Raila is down to last bullet, will it be a sure shot? - Beaking Kenya News

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Saturday, 12 September 2020

Raila is down to last bullet, will it be a sure shot?


The Gospel of John 11:1-44 regales penitents with the miracle of the raising of Lazarus of Bethany by Jesus. Incredibly, Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead four days after his entombment.

The miracle is as much about Jesus as it is about Lazarus and in the annals of Kenyan political history, there is only one person who comes closest to the biblical Lazarus. That man has come from the political dead time and again, confounding both friend and foe.

The epitaph on his political grave has been written often, each time to no avail. However, the political wizard may this time be staring at his Waterloo. This is the question — will the Building Bridges Initiative be Raila Amolo Odinga’s last song?

If Mr Odinga — like the proverbial cat — has nine lives, then he has expended seven. The chamber is nearly empty and the next shot may be a play at Russian roulette. Or that’s what political pundits think. In 2017, Mr Odinga faced down Jubilee’s Uhuru Kenyatta, and came up empty.

Most people wrote him off and urged the veteran opposition doyen to hang up his political boots and return to Bondo to tend to his cows. The indomitable Mr Odinga would’ve none of it. He forced a rerun of the presidential election after the Supreme Court vacated Mr Kenyatta’s victory. But Mr Odinga then pulled another surprise and sat out the rerun, leaving the field wide open to Mr Kenyatta.

Political calculus

Mr Odinga’s logic was to deny Mr Kenyatta’s uncontested victory legitimacy. The gamble paid off. In the ensuing tumult, Mr Kenyatta’s regime struggled in vain to find its footing. As the country teetered on the precipice, Mr Odinga swore himself in at the historic Uhuru Park as the “people’s president”. A mammoth crowd embraced him, even though Wiper’s Kalonzo Musyoka, Amani’s Musalia Mudavadi, and Ford-Kenya’s Moses Wetang’ula chickened out.

That act — which the precocious Attorney-General Githu Muigai incorrectly called treason — once again established Mr Odinga’s bona fides as the unquestioned king of the opposition. Once again, Jaramogi’s son had arisen from the dead. The move flummoxed Mr Kenyatta and rattled his political calculus. He was cornered.

This was Mr Kenyatta’s weakest political moment since he ascended to power in 2013. The charges for crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court then hung over his head, as they did over his deputy William Samoei Ruto.

Mr Ruto, a cunning politician, wasted no time in tightening his grip over Mr Kenyatta. It is public knowledge that Mr Kenyatta wasn’t his own man in the first term from 2013-2017.

Mr Ruto was the co-President, and to many the actual power behind the throne. Mr Kenyatta was but a hostage warming the seat for Mr Ruto to formally take over in 2022. Mr Kenyatta chafed, but was powerless to dislodge Mr Ruto’s chokehold. That’s when Mr Odinga struck.

On March 9, 2018, Mr Odinga and Mr Kenyatta — hitherto implacable foes — emerged together on the steps of Harambee House to the shock of the nation and the world. The two, acting like long-lost loving siblings who had been tragically separated by an evil ogre years ago, announced that they were happily reunited.

They spelt out a raft of agenda items that they claimed would heal the broken nation. Conspicuously absent from the soiree was Mr Ruto and Mr Musyoka, the duo’s running mates.

Mr Kenyatta and Mr Odinga told the country that they had kept Mr Ruto and Mr Musyoka in the dark. This dart hit Mr Ruto the hardest because he fancied himself the co-President. Clearly, Mr Kenyatta had dropped him.

The so-called Handshake between Mr Kenyatta and Mr Odinga moved political mountains. Metaphorically, the two hoped that Mt Kenya would be relocated to Nyanza. The tool for the relocation was the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI). It was the machete that would cut off Mr Ruto’s political head, free Mr Kenyatta from him, and launch Mr Odinga into orbit. However, it was important that the Handshake not be presented as “political”.

But one would be foolish to read one of the most momentous rapprochements in Kenya’s history as apolitical. This is a truism — whenever two or more politicians gather, politics is often the outcome. This political marriage was Mr Ruto’s divorce from Mr Kenyatta and Jubilee, whether he knows it or not.

Lofty goals

On the face of it, BBI was a masterstroke. Among its lofty goals is to vanquish Kenya’s debilitating ills, especially ethnic antagonism, corruption, electoral violence, and political instability.

The vehicle for accomplishing these goals would be a constitutional referendum to right the wrongs in the 2010 Constitution. Perhaps in the works would be the adoption of a parliamentary system of government.

It was Mr Odinga — not Mr Ruto — who was entrusted by Mr Kenyatta with shepherding the BBI to a victorious outcome. In fact, Mr Ruto and and his Tangatanga brigade were deliberately cut out. This was the first indication that BBI was partially a succession plan for Mr Kenyatta and Mr Odinga. Mr Ruto wasn’t part of the plan.

