For ODM leader Raila Odinga, the 2022 general election will cap his political career either as a man who finally achieved his dream of ruling Kenya after many trials, or one whose bullets missed the target, some just that so much closely.
With all factors constant, Raila’s main challenger for the throne will be deputy president William Ruto who also views the election as do-or-die given the many toes he has stepped on in his way to the top, leaving many yearning for a chance to bring him down. For the ODM leader, he has since the March 9, 2018, handshake with Uhuru Kenyatta kept Kenyans guessing on whether he will be on the ballot, or not, with only calls for him to enter the ring coming from his backyard of Nyanza. But this puzzle was solved when Jubilee Party vice-chair David Murathe told Kenyans to brace for a Raila presidency in 2022 and even went ahead to ask Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka to pave way for Raila. Murathe said that Raila will be president in 2022 with or without votes, arguing that Kenyans must reward him for the many years of struggle. He even likened the ODM leader to iconic South Africa’s president Nelson Mandela noting that he too will rule for one term and then hand over the baton to a younger leader.
If Murathe, a key ally of the president, was speaking the president’s mind, then it means Raila will have the deep state’s backing as he fires his final bullet in 2022 polls. Indeed, history has shown that candidates with the backing of the deep state rarely lose presidential elections, but in exceptional cases they do, as it happened to Uhuru in 2002 when he lost to Mwai Kibaki of National Rainbow Coalition despite massive backing from the Daniel Arap Moi regime. Apart from Ruto, the ODM leader will face other aspirants who have declared their intention to be in the ballot or are being pushed by their allies to contest the highest seat on the land. They include Amani National Congress leader Musalia Mudavadi, Maendeleo Chap Chap’s Alfred Mutua, Wiper’s Kalonzo and Makueni governor Kivutha Kibwana, among others.
This means Raila, who will be 77 years old in 2022, having been born on January 7 1945, will square it out with 56-year-old Ruto (born on December 21, 1966), 61-year-old Mudavadi (September 16, 1961), 69-year-old Kalonzo (December 24, 1953), 52-year-old Mutua (August 22, 1970) and 68-year-old Kibwana (June 13 1954), among other candidates younger than him. But there is also a likelihood of the candidates forming alliances, but one thing that is clear is that Raila and Ruto unless unforeseen circumstances occur, will face each other in the ballot. With age fast catching up on him, coupled with his failing health, Raila faces a herculean task to win the race he has unsuccessfully tried five times, which means he will rely entirely on his vast political network to do the groundwork across the country. One major setback he will face is if Kalonzo contests the presidency or forms an alliance with Ruto or any other candidate since he will have to kiss goodbye the Kamba vote, which will be more than 2 million, that he enjoyed almost 99pc in the 2013 and 2017 elections when the former vice president was his running mate.
But a major score for Raila is that since the March 9, 2018, handshake with the president he has been making inroads in Mount Kenya region where traditionally the mere mention of his name evoked fears of retribution. With over 10 million voters, the region which has produced three presidents – Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, Kibaki and Uhuru – will play a kingmaker role and going by the 2019 population census the candidate who wins the region will have a headstart.
This is because not only is the president’s community the largest in the country with a population of 8.12 million, outnumbering the second largest ethnic group, the Luhya, by over 1.3 million people, it is also home to counties with high numbers of people, most of them youths who will be voters in the 2022 elections. To his credit, Raila, who was granted by Uhuru a free hand to court his political bastion, has won many of the president’s allies to his side, turning a good number to be his political associates thereby triggering disquiet in Ruto’s camp.
Before the outbreak of the deadly coronavirus pandemic, Raila’s office at Capitol Hills in Nairobi was coordinating the countrywide Building Bridges Initiative consultative forums and rallies with the blessings of State House. The meetings gave the former prime minister a strategic opportunity to rebrand himself and create new allies ahead of the 2022 polls. For the first time since campaigning for former Kibaki in 2002, Raila was given a rousing welcome at Kinoru Stadium, Meru, with the region’s top brass on hand to receive him. Most of the elected leaders from the region competed to be seen with Raila, sending the clearest indication that Uhuru wants Mt Kenya to rally behind Raila in a political scheme to lock out Ruto from the region. The region’s stand with Raila was expounded by Kiraitu at the Meru meeting when he said: “Asiye sikia la mkuu huvunjika guu (he who fails to heed counsel from elders breaks his leg)”. Kiraitu used the Kiswahili proverb to refer to the political catastrophe that he said would befall those disrespecting Uhuru.
Although Uhuru did not attend the BBI rally in his backyard, politicians from the region declared, in one of their resolutions that the president is the de facto political kingpin of Mt Kenya and they would follow his directions. Raila even climbed down from his initial demand for a powerful prime minister so as not to antagonize the region’s backing for him. But not all who will be singing Raila’s name in Mount Kenya. Already, former Agriculture Cabinet secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri, a close ally of Ruto, has announced he will lead the deputy president troops and even dared the president to be ready to retire and exit politics when his second term ends in 2022. It is also instructive to note that Murathe’s endorsement was dismissed by senate majority whip Irungu Kang’ata (Murang’a), who is also considered a key ally of Uhuru, who took to social media to state that nobody should purport to speak on behalf of the Mt Kenya region. Raila’s calculations are also pegged on retaining his traditional strongholds that include Western and Coast regions and make inroads in hostile Mount Kenya region. He is dangling prime minister slot to Mount Kenya.
