ODM leader Raila Odinga’s influence in government circles has grown immensely since the March 2018 peace pact with his former nemesis President Uhuru Kenyatta, as he now receives regular briefings from Cabinet secretaries, makes policy pronouncements and is accorded VVIP treatment by State agencies.
The former prime minister, arguably the man of the moment, has also reined in his troops in political circles and instructed them to stop attacking the President in particular and the ruling Jubilee Party in general.
His spokesman Dennis Onyango told the Nation Thursdaythat Mr Odinga’s political associates have been asked to “consult first before reacting” should they see or hear something they do not understand. Mr Odinga has also cut off a number of his advisers, added Mr Onyango.
In exchange, State House has opened the door and laid a red carpet for him, egging Cabinet secretaries to accord him support and consult him on various issues. Mr Odinga has also been hosting various local and foreign delegations at his Capitol Hill office in Nairobi.
Interviews with various government officials and Mr Odinga’s aides painted a picture of a man whose fortunes have greatly changed, as well as an opposition leader who is doing little, if any, opposition.
Industry, Trade and Cooperatives Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya said ministers and other government officials have to work with Mr Odinga because he has joined hands with President Kenyatta to, among others, fight corruption and unite Kenyans.
“Don’t ask the obvious,” responded Mr Munya when we asked him about Mr Odinga’s role in the Kenyatta administration. “People have to face the reality. There’s no need to read politics. If we are to unite the country, we should work with everyone and spread development everywhere, including areas perceived to be opposition zones.”
Saying he does not need a circular from above instructing him to work with the ODM leader, Mr Munya added: “When the Building Bridges Initiative was signed by President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga, it signalled that we should work with Mr Odinga because he, too, is Kenyan.”
He said he was recently in Russia alongside Mr Odinga, who travelled as Africa’s infrastructure champion.
Mr Onyango, Mr Odinga’s spokesman, said that apart from African Union matters, his boss has no “official” role in government and is not paid for the work he does for the Kenyatta administration.
“Officially, his role is that of the AU infrastructure representative and relevant government agencies have been told to work with him and facilitate his travel wherever he goes,” Mr Onyango said.
He said Mr Odinga has been helping address issues concerning sectors he is passionate about, like infrastructure, afforestation and agriculture. “Occasionally, some ministers call to consult him on various matters,” added Mr Onyango.
President Kenyatta is also said to have asked that Mr Odinga be consulted on the privatisation of sugar mills and the establishment of special economic zones in Kisumu and Mombasa.
The handshake between Mr Kenyatta and Mr Odinga last year has been credited for the prevailing political stability and revival of businesses, whose collapse had threatened to spoil President Kenyatta’s legacy.
Mr Odinga’s office has taken note of the calm and is also pushing the peace and development narrative. “People need to know Mr Odinga has decided he will work with President Kenyatta, and if there are issues, he will call or meet with him but will not go to rallies and shout about it,” said Mr Onyango.
But while this arrangement is working for Mr Odinga and the President, it is believed to have isolated Mr Kenyatta’s other handyman — his deputy William Ruto.
Commenting on the isolation view, Prof Odhiambo Ndege of Moi University’s Department of History argued that there is a need to change the Constitution, maybe through a referendum, to reflect the political realities of the time, which indicate that the winner-takes-all arrangement has been disastrous for the country.
“Perhaps that is why in Britain the Constitution remains unwritten so that what happens becomes part of the law,” said Prof Ndege. “And while it is not good to keep tinkering with the Constitution, when a situation such as this arises, there is a need to constitutionalise things to avoid confusion.”
At the moment, however, the Kenyatta-Odinga pact is not cemented in law, and the view that it is anti-Ruto is gaining currency, especially among the Deputy President’s support base.
That view has been given a dramatic voice by Keiyo South MP Daniel Rono and his Soy counterpart Caleb Kositany, who have questioned why the government appears to be sidelining the Ruto camp.
“It’s like all arms of government are fighting Rift Valley,” lamented Mr Rono. “At this rate we might take drastic steps and declare a total showdown.”
He did not elaborate what he meant by “showdown”.
“Raila is simply trying to make himself busy,” the lawmaker added. “That’s why he is using ‘very tiny functions’ to gain political mileage.”
But, despite the opposition, the view that Mr Odinga’s influence in government has grown was evident when he toured Elgeyo-Marakwet County two weeks ago.
During the trip, he was briefed by top security chiefs, Governor Alex Tolgos and County Commissioner Omar Ahmed on the insecurity problem in the Kerio Valley. He said he will later this month make an expansive tour of the banditry-prone Kerio Valley in the company of President Kenyatta.
In April, President Kenyatta defended Mr Odinga against claims that he was out to wreck the Jubilee Party, saying he usually consults him on various issues.