THE STAR 1d
ODM BOSS: ODM leader Raila Odinga during a service at St Joachim and Anne's Catholic Church, Kayole, on January 17.
Image: RAILA ODINGA/TWITTER
ODM leader Raila Odinga, a renowned tactician, is treading a political tightrope with limited options after his bitter falling out with Nasa co-principals.
The latest war of words pitting the former prime minister against Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka and ANC boss Musalia Mudavadi is the clearest indication their fragile marriage is over.
With the death of Nasa — once the formidable political machine that nearly vanquished Jubilee in 2017 — Raila's plans have been thrown into disarray.
Political observers say the opposition chief will have to go back to the drawing board.
A Nasa coalition with a joint presidential candidate — enjoying the backing of President Uhuru Kenyatta — was seen as the most potent political alliance that could have easily vanquished Deputy President William Ruto in 2022.
Despite his falling out with Uhuru, Ruto has mounted vigorous countrywide campaigns and has built substantial grassroots support.
Politicians say Raila has at least four clear options.
He could ensure he gets the backing of President Kenyatta and runs as the ODM flag bearer. He could cobble together a new alliance with young regional leaders.
In the spirit of 'strange bedfellows', Raila could team up with Ruto. They used to work together.
Or he could back another candidate and declare him 'tosha'.
On Monday, former Cabinet Minister Franklin Bett, a former chairman of the ODM elections board, admitted that Raila's political options have narrowed following Nasa's crumbling.
The former State House comptroller said the Nasa split, coupled with President Kenyatta's uncertain choice of successor, could force Raila to work together with Ruto.
“Raila working with Ruto is the most viable option at the moment,” Bett said. He emphasised the ground has shifted in such a way that Raila would lose if he remained defiant about running.
Raila and Ruto worked together in the Pentagon—a powerful five-member ODM summit akin to a politburo and arguably the most potent political machine in Kenyan history.
The Pentagon comprised Raila, Ruto, Musalia, Tourism CS Najib Balala and former Cabinet Minister Joe Nyaga. Narc leader Charity Ngilu also joined the team though Narc retained its numerical identity.
Bett said the alliance being cobbled together by Kalonzo, Musalia, Wetang'ula (Ford Kenya) and Gideon Moi (Kanu) might not be a lethal political formation against a Raila-Ruto duo.
“One thing Raila is yet to appreciate is that the ground is not the same as he left it. He will have to find a way of reaching out to Ruto for a 2022 working arrangement,” he said.
Former National Assembly Majority leader Aden Duale said, however, the collapse of Nasa had relieved Raila of "disastrous political baggage".
"For us in Ruto's camp, our only serious competitor is Raila. Going forward, the political future of the Kanu orphans of yesteryear is bleak without the endorsement of Uhuru, Raila or Ruto," he said.
Duale said, Uhuru cannot risk endorsing the former Nasa principals because "their value at the stock exchange is very low".
"The former Nasa principals have been a liability to the former PM (Raila) in terms of resources, strategy and numbers. Without the endorsement of Raila or Uhuru, their political investment is under receivership," he said.
Raila has been working closely with Uhuru since the March 9, 2018, handshake and some of the President's men have declared he is the best choice to succeed him.
The President has been heaping praise on him and revealing that were it not for Raila's handshake, the country could have been ungovernable after the 2017 polls.
Through the handshake, Uhuru has managed to dramatically weaken Ruto's grip on the Jubilee Party rank and file and also elbowed him from the centre of state power after their bitter falling out.
Nominated MP Maina Kamanda, a key ally of the President, said the handshake will produce the next government.
“There is no political formation that can beat Uhuru working together with Raila in 2022,” the former Starehe MP said.
On the other hand, a BBI referendum, if approved, might hand Raila a formidable lifeline.
He could craft an alliance with new regional political heavyweights who would then share the spoils if they form a government.
The BBI process proposes an expanded Executive at the national government with a prime minister with two deputies to ensure inclusion of major communities. This is supposed to end exclusion.
In what might signal Raila's next options, the ODM leader last week met former Unctad secretary-general general Mukhisa Kituyi and Makueni Governor Kivutha Kibwana. Both have declared interest in the presidency.
Kituyi and Kibwana are fashioning their presidential campaigns on the platform of proper governance and accountability as well as radical reforms in the management of public affairs.
In Western, Raila has met Kakamega Governor Wickliffe Oparanya and at the Coast Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho. Both are ODM deputy party leader.
Raila is also friends with Machakos Governor Alfred Mutua.
However, political analyst Felix Odhiambo told the Star an alliance with Kibwana and Kituyi may not deliver a presidential victory.
He says the duo does not command a serious political constituency
“The gentlemen would be the best to manage the affairs of this country but then they lack the political teeth that can crush major opponents in the race,” he said.
However, some observers say Raila could still decide to play the role of kingmaker.
This would be a replay of 2002 when Raila declared "Kibaki tosha," ending the President Daniel Moi's 24-year rule.
Tongaren MP Eseli Simiyu said a Raila endorsement would be his most lethal political calculation that would shift Kenya's landscape ahead of 2022.
“Raila has done it before in 2002 when he endorsed Kibaki. Deciding not to run for him will not be a big deal but surely it will be a political earthquake,” he said.
Former South Mugirango MP and People's Democratic Party leader Omingo Magara said Raila's days of political treachery had come to an end.
“The Nasa principals would have seen the betrayal coming," Magara said, insisting that Raila's 2022 options have been crushed.
He went on, “Raila can only get new guys to lie to again, none of the bigwigs will take his fake deals, especially after breaking agreements for a long time."
Despite the Nasa implosion that appears to have cornered master tactician Raila, his allies are putting on a brave face, saying the ODM boss is not short of options.
ODM secretary-general Edwin Sifuna told the Star ODM has learnt a bitter lesson from past coalitions and will be cautious going forward about the kind of partners to work with.
Sifuna said ODM had paid the ultimate price in relationships he described as "antagonistic and toxic".
“The criteria our members have set for us is that we should not enter into antagonistic coalitions that will cannibalise ODM,” Sifuna said, insisting that the party will not rush into coalitions.
He said the party's performance in the last election showed that competition among Nasa affiliates led to ODM losing a number of seats.
“Some of our partners refused to enter into joint nominations with us and dished direct nominations that saw our members cross over for direct tickets - and we ended up losing seats,” he said.
(Edited by V. Graham)