Barely a day after declaring that he is going nowhere, opposition chief Raila Odinga yesterday announced that he is stepping aside from President Uhuru Kenyatta’s 2022 succession politics for four years.
Though, he did not outrightly state whether that leaves room for other political activities or not, the man, once described as an enigma in Kenyan politics, set tongues wagging on his game plan for his much relished but four-time failed stab at the country’s presidency.
In a statement to newsrooms, his spokesperson Dennis Onyango said his boss; a wily political fox—Agwambo (mysterious person) to his passionate and resolute supporters—will instead focus on his appointment to the African Union as High Representative for Infrastructure Development.
“To provide the required leadership in this critical area, and in line with his previous pronouncements, Odinga wishes to reiterate that he will not engage in Kenya’s succession politics ahead of 2022,” he said.
The statement, however, clarified that Raila will keep a keen eye on the Building Bridges Initiative, a product of the March 9 Handshake between him and President Kenyatta, to unite Kenyans. In a nutshell, he is saying he out of the 2022 succession politics and yet is in the Handshake.
So could the former premier be changing tact? To close confidants, Baba’s long journey to ‘Canaan’ is on course— and yesterday’s announcement is strategic because he will now not speak for himself but through a re-organised and re-energised campaign machinery.
But to his most rabid critics, the move could be a dignified and calculated exit from the 2022 presidential race but Baba’s supporters dismiss this view and insist Raila is not about to hang his political boots.
Nonetheless, Raila’s move to take a tactical sabbatical from the emotive succession politics could change at least momentarily, the country’s political topography and give his nemesis space and chance to make inroads in his turf.
Indeed it came as Deputy President William Ruto was making a foray into Raila’s political bedrock of Nyanza and Western to galvanise support for his presidential bid.
Nasa National Assembly Minority Whip Junet Mohammed clarified that although Raila will not actively campaign for 2022 race, he will continue to engage in politics as the party leader of ODM.
“This statement basically means he will not be seeking votes for 2022 as early as now…it should not be construed to mean that he is relinquishing his position as the party leader of ODM,” he explained.
People Daily has learned that while Raila will be concentrating on his continental assignment, trusted foot soldiers will be on the look out to neutralise Ruto’s anticipated inroads in his strongholds. Raila has strategically mandated senior allies in different corners of the country to fight his political battles as he concentrates on his new appointment.
Analyst Prof Macharia Munene, a Political Science lecturer at the United States International University—Africa was cautious on Raila’s latest move.
“It is a move that we have to treat cautiously, bearing in mind that Raila is a political strategist per excellence. It may be a move meant to hoodwink opponents, but time will tell. It is difficult to fathom Raila Odinga disengaging himself from politics,” said Munene.
Ruto’s charm offensive in Western and Nyanza has alarmed Raila’s allies with many accusing the DP of taking advantage of the Handshake to propel his political agenda in the region.
Yesterday, Ruto visited Migori and Homa Bay county on a tour touted as inspection of government development projects. The first since the 2017 election.
Critics fear that Ruto is rebranding his politics, targeting critical support from regions, which have staunchly identified with Raila with analysts saying that any miscalculation on the part of Raila could cost him the significant support he previously enjoyed.
National Assembly Minority Leader John Mbadi in a recent interview with People Daily asserted that the ODM party leader was a shrewd politicians whose ambitions would not be derailed by his new job and that Raila would be able to dispense his AU assignment comfortably while still playing an active role in local politics.
Mbadi’s contention is that Raila’s AU job is advisory which should not be connected to politics.
“The position at the AU is a stewardship job. It has no association with politics in the county. Raila’s role is advisory and he has a local office and will not be directly involved in infrastructure planning at the country level,” he said.
But Raila’s change of mind received support from Elgeyo Marakwet Senator Kipchumba Murkomen, an ardent Ruto ally, who said the move has been long overdue.
Meanwhile, Siaya senator James Orengo has called for dissolution of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) ahead of the proposed referendum. Speaking at St Andrews Bondo Catholic church yesterday, Orengo said the Wafula Chebukati-led commission cannot be trusted to handle the referendum process.