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Reinvention of old Raila and opposition politics



Reinvention of old Raila and opposition politics

Opposition leader Raila Odinga – accused by many of having been turned into a government puppet during President Uhuru Kenyatta’s last term – is back to his former self, championing policies and issues he was known for before the March 2018 handshake.

Mr Odinga, a veteran opposition leader and icon of protest politics mellowed after that rapprochement with Mr Kenyatta.

He made good political fodder for then-Deputy President William Ruto who made him the face of government failures.

Since his role in the second liberation, Mr Odinga distinguished himself as a veteran of campaigns for democracy and human rights.

He was detained without trial for several years by President Daniel arap Moi. 

The 78-year-old is back on the streets, demanding reforms in the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) and President Ruto’s resignation.

Mr Odinga’s on-and-off rapprochement with sitting governments started in 2001 when his National Development Party merged with the ruling Kanu to form New Kanu.

President Moi appointed him as Energy Minister.

After protesting the results of the 2007 presidential election, Mr Odinga pushed President Mwai Kibaki into sharing power.

The March 9, 2018 handshake between Mr Odinga and President Kenyatta was viewed as the end of opposition politics in Kenya.

Old game

Now, the Azimio La Umoja One Kenya chief is back to his old game.

Having lost to his political student Ruto in the 2022 election, friend and foe began drafting the ODM boss’ political obituary.

Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition leader Raila Odinga during his rally at Kamukunji Grounds in Nairobi on January 23, 2023. 

Photo credit: Diana Ngila | Nation Media Group

Mr Odinga is loved and loathed in equal measure. No other Kenyan politician divides opinion like him.

To his supporters, Mr Odinga is a democrat who has sacrificed a lot in his fight against dictatorship.

Others see him as scheming and self-centred.

Mr Odinga’s struggle against the one-party dictatorship saw him detained three times. He holds the record for being the country’s longest-serving detainee.

The Odinga of yesteryear spoke for the oppressed. He put up spirited efforts in keeping the government on its toes, especially when it came to corruption and misrule. 

Having made five unsuccessful attempts at the presidency, he is back on the path of keeping the government in check.

National Assembly Minority Leader Opiyo Wandayi said today’s meeting in Kibra would push for IEBC reforms.

“The government is doing nothing about the rising cost of living. The IEBC is down and out, destroyed by (immediate former chairman Wafula) Chebukati,” the Ugunja MP said. 

“The government wants to populate the electoral commission with more Chebukatis of its choice.”

He added that acts by electoral agencies have led to violence and deaths in the past.

“We survived by a whisker. The IEBC, with the support of the Kenya Kwanza government, wants to take us to violence again. We must stop them,” he said. 

Pundits say Mr Odinga is engaging in such activities to remain politically relevant.

They say responding to Mr Odinga by the President every time the former makes a statement is likely to make the “fluid situation” worse.

“Mr Odinga is unpredictable. When you think that he is out, he resurfaces and even surprises his friends. The election problem should be dealt with politically,” says Moi University lecturer Masibo Lumala. 

Campaign mode

Prof Lumala says in taking on his predecessor and Mr Odinga at the same time, President Ruto may be hurting his government. 

“We are still in the campaign mode following what happened last Sunday with Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition criticising the government as the President and his team did the same in Narok,” he says.

Azimio leader Raila Odinga addressing a rally at Jacaranda grounds in Nairobi County

Azimio leader Raila Odinga addressing a rally at Jacaranda grounds in Nairobi County on January 29, 2023. 

Photo credit: Dennis Onsongo | Nation Media Group

The President’s lieutenants dared the Azimio team to call for countrywide demonstrations, insisting that the Kenya Kwanza administration would not be cowed.

“We are ready for them. Let them know that no amount of demonstration will change anything. Ruto cannot be blackmailed to serve the interests of few individuals,” said Nyaribari Chache MP Zaheer Jhanda.

“Ruto is not a pushover. Raila needs to know that he will not succeed in forcing a handshake with the current President.” 

According to Gatundu South MP Gabriel Kagombe, it will not be possible for the opposition to arm-twist the President.

He urged the entire Azimio la Umoja One Kenya alliance team to accept the results of the August 2022 elections.

“Raila’s character is known. He started with Moi, Kibaki and Uhuru,” Mr Kagombe said.

“Raila will face a lot of resistance. His strategy has been marshalling many people to threaten the government. That cannot work because the President can do more than five meetings in a day.”

Shinyalu MP Fred Ikana said the government is not shaken by Mr Odinga’s eight-point ultimatum.

According to Mr Ikana, the Azimio la Umoja One Kenya alliance leader will fail because many MPs in the opposition are tired of the August General Election’s talk.

“Raila always wants to fight any government so as to attract sympathy and be given favours. He is living in denial for he lost the election,” Mr Ikana said. 

“He’ll not succeed because the President has attracted the support of many Raila followers.”

Bondo MP Gideon Ochanda, an ODM lawmaker, said he does not understand the sudden change of mind by the opposition. 

He said the Azimio leadership promised to respect the outcome of the presidential election petition delivered by the Supreme Court. 

“What other option does the opposition have? The reality is that what they are doing could be illegal,” Mr Ochanda said. 

“Now they say they believe the IEBC whistleblower who says Raila won the presidential election. Our region should not be outside the government again. We have been there for long.”

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