Which begs the question: Can Mr Odinga, with Mr Kenyatta’s unflinching backing, ascend to State House in 2022? It’s not been lost on anyone that Mr Odinga has one foot in government, and other in the opposition.

This is both a weakness and a strength. It’s a weakness because he risks being tainted with all of the Jubilee’s unfathomable ills — and there are gazillion from corruption to police brutality, defiance of the Constitution, and the mismanagement of the economy, including during the pandemic.

He also risks losing his opposition supporters who have trusted him to be their advocate against an oppressive state. Jubilee’s heavy yoke may break his neck. If he attacks Mr Kenyatta and Jubilee, the Handshake could collapse.

Proximity to power

On the other hand, Mr Odinga’s proximity to power has its own advantages. He is able to reward — even if with smaller crumbs — his long-suffering troops with state largesse. But this could also expose him to charges of accepting peanuts from Mr Kenyatta.

 It is a delicate balance and the trick is to be seen as an effective leader who is pushing Mr Kenyatta to respect the Constitution, fight corruption, and heal the country.

If he does not use his proximity to power to force Mr Kenyatta into improving the lives of Kenyans, he could substantially tarnish his image and impoverish himself politically for the succession game in 2022. He cannot afford to lose his troops and hope to reach the elusive Canaan.

There has been talk of a Deep State on Mr Ruto’s side, but also on Mr Odinga’s. If the stars align — and I need to state that I don’t have inside information — then Mr Odinga will face Mr Ruto in the Kenyatta succession sweepstakes.

A non-career politician could upend this duel between the two and give Kenyans a fresh-faced choice. But assuming the two face off, Mr Ruto is unlikely to be Jubilee’s candidate.

That is why the BBI-inspired referendum, if it takes place, will be a dress rehearsal between Mr Odinga and Mr Ruto. Take this to the bank — whoever of the two wins the referendum will most likely succeed Mr Kenyatta. But only if the Deep State allows it.

In the last election, Mr Odinga came close, or if you listen to his supporters, he actually won it. This means that Mr Odinga would start with a commanding basket of votes out of the gate in 2022. That is why he must hold on to his voters from 2017 and then scoop whatever Mr Kenyatta can give him in Mt Kenya.

This will be a tall order because Mr Kenyatta has alienated many youth in his backyard. That is why both he and Mr Odinga must use BBI to bring back the disaffected Gema vote.

Since there won’t be a Gema presidential candidate, Mr Kenyatta needs to outwork his erstwhile deputy in the region to deliver his followers to Mr Odinga.

It’s a fact that although Mr Ruto is down — and almost out — he’s eaten into Mr Kenyatta’s real estate in the Mt Kenya region. However, a split Mt Kenya region and the Kalenjin cannot alone elect Mr Ruto. What Mr Ruto would need against Mr Odinga is a “wave election” like the one that swept Narc’s Mwai Kibaki into power in 2002.

Deep State

Wave elections can’t be credibly rigged in spite of the Deep State. However, a candidate who is perceived as morally superior against a corrupt and irredeemable incumbent or his protégé usually wins wave elections. That’s why Mr Kibaki beat Mr Kenyatta, then a proxy of the widely reviled Daniel arap Moi. Mr Ruto is not Mr Kibaki.

This calculus means that for Mr Odinga, BBI is a do-or-die political project. He must put all his eggs in that basket and do everything to present himself as the statesman who will rescue Kenya from the mire of corruption, misrule, and mediocrity. However, the BBI can’t be perceived as being divisive.

Instead, he must sell it as an essential journey for a better Kenya. In this, he needs to paint Mr Ruto as the poster child of misrule and ethnic antagonism.

If I were him, I would salivate at the prospect of Mr Ruto leading the anti-BBI No campaign. Then I would pull out all the stops to wash Mr Ruto’s dirty laundry in public. I would take no prisoners.

Let’s remember that Mr Odinga is in his mid-70s. Without a doubt, 2022 presents him with the very last chance to sit atop the Kenyan state. If that is the case, then he must sell himself as a transitional Mandela-like figure who will use his time in office to correct what ails Kenya and hand it over to a younger generation. He must eschew political greed, and not present himself — like Mr Ruto does — as though being president is a zero-sum game.

Finally, it’s also true that Mr Odinga and Mr Kenyatta can agree to break with the past and present, and rally behind, a non-traditional candidate, someone who isn’t tainted by the murk of politics. Someone without a whiff of scandal.

This, in my view, would be the noblest thing for both of them to do. Mr Odinga can be kingmaker. In addition, he can use the BBI for that purpose. However, he can also use it to bridge this past to the future.

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