Former Prime Minister Raila Odinga is facing a massive dilemma to sustain his handshake with President Uhuru Kenyatta and maintain his support bases without jeopardising the Jubilee administration’s agenda.
The ODM leader is stuck between a rock and a hard place. Attacking his nemesis, Deputy President William Ruto, who is the country’s second in command, without appearing to hit out at the President.
Raila’s allies are mounting pressure on him to reassert his influence as the ‘poor people’s defender’, amid concerns he may have lost a chunk of his constituency to the DP with his hustler nation and wheelbarrow movement.
He began the fresh onslaught with a swipe at the Teachers Service Commission for killing giant teachers union, Knut.
The ODM chief later hit out at county governments and the ministry of health over the nurses, clinical officers and lab technicians' strikes.
Raila has sustained the salvo against the Jubilee administration during his political meetings, swipes specifically targeting Ruto.
With barely 17 months to the next election, pundits argue at the ODM leader could be running out of time in his desire to appease his traditional support bases.
He has castigated the government over broken promises of laptops or tablets for Class 1 pupils, construction of stadiums and jobs for youth.
His allies have taken this criticism in stride, saying their handshake was meant to give President Kenyatta’s administration a conducive environment for business.
Siaya Senator James Orengo – a Raila close ally - also took a swipe at Uhuru, citing uncontrolled borrowing, violation of the law and disrespecting court orders.
Prof Macharia Munene, a political analyst, concluded that Raila’s attacks are a survival tactic to counter Ruto’s support wave ahead of 2022.
He argued that the ODM leader is trying to recover, “having been known as the fighter and that position is being taken away by Ruto.
“He has to regain the image of fighting for the underdog. It is a dicey situation for him. He is trying to respond to Ruto because the DP has stolen his thunder. It is about political survival,” the USIU don said.
He told the Star that Raila is desperate, largely because the ‘Stop Ruto’ machinations haven't worked well.
Munene observed that these developments are not healthy for the handshake, especially now that the President is saying he is in charge.
“This means all the problems are his. When Raila goes around saying things are terrible, then who is he saying is terrible?”
The USIU don said Raila has a way of reengineering himself, hence, people should not be surprised when he emerges stronger, saying it was the same with Ruto.
Political analyst Prof Edward Kisiangani agreed with Prof Munene that Raila is getting desperate.
“He is trying to talk like that so as to recover the ground that is now taken over by Ruto,” the analyst said.
“He wants to speak for the people, but they have moved on and think he is not genuine and is now working with somebody else.”
Kisiangani said the sentiments by the ODM leader are “political naivety”.
"Sometimes you’d think he is losing some memory. He doesn’t remember that government policy is articulated by Uhuru and all the people who work under the President articulate the same policy on behalf of Uhuru,” he said.
Kisiangani argued that when Ruto was campaigning in 2013 and 2017, the DP was not articulating his policies but “a collective government policy".
“The head of that government who provided the basis for that policy is Uhuru, who is the CEO. Even if Ruto did want the stadiums built and Uhuru supported the call, they’d be built.”
His take is that Ruto should be excused from the problems Jubilee encountered in the second term, citing among them the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Raila has been defending the government and has been acting as the chief spokesman. How can he turn round? I doubt his gimmicks will work. The ground he used to control has gone. It is difficult for anybody to believe him,” Kisiangani added.
He is trying to talk like that so as to recover the ground that is now taken over by RutoPolitical Analyst Edward Kisiangani
But Dr Charles Nyambuga, a communication expert from Maseno University, said that much as time is tight for Raila, he has room if he messages properly.
“The truth of the matter is that he is not in government. He is in opposition. Being in the opposition doesn’t mean being at war with the government.”
Dr Nyambuga holds that President Kenyatta and Ruto are the ones in government, “irrespective of the circumstances that they find themselves in".
“The final responsibility is not with the handshake but with those who are constitutionally bestowed with the power of ruling,” the don said.
He added that if Raila embarks on an aggressive campaign to counter Ruto, he has a chance of regaining his constituency.
“Ruto is very adept at propaganda. Raila needs to make Kenyans understand and know the truth. If he does an aggressive campaign, then he has a chance. He is late but he can catch up,” Nyambuga observed.
Ruto and his allies maintain that the Jubilee agenda, which Raila is criticising, was derailed by the handshake.
In a fightback, ODM has dismissed the notion that the opposition leader is the cause of Jubilee woes and the birth of the hustler movement’.
Party chairman John Mbadi said, “I don’t think there is anything inconsistent with what we are doing. When we went to the handshake, did we join the government? No.”
He said that the opposition only provided the ground for the government to function, adding that it should thus not be construed that they were part of it.
The Suba South MP said they have qualms with Ruto whom they feel “wants to run away from the mess he created in the Jubilee administration".
ODM is blaming Ruto for having a hand in the country’s bulging public debt – saying the country’s debt almost tripled between 2013 and 2017.
“Ruto was so much in the peak and caused the problem that we are in. Not a lot has been borrowed from 2018 to date despite the dire economic situation.”
“What we are grappling with is the debt that was taken between 2013 and 2017 and applied in unproductive infrastructure, expenditures like NYS, dams that don’t exist, and is now putting a lot of strain on our economy,” the Suba South MP added.
He further cited the Standard Gauge Railway – built at inflated costs - and the Last Mile Connectivity that he argued consumed a lot of resources.
“They were connecting electricity to people in grass-thatched houses yet the same households have no food, projects which were executed at the expense of the ability of the economy to pay,” Mbadi said.
The ODM chairman said Jubilee – and by extension Ruto - should not lose focus.
“It is not that we are running away from the handshake. There is no other alternative to the handshake in this country, we can’t run away from it,” Mbadi said. By Moses Odhiambo, The Star