Among Kenya’s senior politicians, Raila is the least vindictive in his handling of political opponents.
While his public persona is one of a ruthless politician, in reality his record demonstrates a high degree of forgiving enemies, many of whom have joined up and flourished in his camp over years of maligning him.
In the last election, Prof Sam Ongeri, one of Raila’s fiercest critics, joined ODM and won the Kisii senatorial seat after the Jubilee Party that he served at his prime had openly undermined him.
Musyoka, Mudavadi and Wetang’ula, who were Raila’s foremost champions in the last election, were his detractors not long ago.
Even in Nyanza, James Orengo and Anyang’ Nyong’o were once Raila’s opponents. Jubilee leaders Uhuru and Ruto are ruthless in their handling of opponents.
Top leaders such as Franklin Bett, Martha Karua, Henry Kosgey and Peter Kenneth, who rejoined the Jubilee Party hoping to recoup their lost time, were crushed by Jubilee minions. None of this is to say that Raila is an innocent victim of his misfortunes.
In the pursuit of his goals, Raila can be callous to the point of not caring about his image as the person Kenyans have invested their hopes in.
His inattention to campaign management and his associations in the last two elections significantly undercut his capacity to detect vote fraud and his credibility as a reformer.
In the last election, he made Jimi Wanjigi, a man loathed by reform-minded Kenyans, a top member of the NASA coalition.
A senior aide told me that Wanjigi’s prominent role in the campaign contributed to poisoning Raila’s relations with Western ambassadors.
At one stage, I was informed, Raila was invited for breakfast by an ambassador, only to turn up with Wanjigi. The ambassador, whose country had a comprehensive file on the businessman, was horror-struck.
“We can read in the papers that you are a friend of Wanjigi, but to bring him to my house!” the diplomat reportedly sighed later.
Wanjigi’s prominence in NASA raised doubts about Raila’s commitment to address grand corruption.
Such grey areas in Raila’s commitment to fight corruption stood in the way of his capacity to link Jubilee corruption to the country’s economic difficulties, including the unga shortage that Kenyans were experiencing ahead of the election.
In early 2000, Raila argued that the preferred candidates helped to finance the party’s campaigns. One of the biggest challenges anywhere is the cost of elections.
Being outsiders, the Odingas have found it hard to finance campaigns. But getting money from candidates isn’t the best of fundraising ideas.
In 2017, aspirants on ODM ticket paid the highest nomination fees, which many party members said was an obstacle to democracy.
The imposition of candidates on ODM members gets worse when Raila’s family members are involved.
In 2013, his elder brother, Oburu Oginga, and sister, Ruth Odinga, made controversial runs as the Siaya and Kisumu gubernatorial candidates.
In Kisumu, Ruth was well liked but the voters were repelled by the Odinga family demanding too much from them, with Raila going for the presidency and Oburu the Siaya governorship.
The environment was eventually poisoned against Oburu and Ruth, resulting in violence, which threatened to spoil Raila’s presidential campaign.
I was working for Lone and recall Raila asking him to help Bett manage the communication disaster the nominations provoked and talk to Oburu to quit the race.
Oburu, as a condition for quitting the race, insisted that his main opponent for Siaya governor, Oduol Denge, not get the ticket, which the party eventually handed to Cornel Rasanga, a former civil servant.
After the last meeting at the Serena hotel where this was agreed, Oburu walked to Lone and said.
“I know you are the one behind this. You’ve robbed me of the ticket.” In Kisumu, Ruth became a running mate to her main opponent, Jack Ranguma.
Nomination violence had rocked Homa Bay, too, where former Rangwe MP Philip Okundi was running against retired Marie Stopes country director Cyprian Awiti.
After examining the facts, Bett handed the ticket to Awiti. With these shenanigans, it was indeed confounding that in 2017 the same gubernatorial contests spilled into violence, with the same cast of people involved.
Oburu’s sense of entitlement to political leadership continues to undermine his brother to this day.
After quitting the gubernatorial race in 2013, he earned a free pass to Parliament, courtesy of special nominations which should have gone to a youth.
But ahead of the August elections, he was determined to reclaim the Bondo parliamentary seat that he had held since his father’s passing in 1994. Despite a negative, clan-based campaign against incumbent Gideon Ochanda, the MP beat him hands down.
Yet the returning officer declared the results in faraway Siaya town, showing Oburu had won. This time Raila was courageous enough to have the win nullified and have the nomination given to Ochanda.
Embarrassed, Oburu agreed to support Ochanda and took up the role of campaign coordinator in Nyanza, but in exchange, like in 2013, for a fresh parliamentary nomination, this time to the East African Legislative Assembly (Eala).
ODM qualified for just two of the nine seats, and Oburu, who believed he deserved one, went about his campaign in the most embarrassing style.
On the day of Uhuru’s inauguration on 28 November, as tensions were boiling over NASA’s plan to hold a parallel meeting at Jacaranda grounds, the Star’s front-page reported a meeting Oburu had held with Jubilee parliamentary leader Aden Duale.
Although Oburu told the paper that he met Duale in his own effort to lobby for ODM’s nomination to the Eala seat, that a senior member of the Odinga family was consorting with Jubilee for private benefit at that time disillusioned NASA supporters.
But just as Oburu was embarrassing NASA on the national stage, the Nyanza governors who were handed tickets by Raila in 2013 had performed dismally and voters were gearing up to replace them.
During the campaign, I learnt from a member of Raila’s inner circle that, after the 2013 election, Raila set out to do a prognosis on ODM’s poor performance to establish weaknesses that needed addressing in readiness for the 2017 elections.
This is what responsible parties do the world over. Raila assigned that task to a new breed of young MPs led by Ken Obura (Kisumu Central) and Ababu Namwamba (Budalang’i). However, lacking political tack, the MPs after their discussion launched a campaign for party leadership, campaigning against the so-called old guard who had messed up the election.
A few days later, Homa Bay Senator Otieno Kajwang, told the former PM that the young Turks were promoting Jubilee’s notion that the election was not rigged and ODM old guards were responsible for Raila’s defeat. Kajwang told the party leader that if the MPs, who could not be trusted, tasted blood by removing Secretary General Anyang’ Nyong’o, who was their first target, the rest would follow in a process that would see Raila removed from his party leadership.
After that talk, Raila reportedly changed his mind about the party reorganization. Pro-Raila forces were left groping for a way out of a leadership change that Raila had endorsed, and the only recourse available was to use the infamous ‘Men in Black’ to scuttle the ODM elections at Kasarani in February 2014.
Copyright John Onyando in his newly released book,
Kenya: The Failed Quest for Electoral Justice.