of the State House race in which he emerged second by garnering 6,942,708 votes against Ruto’s 7,176,141, has put paid to his quest to become the country’s fifth president.
Now with the Supreme Court having delivered a judgment in favour of Ruto, following a petition by Raila, the question that remaians is: What next for Raila? The man variously described by his passionate supporters as “Baba” (Father), “Agwambo” (Act of God) , “Tinga” (Tractor) or Jakom (chairman).
The seven judges dismissed Raila’s petition on the grounds that his Azimio-One Kenya coalition and other petitioners did not table credible evidence of hacking of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) servers and that there were no breaches to the election.
Opinion is divided on whether Raila, given his advanced age, may re-invent himself to remain the firebrand opposition chief as he has always been or this could be the end of his long and chequered political career.
Prof Macharia Munene, formerly a professor of History and International Relations at USIU-Africa, say that though it is quite difficult to rule out Raila in Kenya’s politics, he may find the current environment quite rugged to wriggle himself out.
“You cannot say that this is the end of the road for him. He is quite an agile and witty politician who will always bounce back. Politics has been Raila’s way of life,” says Macharia.
But the don adds that Raila’s fortunes have been dwindling over the years, particularly in his strongholds, a trend that he says could work to his disadvantage.
“Depending on how he will react and position himself, Raila’s ardent supporters must start thinking about politics without him. Has he prepared his succession? I am doubtful. But let’s wait and see,” says Macharia.
Raila’s political gymnastics can be traced way back in the 1990s when Kenya had just emerged from the one party era.
With the death of his father, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, Kenya’s first vice president and later opposition leader, Raila was embroiled in a leadership tussle with Wamalwa Kijana, who had succeeded Jaramogi as the Ford Kenya leader.
After being beaten by Wamalwa in Ford Kenya’s elections in 1997, Raila led his supporters in an exodus from the lion party to form the National Development Party (NDP) and vied for the presidency in that year’s election, coming third behind then incumbent President Daniel arap Moi (Kanu) and Mwai Kibaki, who would succeed Moi after the 2002 election.
In 2002, with just months to one of the most definitive elections in Kenya’s history, Raila landed perhaps his cleanest and deadliest blow to the Kanu establishment, after years of working with the party and later merging his NDP with the independence party. Raila became the secretary general of the new Kanu. Some observers had written off Raila, saying his party had been swallowed by Kanu.
He would, however, have the last laugh after leading an exodus out of the then ruling party to form the National Rainbow Coalition, which won that year’s presidential election.
The Moi-Raila political marriage was consummated on March 18, 2002, in a ‘handshake’ that unsettled the political equation in the country. Opposition leaders at the time labelled Raila a traitor.
But Raila maintained he was joining Kanu to engineer reforms from within.
The fallout in Kanu was triggered by Moi’s decision to name Uhuru Kenyatta, the son of founding President Jomo Kenyatta, as his preferred successor.
Raila quickly bolted out of Kanu with a number of Kanu heavyweights among them George Saitoti (then vice president), Kalonzo Musyoka and Joseph Kamotho.
With only about five months to the polls, Moi found himself flat footed.
Raila then joined hands with Kibaki to form the National Rainbow Coalition (Narc) before making his famous “Kibaki Tosha” declaration at Uhuru Park on October 14, 2002. Narc won the election later that year, with Kibaki as President.
But few months after forming the government, a bitter fallout between Kibaki and Raila’s side over the implementation of a Memorandum of Understanding on the sharing of power.
The 2005 referendum became Narc’s waterloo when Raila led a group that opposed the draft constitution which Kibaki was spearheading. After the failure of the referendum, Raila and other Cabinet members who opposed the referendum were fired from the Cabinet.
Raila teamed up with Musalia Mudavadi, then Eldoret North MP William Ruto and others to form the Orange Democratic Party (ODM). Raila was the party’s presidential candidate in the 2007 election but controversially lost to Kibaki.
The post-election crisis which resulted from the disputed election resulted in the establishment of the Grand Coalition Government in which Raila became prime minister.
In 2013 election, Raila once again ran for president as the candidate of the Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (CORD) which brought together Kalonzo and Moses Wetang’ula against Uhuru and Ruto of Jubilee.
When he lost the election to Uhuru, Raila lodged a petition in the Supreme Court but the case was dismissed.
As it has always been his norm to form a new political outfit in every election, in 2017, Raila cobbled up the National Super Alliance (NASA) comprising Mudavadi, Wetang’ula and Kalonzo as his running mate.
They were once again trounced by the Uhuru and Ruto camp precipitating another petition in Supreme Court. Though the judges under Chief Justice David Maraga nullified the election outcome, Raila and team skipped the repeat election.
The following year, Raila surprised both friend and foe when he reached a truce with his fiercest rival Uhuru. The peace pact came to be known as the Handshake.While Raila had previously described his 2017 presidential bid as his last, in the countdown to 2022, he made an about turn, saying Kenyans had “asked him to run for president again because of the great faith” they had in him.
Though deserted by his NASA allies save for Kalonzo, Raila put on a brave face for another fight, settling on former Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister Martha Karua as his running mate.Raila has always been seen as the political heir to his father, Jaramogi, who was Kenya’s first vice-president, but walked out of the government in 1966 after falling out with President Jomo Kenyatta.
Now 77 – he will be 82 by the next election. Will he continue to command clout in the political arena or will he, evolve to borrow tennis star Serena Williams words?