DAMNED EITHER WAY

ODM leader Raila walking a tightrope

Controversial revenue-sharing formula threatens ODM leader's fortunes across the Coast, Ukambani and Northeastern regions.

In Summary
  • Some ODM leaders from the Coast are plotting to register a political party, signalling Raila's tough times ahead in a region he has enjoyed overwhelming support.
  • Proponents of a new outfit argue that Raila's move to back the revenue-sharing formula, which would see all Coast counties lose billions of shillings, amounts to betrayal.
ODM leader Raila Odinga
ODM leader Raila Odinga
Image: FILE

Opposition chief Raila Odinga now faces a major headache over his political future amid fears his deal with President Uhuru Kenyatta is on shaky ground.

The controversial revenue-sharing formula deadlocked in the Senate threatens the ODM leader's fortunes across the Coast, Ukambani and Northeastern regions.

Senators voted 25-22 to reject an amendment by Senate Majority Whip Irungu Kang'ata that sought to defer the commencement of the new formula to the 2022-23 financial year.

Already, some ODM leaders from the Coast are plotting to register a political party, signalling Raila's tough times ahead in a region he has enjoyed overwhelming support.

Proponents of a new outfit argue that Raila's move to back the controversial revenue-sharing formula, which would see all Coast counties lose billions of shillings, amounts to betrayal.

Kilifi North MP Owen Baya, one of the champions of the new political outfit for the Coast region, said sitting MPs, including those in Jubilee and other parties, have met several times to discuss the agenda.

“I can tell you without fear or a shadow of doubt that we are ready with a political party. It is just a matter of time... before we can launch and start branding it,” he said. 

Pro-Deputy President William Ruto politicians at the Coast are also keen to capitalise on the revenue stalemate to annihilate Raila politically in the region.

Of concern to Raila’s supporters is that the massive support he commanded across the country before the handshake could have dwindled.

“History may say Raila's last function as 'Pope of our Liberation Church' was his swearing-in as the people's president at Uhuru Park. What we have witnessed so far after that event reads like a disengagement programme after a long patriotic career,” said Wafula Buke, former ODM director of political affairs and strategy.

He went on: “For Raila's supporters, followers, sycophants and comrades like myself, the list of wrong moves for us to defend is getting too long. We may just be buried with the king.”

Uncertainty over the delayed release of the Building Bridges Initiative report and the reality that a referendum may not be on the cards, after all, thrust Raila further on the horns of a dilemma and leave him at a loss to consolidate his support base.

The Covid-19 crisis and the shrinking economy, analysts argue, may not provide an environment conducive to a popular vote this year.

There is also simmering tension among his allies who are quietly questioning his handshake deal with President Kenyatta, given that his camp has yet to reap significant dividends.

There has been anticipation of massive Cabinet changes where key Raila backers were expected to benefit, but this too has yet to materialise.

"Raila is between a rock and a hard place,” declared former Cabinet Minister Franklin Bett.

According to Bett, who once served as chairman of ODM National Elections Board, Raila's standing in the Mt Kenya region could suffer if he mishandles the revenue battle.

Troops of the ODM leader, especially from his Nyanza home turf, however, voted with Mount Kenya in the Senate during a divisive sitting on Tuesday.

Still, there are mixed signals from Uhuru’s own backyard, with former Mukurwe-ini MP Kabando wa Kabando asking the President to shift his focus from the BBI to the pressing challenges facing Kenyans.

For Bett, Raila has to go back to the drawing board. 

“Raila is in a position where he can't move forward or turn back. It is a massive quagmire for him. Raila may need to re-strategise,” he told the Star.

On Thursday, political analyst Felix Odhiambo warned that Raila could be in for "a well-orchestrated scheme to neutralise his popularity".

“Very few of Raila's close confidants could anticipate this. The environment is slowly getting toxic for the former prime minister and he may soon fail to breathe,” Odhiambo said.

A determination by President Kenyatta's backyard to push through the formula, which largely benefits the region at the expense of many of Raila's bastions, left the ODM leader with undesirable alternatives - damned either way.

Over the years, Raila's solid following across sparsely populated and marginalised regions has been built on his consistence in advocating more funds to devolved units to enhance equity.

With the goings-on around the revenue-sharing formula, however, the former prime minister's fortunes could nosedive disastrously. His nemesis, DP Ruto, could reap a massive harvest from the disgruntled regions. Ruto is said to have occupied the middle ground over the issue.

Disquiet

It has also emerged that leaders from Mt Kenya are unhappy with  Raila's failure to galvanise all ODM senators into supporting the formula.

On Friday, Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria said Raila had betrayed Uhuru by failing to rally his senators behind the formula if he really meant well for the president.

"Out of the 25 senators that opposed the bill, 18 were from Raila Odinga's NASA. I have two questions, our president. I had warned you about this person (Raila). If he is with you and with all his powers, he could have rallied his senators so we can all be together," Kuria said.

The vocal legislator, a Ruto disciple, spoke in Murang'a during the burial Kiharu MP Ndindi Nyoro's grandmother.

"This person (Raila) is like one who runs after his father looking for a title. Raila wants a title, so he is running after our president to snatch the title from him,"Kuria added.

But ODM chairman John Mbadi, a close Raila ally, denied the existence of friction between Uhuru and Raila, maintaining that ODM's support for the President is unwavering.

“The revenue impasse should be divorced from the BBI. Senators are largely voting along lines of interest of their counties. This is about resource sharing and it is bound to be emotive,” he said.

On the state of the handshake deal, former Githunguri MP Njoroge Baiya told the Star that the battle for the revenue formula could be the last straw that broke the camel's back.

“The handshake faces an uncertain future. Resource allocation would be at the heart of the campaigns by whoever wants to win over the Mt Kenya region,” Baiya said.

According to the former chairman of the National Assembly's Constitutional Implementation oversight Committee, those opposed to a formula that gives Mt Kenya its rightful share will get it rough.

The ex-PM was banking on his camaraderie with Uhuru to win over the hearts and souls of Mt Kenya, but the latest point of departure complicates his foray into the populous region.

Until recently, key politicians from the region had been trooping to Raila's Capitol Hill office in what signified his elevated role in the Uhuru succession matrix.

However, the latest developments could throw Raila's political aspirations into disarray as the 2022 political landscape shifts fast. And the Ruto camp is eagerly waiting on the sidelines to exploit the situation to its advantage.

Mumias East MP Benjamin Washiali of the Tangatanga faction of Jubilee said they are ready to help Uhuru get out of 'Raila's yoke' and complete his legacy projects.

"Raila is holding the President hostage. However, as people who mean well for this country, we are more than willing to rescue the President,” Washiali told the Star.

Edited by F'Orieny

Illustration
Illustration
Image: THE STAR