Opposition leader Raila Odinga cuts the image of a veteran politician who has studied and mastered the art of survival in Kenya’s murky political contests often characterized by deceit, mistrust, and betrayal.
He has been at the heart of the country’s evolving politics for over 40 years now, calling shots, pulling strings, and stirring storms every electioneering period.
He has managed to remain politically relevant even when people thought his fortunes had dwindled beyond resuscitation.
One of his long-standing survival tactics has been to keep his political bastions intact and shrewdly solidify his political capital by forming coalitions and alliances ahead of every general election.
Although he has done this successfully, the former premier has severally been accused by allies of being a perennial boat wrecker and an aggressive political offender in all these formations.
In 2002, when the country was yearning for a change of guard from the ‘oppressive’ KANU regime, Raila, who was then the leader of LDP, shelved his presidential ambitions and completed the political circuit of the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) that ended KANU’s 24-year rule.
The famous ‘Kibaki Tosha’ endorsement was the straw that broke the camel’s back in the revolutionary contest of 2002.
With his unmatched political humor, Raila took charge of NARC’s campaign trail with charming antics coupled with his magical flying whisk that whipped the masses to rally behind the Kibaki-Wamalwa presidential ticket.
Sweetened by the then earth-shattering Unbwogable hit by Maji Maji, the NARC campaign trail was one of its kind and as expected, it delivered a resounding victory to Kibaki before the sun could set. The highly anticipated new dawn was ushered in.
However, barely three years after the tremendous win, Raila disagreed with Kibaki over some “unfulfilled promises” signed in the NARC pact.
The situation was worsened two years later when the proposed constitution was subjected to the referendum. Raila led the NO team operating under the Orange movement.
He floored Kibaki’s Banana team and, without hesitating, proceeded to form the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM).
In 2007, Raila assembled a combative political movement dubbed the Pentagon, a formation that nearly rendered Kibaki a one-term president.
Pentagon brought together high-flying political bigwigs like Musalia Mudavadi, Joe Nyagah, Najib Balala, William Ruto, and Raila himself.
A host of political pundits and observers believe the Pentagon won the hotly contested election that ignited skirmishes that left more than 1000 people dead and thousands of others displaced.
Sadly, even this enthralling coalition did not last. In the run-up to the 2013 General Election, Raila broke ranks with key allies, among them Ruto and Mudavadi, effectively bogging down the Pentagon.
He proceeded to form another coalition for his 2013 presidential bid. This time around, the former premier scouted Kalonzo Musyoka (Wiper) and Moses Wetang’ula (FORD Kenya) to form the Coalition of Reforms and Democracy (CORD).
Like the Pentagon, CORD became the country’s alliance of hope. Many anticipated it would last beyond the mere evening political siesta.
Despite losing to Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto’s Jubilee alliance by a slim margin, Raila rocked the boat again.
Kalonzo and Wetang’ula accused him of reneging on his promise to back one of them in 2017. However, the ODM leader denied the claims, maintaining the promise was only viable if he won the 2013 election, which he did not.
Ahead of the 2017 General Election, Raila walked out of CORD together with Kalonzo and Wetang’ula and joined the earth-shaking National Super Alliance (NASA), a brainchild of Mudavadi.
The NASA coalition embodied the aspirations of many Kenyans and was seen as a formidable alliance that would outlive the political life span of its founders.
After sweeping through the villages and cities with lively and effervescent rallies, NASA, which nearly knocked out Jubilee, lost its sheen and degenerated into a moribund of an outfit.
Squabbles emanating from mistrust, betrayal, and deceit ensued and strained the ties further.
Kalonzo, Mudavadi, and Wetang’ula accused the opposition leader of reneging on his promise of rallying behind one of them in 2022.
Wiper, ANC, and ODM have consequently pulled out the alliance and rendered it dead, barely five years after its formation.
While Wiper, ANC, and FORD Kenya have teamed up with KANU to form One Kenya Alliance, Raila’s ODM party is still scouting for better options.
Political pundits argue the ODM leader might, later in the day, woo his former NASA allies to back his presidential bid again despite the current strained relationship.
“Raila Odinga is a master tactician who hardly gets it wrong when it comes to forming alliances. He knows what it takes to win the presidency and will not take anything for granted. I see a possibility of him teaming up with all, or at least two of his former NASA partners in 2022,” argued political analyst and governance expert Hesbon Owila.
The opposition leader is also considering forming an alliance with the ruling Jubilee Party and teams from both sides have been holding discussions over the same.
ODM Secretary-General Edwin Sifuna recently made it clear that the Raila Odinga-led outfit would only form a coalition with equal partners who have a national image.
“We will not kneel down so that our short partners can feel happy…We are considering to form a coalition with a partner we consider our equal and in this case, Jubilee is,” said Sifuna.
Whether the coalition Raila will form this time around will last beyond 2027, political analyst Javas Bigambo is sceptical about such a possibility.
“Chances are extremely low and this is predicated on historical facts with respect to CORD and NASA as vehicles for the 2013 and 2017 general elections, respectively. Our leaders are never brought together by the homogeneity of ideology, but by narrow political interests to capture power when the stakes are high and that is why these alliances will never last beyond five years,” said Bigambo.