After making four unsuccessful bids for the country’s top seat, ODM leader Raila Odinga’s continued presence in the political limelight confounds his opponents.
While the former prime minister has not declared his candidacy, his operations point to a man with a great interest in the 2022 presidential contest.
Following the March 9, 2018 “handshake” with his former political nemesis, President Uhuru Kenyatta, Mr Odinga has become the man to watch as the clock ticks towards the next elections.
The Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) and the push for constitutional reforms through the launch of regional rallies, which Mr Odinga is spearheading with the full support of the government, have given him a fresh impetus, political analysts say.
According to Prof Herman Manyora, the BBI is political infrastructure meant to propel Mr Odinga to power in 2022.
Prof Manyora argues that President Kenyatta, who has given Mr Odinga the greenlight to lead the BBI rallies, must be aware of the plans for 2022 “either directly or through proxy”.
Mr Odinga has in the past used a referendum to galvanise his politics and form a team to take a stab at the presidency.
In 2005, the Orange Democratic Movement was borne out of the opposition to constitutional changes.
In 2010, Mr Odinga was in his element when he and President Mwai Kibaki successfully campaigned for the Constitution to be changed, paving the way for his appointment as prime minister.
But Maseno University don Tom Mboya disagrees: “I don’t think the BBI rallies will give Raila a fresh impetus and an advantage over the rest in 2022, unless they stop selling the agenda of the document and dwell on drumming up support for him in the rallies.”
Mr Mboya noted that unlike Deputy President William Ruto, Mr Odinga has not declared his interest in the top seat.
The ODM chief launched the BBI consultative forums and rallies in Nyanza (Kisii County) on January 12 and last Saturday, he was in Western Kenya (Kakamega County) for a similar event. He is headed to the Coast (Mombasa) this Saturday.
On Monday, he met Coast governors led by Hassan Joho (Mombasa), Amason Kingi (Kilifi), Granton Samboja (Taita-Taveta) and Dhadho Godhana (Tana River) to plan for the Coast meeting.
President Kenyatta had last week met 20 governors and unveiled a team of eight county chiefs in the National Steering Committee of the BBI that will work with the ODM leader in the ongoing drive across the country.
They include Charity Ngilu (Kitui), who will represent Eastern; Hassan Joho (Mombasa) to take charge of the Coastal region; while Anne Waiguru (Kirinyaga), Wycliffe Oparanya (Kakamega) and James Ongwae (Kisii) will lead Mount Kenya (Central), Western and Nyanza respectively.
Kiraitu Murungi (Meru), Joseph ole Lenku (Kajiado) and Ali Korane (Garissa) will represent Mount Kenya (East), Maa Community and North Eastern Kenya.
In the Rift Valley, Elgeyo-Marakwet Governor Alex Tolgos will lead the BBI campaigns in a surprise move that has rattled Jubilee Party bigwigs in the region.
Mr Odinga will work with the governors, who will also rally their troops at the grassroots to popularise the initiative.
In Western Kenya, Mr Oparanya is working with a team of young leaders, including Senator Cleophas Malala and MPs Godfrey Osotsi (ANC, nominated), Florence Mutua (Busia County) and Caleb Hamisi (Saboti).
On Monday, Mr Osotsi said he had been vindicated in asking ANC party to join the BBI push since his party leader, Musalia Mudavadi, had opposed the initiative at the beginning “citing legal frameworks”.
“Now that Mudavadi has categorically stated that he supports the BBI, Cleophas Malala and I have been vindicated because the party had opted for disciplinary action against us for supporting the agenda,” Mr Osotsi said.
He blamed a clique of leaders around Mr Mudavadi who he claimed were working for the Deputy President.
“Mudavadi is surrounded by pro-Ruto people whose political advice is geared towards distancing him from Raila.”
DP Ruto’s lieutenants have accused Mr Odinga of using the BBI rallies to lay the ground for his 2022 presidential candidacy, claims Mr Odinga’s allies have denied.
“Raila is criss-crossing the nation hoodwinking the public that they are drumming up support for the BBI report when their real motive is to use it as a weapon to bar DP Ruto from ascending to power in 2022,” said Nandi Senator Samson Cherargei.
But Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria on Monday said he will attend this Saturday’s BBI meeting in Mombasa.
“All of us support the BBI and I urge the President and Mr Odinga to involve us in the process. Let them establish a joint secretariat that will be in charge of BBI campaigns across the country,” Mr Kuria said at Parliament Buildings.
“I also want to make it clear that I will attend the BBI meeting in Mombasa this weekend whether they invite me or not.”
Ms Waiguru on Monday said BBI is building bridges for a united, inclusive and cohesive Kenya.
“We want an expanded top to accommodate more regions so that all Kenyans feel part of this country and there is more accountability. We want the alternative gender rule applied across all levels of government and in elective offices,” Ms Waiguru said.
Though political analysts have said Mr Odinga is using the BBI drive to plan for his fifth stab at the presidency, the ODM leader said BBI was meant for posterity and not for himself as an individual.
“Raila may not be the President of Kenya but we want a Constitution that will ensure Kenya is governed in a responsible manner; we want also to remove Kenyans from poverty like China, which moved 300 million citizens from poverty to middle-income status,” he said.
Political analyst Javas Bigambo says the push for constitutional reforms and the unveiling of county-focused rallies is a pointer to the dexterity of Raila’s politics, a “tactful and adroit politician whose political craftsmanship is making his opponents to play catch-up”.
“It is obvious that he is setting the political agenda and tempo for 2022. The fact, too, that he is at the frontline speaks of a politician who has the taste of the 2022 race in the mouth, even though he has not declared on record that he will contest,” he said.
Politics, he noted, is about competition and “Raila is openly inviting his opponents to the game by dribbling the political ball with speed”.