That is why Raila is banking on BBI that proposes creation of PM office with two deputies. To counter Kalonzo factor in Ukambani, Raila is grooming Kitui governor Charity Ngilu as running mate. With Ngilu, Raila wants also to capture the influential women vote. Initially, Raila wanted Mombasa governor Hassan Joho as running mate but he is pushing Joho to be deputy prime minister. But in Western, the ODM leader is out to tame ANC leader Musalia Mudavadi and Ford Kenya leader Moses Wetang’ula after the disintegration of National Super Alliance. He is using Devolution CS Eugene Wamalwa and Kakamega governor Wycliffe Oparanya. Raila is also using the national influence of Cotu boss Francis Atwoli to scheme. The ground in Western is fast shifting and for the first time, Raila is fighting to control the voting bloc that has traditionally been his stronghold. Analysts say, apart from Mudavadi, the Ruto factor cannot be wished away in Western just like in the Mt Kenya region and Ukambani. Pundits aver that there is a likelihood of the region replicating what it did in 2013 when Mudavadi ate into Raila’s votes.
In 2013 elections, Mudavadi bagged 483,981 votes, most from the Luhya community, that helped widen the gap between Uhuru and Raila in the presidential race. In the polls Uhuru garnered 6,173,433 votes, Raila (5,340,546) and Peter Kenneth 72,7896 votes. Uhuru won in the first round. Without the Western voting bloc, which will have over 2 million votes, Raila’s political career will be as good as over but chances of him reinventing himself and pulling a surprise amidst all the uncertainties cannot be ruled out. But if Mudavadi and Wetang’ula team up with Ruto, then Western will have slipped out of Raila’s hands, complicating his candidature, which might see his final bullet fail for the umpteenth time to hit the target. The combination of Oparanya, Wamalwa and ODM secretary general Edwin Sifuna will be mincemeat to Mudavadi-Wetang’ula axis if they team up with the deputy president. At the Coast, Raila’s ambition is also threatened by the leaders push for a political party, citing betrayal from ODM that the region backed in the past three elections.
With Coast leaders planning to form a regional political party ahead of the elections and threatening to sever links with ODM, Raila is staring at the risk of losing the about 2 million votes, not to forget the 25 parliamentary seats. For now, Malindi MP Aisha Jumwa and her Kilifi counterpart Owen Baya have vowed to form a regional party that will unite the Coast people and be used as a political vehicle to bring change in 2022, and there are indications they might form a coalition with Ruto, dealing a big blow to Raila. The leaders opine forming a new party for the Coast people is timely as current parties have been taking advantage of the region’s people. According to Baya, ODM which dominates most parts of the Coast failed to consider the needs of the people after some party leaders were alleged to support the proposed county revenue sharing formula. In the 2017 general election, more than 70pc of the Coast region voted for ODM. If Joho lands deputy prime minister slot, the region is bound to favour Raila. In Rift Valley, which is Ruto’s traditional stronghold, Raila will rely on Baringo senator Gideon and other leaders to deliver about five million votes in the region.
His hopes are pegged on the political formation with Uhuru and Gideon where Kanu will get one of the top three positions in the new alliance. But the unfolding political developments, where Gideon is losing allies, the latest being Cherangany MP Joshua Kutuny and Emurua Dikirr’s Johana Ng’eno, means the ODM leader will have to go back to the drawing board if his dream of winning over the region is to materialize. Apart from the duo, West Pokot governor John Lonyangapuo has also ditched Gideon for Ruto, complicating the mathematics for Uhuru and Raila days to the elections. For now, the alliance between Gideon and Raila which was expected to throw a spanner in the works of the Ruto camp appears to be headed to headwinds with indications the Kalenjin and Kikuyu votes in the region are in deputy president’s bag. However, our source said Raila strategy just as in Mount Kenya is to eat part of the vote as he consolidates his power base of Nyanza, Western, Coast and venture into North Eastern. According to Raila calculations, North Eastern will land one of the speakers’ positions.
In North-Eastern region, which has Garissa, Wajir and Mandera counties, and has traditionally been a swing vote but mostly tilting the scales in favour of the candidate with the backing of the state, Raila is banking on Uhuru to reinforce his troops. In Garissa, his troops will be led former house speaker Farah Maalim to counter those of Ruto led by Garissa Township MP Aden Duale. But cries of betrayal, where Duale was stripped of the national assembly majority leadership slot due to his support for the deputy president will complicate mathematics for Raila as he will be blamed for orchestrating the move that sidelined the Somalis from government. In Mandera, Raila has already received the backing of Governor Ali Roba, Senator Mohamud Mohammed and MPs, which places him at an advantageous position. The same case in Wajir where he will have an upper hand as the region has pockets of Kanu supporters and Jubilee’s wing of the president. It remains to be seen whether Raila will this time round bag the coveted prize.