Seth Onyango and George Odiwuor @PeopleDailyKe
Opposition leader Raila Odinga is going nowhere. That is the message his ODM allies have for his critics who believe his appointment as an African Union envoy technically kicks him out of the political arena in general, and the 2022 election in particular.
Opinion is also sharply divided on what Raila’s appointment as African Union Representative for Infrastructure Development means for his political future.
While his allies say it doesn’t affect his political activities and, in fact, gives him a bigger local and regional stature, his critics say the job means he cannot continue to dabble in local politics. “Raila is going nowhere,” ODM chairperson John Mbadi declared yesterday.
Mbadi had a pointed message for Deputy President William Ruto and his allies who, he said, are celebrating Raila’s new appointment.
“The Deputy President is looking for an excuse to have Raila quit politics but that won’t happen…he knows Raila is the man to beat in 2022,” he told People Daily on phone.
Raila is, however, yet to speak about how his new diplomatic assignment, which has stirred the country’s politics, will affect his political plans.
Even before the appointment, the ODM leader has not been categorical about whether he will run for president for the fifth time in the next election. He says he is interested in helping President Uhuru Kenyatta achieve the objectives of the Building Bridges Initiative, borne of the unity agreement between him and the President on March 9.
But his allies insist the former Prime Minister’s name will be on the ballot in the 2022 election. Ruto and his allies have also been accusing Raila of using the handshake to undermine his (Ruto’s) bid to succceed Uhuru.
Since the announcement of his new job during Mashujaa Day celebrations in Kakamega on Saturday, MPs allied to Ruto have been asking the former PM to retire from local politics and concentrate on the “bigger” AU job.
“Because he has a bigger job in the whole of Africa, he should now leave local politics to us. This leaves Ruto as the frontrunner in 2022, ” said Kiharu MP Ndindi Nyoro.
Other legislators who at the weekend urged Raila to retire include Kimani Ichung’wa (Kikuyu), Didmus Barasa (Kimilili) and Oscar Sudi (Kapseret).
“The kind of job Raila has been given in AU doesn’t allow him to participate in politics, he should leave politics to us,” said Barasa.
Speaking to People Daily on telephone last evening, former Kakamega Senator Bonny Khalwale, a one time Raila ally who has since shifted allegiance to Ruto, said Raila’s time in politics had elapsed.
“An old man is not allowed to dance with young people. Raila danced with (Kenneth) Matiba, (Daniel arap) Moi and (Mwai) Kibaki, he should quit now,” he said.
But Mbadi said Raila can dispense his AU assignments but still play an active role in local politics.
“They want Raila to quit politics so that they can campaign for Ruto,” he said.
Some political analysts agree with Mbadi that the AU job does not bar Raila from local politics and may, in fact, put him at an advantageous position.
According to Prof Mutakha Kangu, Raila’s appointment may have a bearing on local politics.
“This appointment gives him an opportunity to interact more closely with African presidents at the AU level which is important for someone who has presidential ambitions,” he argued.
Kangu also dismissed those calling on Raila to quit politics saying there is nothing that bars the former premier from contesting the presidency in 2022.
“Former African Union Commission chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma resigned from her job to contest for the presidency in South Africa,” he observed.