Kenya: Uncertainty in ODM Over Odinga's Future, Kenyatta Pact

Opposition leader Raila Odinga's apparent low profile in party politics and pre-occupation with the national healing process, where he has teamed up with President Uhuru Kenyatta, have clouded the giant Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) party's political focus ahead of the 2022 General Election.


The former Prime Minister and his handlers remain tight-lipped on whether or not he will vie for the presidency in 2022. And nobody as well, within the party's top leadership, wants to contemplate or comment on Mr Odinga's eventual exit from active politics or the grooming of a possible successor in the Orange party.

These realities come against the backdrop of the party's loss in last month's by-election in Nairobi's Embakasi South and Ugenya in Mr Odinga's rural backyard of Siaya County. The growing concerns also come following a recent internal audit report that suggested ODM cannot survive in the absence of Mr Odinga.

The report by a Catherine Mumma-led task force, which was presented to the National Executive Council (NEC) early this month, also points to the party's waning political fortunes, accuses ODM organs of bungling primaries by staging chaotic polls and calls for a major overhaul of its structures ahead of the 2022 polls among a raft of other recommendations.

With regard to the notion that the party revolves around one man, Judy Pareno, the chairperson of the ODM Election Board, says those fronting this argument are missing the point: "Baba's (Mr Odinga) political presence looms large, not just within ODM or Opposition but in the entire country, which partly explains why the President reached out to him in the handshake deal. So how can a single political entity, like ours, be viewed independently of such a personality who has dominated Kenya's political scene for a quarter century?"

Ms Pareno, who is also a nominated Senator, says Mr Odinga is an asset to the party. Mr Odinga, she observes, is the backbone of the party and "has held it together for 13 years now and we can only ask God to continue giving him the strength and wisdom to serve our party and the country".


ODM secretary-general, Edwin Sifuna, discounts the notion that Mr Odinga, who was appointed last October as African Union's High Representative for Infrastructure Development, is preoccupied with engagements at the national and continental level at the expense of his party.

"Our party leader is not and has never been too busy for his party: He has always been around and there is nothing absolutely to worry about because he is fully in charge of the situation," reassures Sifuna.

The ODM brigade's satisfaction with Mr Odinga's latest political manoeuvres notwithstanding, there are fresh fears the pact between the former PM and erstwhile political foe, President Kenyatta, could be a ploy to debilitate the party.

Nominated MP David Sankok says the political dalliance between the President and Mr Odinga is aimed at taming the Opposition. The Jubilee politician claims that the ODM leader will eventually be dumped by Mr Kenyatta once his mission is complete.

"The idea behind welcoming Baba in government was to help the Jubilee administration to govern peacefully and realise its development agenda, since this was not going to be possible under a permanently grumbling opposition. It is just a smart trick by the President, same as what a teacher does to a noise-maker in a classroom by making him a class monitor," says Sankok.

While political heavyweights of the ruling party reached by the Nation declined to confirm or refute the alleged plot, some Opposition MPs, who are equally suspicious of the handshake deal, urged Mr Odinga to be cautious.

"Penye moshi hapakosi moto (where there is smoke there is fire). We ask Baba and his handlers to go about this deal very carefully," said a second term legislator from Western Kenya, who requested not to be named.

The situation has not been helped by the President's perceived indifference or lukewarm resolve to fight off members of his party attacking the handshake and Mr Odinga.


Deputy President William Ruto has orchestrated sustained attacks against Mr Odinga, accusing him of "political conmanship" by using the handshake deal to advance his own personal interests. This is even after the President reprimanded those opposed to the deal with Mr Odinga.

"The one person that has constantly and viciously attacked this deal is the DP and MPs allied to him. This is a direct assault at his boss and why the boss has not acted is something Mr Odinga ought to be worried about. What is it that Ruto knows that we don't? And why is he so emboldened in his criticism?" poses the MP.

Even in the President's own Central backyard, Mr Odinga continues to serve as a political punching bag for MPs critical of the handshake. Lately, only Maina Kamanda (nominated), Ngunjiri Wambugu (Nyeri Town), Gathoni wa Muchomba (Kiambu Women Rep), and Maoka Maore (Igembe North), consistently jump to the defence of the Kenyatta-Odinga deal.

But Sifuna is quick to poke holes in the "Sankok theory". Claiming there is already a clear split within the ruling party with two factions, "Tangatanga" and "Kieleweke", the ODM official wonders how Mr Odinga can be politically tamed under such circumstances.

"Such a suggestion flies in the face of everything we know about political strategy. Unless of course Sankok and his ilk are telling us they are only acting out the differences, in which case they need to be awarded Oscars for such sterling performances," says Sifuna.

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