Raila Odinga leaves Kenyan opposition reeling with decision to bury the hatchet
Nairobi — Kenya’s main opposition alliance has been cast into disarray after its leader, Raila Odinga, broke ranks and agreed to a truce with President Uhuru Kenyatta following a seven-month standoff over disputed elections.
Odinga said on March 9 that he was abandoning a defiance campaign aimed at toppling Kenyatta and would instead work with the president on fostering national unity — an announcement that caught the other three main leaders of his National Super Alliance (Nasa) by surprise.
The ructions in the opposition will help Kenyatta consolidate power during his second and final term, and are a boon for the ruling Jubilee Party as it prepares for the next elections in 2022.
"Nasa is now dead and its epitaph written", thanks to Odinga’s decision to strike his own deal, said Peter Kagwanja, CEO of the Africa Policy Institute, based in the capital, Nairobi. "The ideological discordance is clear and its leaders have fallen apart."
The truce may be good news for East Africa’s largest economy, which has been weighed down by political uncertainty and violence that has cost dozens of lives. Growth slowed to an estimated 4.8% in 2017, from 5.8% a year earlier.
Founded in February last year, Nasa united Odinga’s Orange Democratic Party, Kalonzo Musyoka’s Wiper Democratic Movement, Musalia Mudavadi’s Amani National Congress and Moses Wetang’ula’s Forum for the Restoration of Democracy-Kenya. Isaac Ruto’s Chama Cha Mashinani joined the alliance in April, but realigned itself with the ruling party five months later.
Kenyatta was declared the winner of the August 8 presidential elections, but Nasa rejected the results as rigged and the Supreme Court nullified the outcome.
Nasa then boycotted an October 26 rerun, saying the shortcomings identified during the first vote had not been addressed.
Kenyatta secured 98% support on much lower turnout and the court upheld his victory. The opposition took to the streets to protest.
Divisions within Nasa’s ranks became evident on January 30, when Musyoka and Mudavadi missed a mock ceremony in Nairobi where Odinga declared himself the so-called people’s president.
Nasa said they had been caught up in traffic, but some of Odinga’s fellow ODM leaders branded his coalition partners cowards for not attending.
Local newspapers cited Wetang’ula as saying he would contest the presidency in 2022 and Mudavadi announced he was considering a run of his own.
Musyoka plans to announce his next move after a meeting on March 16 with his supporters.
Odinga, a 73-year-old former prime minister who has now failed four times to secure the presidency, had warned the ODM would go it alone if pushed.
Kenyatta and Odinga planned to jointly address rallies in a nationwide tour aimed at boosting national cohesion, the Nairobi-based Star newspaper reported on Monday.
The trip would begin in Odinga’s strongholds in southwestern Kenya, it said.
Odinga gave no prior indication of his meeting with Kenyatta, and Wetang’ula, Mudavadi and Musyoka said they were not privy to their discussions.
The four Nasa leaders plan to meet on Monday to chart a way forward.
"This is Odinga acting alone," said Robert Besseling, executive director of political risk advisory firm EXX Africa. "The Nasa coalition partners will be the ones who need to reform a credible opposition without Odinga."
Nasa’s founding agreement precluded Odinga from running again as its presidential candidate and the coalition will be dissolved in February 2022 unless its leaders agree to renew it, according to Barrack Muluka, Amani’s secretary-general.
"There is very little incentive, if any, for ODM if they stayed in the coalition," Muluka said. "That is why they will kick up a fuss and make you look bad, so that they have a valid reason, excuse or legitimising factor to get out of the coalition.
"Raila is looking for an exit, that I cannot hesitate to state."
Herman Manyora, a political analyst at the University of Nairobi, said Odinga’s party was the biggest component of Nasa and that while he stood a chance of securing the presidency in the 2022 election, Nasa’s other leaders were unlikely to win if they struck out on their own.
"They have limited options," Manyora said. "Where can they go? They may find a hostile environment out there."