• Mixed signals could be deliberate plan to test waters ahead of competitive campaigns, experts say
• ODM chairman John Mbadi says their candidate remains one and they have not even imagined changing
Raila Odinga’s 2022 presidential prospects and planning baffle many in political circles as they cannot conclusively interpret the confounding signals sent by the ODM leader.
Does he plan to run for President, or not?
Town criers say he will or should, but Raila himself won't say.
The former Prime Minister and the current AU Infrastructure envoy appears uncomfortable, especially in public, discussing the 2022 General Election and President Uhuru Kenyatta's succession.
The ODM boss says his focus is on delivering the Building Bridges Initiative arising from his March 9, 2018 handshake with the President.
Raila spent time in Dubai for minor back surgery and took more time to recuperate in Watamu with family and a few staff members.
His absence slowed the BBI process, though the final report has been ready for some time. Raila and President Kenyatta are yet to receive the report from the task force led by Garissa Senator Yusuf Haji.
The initiative is expected to herald a constitutional moment, with the first draft recommending an expanded Executive – introducing a post of prime minister and two deputies.
For Raila, the drumbeats of 2022 are muted by the uncertainty of the BBI and a possible referendum yielding the anticipated changes before the election.
His standpoint, considering his sentiments expressed in a recent NTV interview, is that Kenyans are misjudging him about a presidential bid and 2022 intentions, for that matter.
He said he and President Kenyatta agreed no 2022 talk but agreed to come up with reforms that would help keep the country stable enduring the political transition.
"We agreed we should not engage in campaigns as to who will be the President in 2022 and who shouldn’t be,” Raila said.
He added the two men don't want to pick the leadership but create an environment conducive to a free election in which Kenyans themselves can decide on their leaders.
“We don’t want it to be dependent on individuals. Once we create the proper environment and conditions, no one will want to tamper with it.”
The ODM leader argues that the gist of the BBI - from which his interest in the top seat is inferred - is not about him.
“We intend to create a structure whereby nobody can abuse power. BBI is aimed at creating a structure with checks and balances against this.”
But even as Raila appeared to dismiss claims about higher aspirations, his closest allies and those of Uhuru sang a different tune at the weekend.
Those privy to the high-octane politics swirling about say the ODM leaders is busy behind the scenes and is putting in place a solid strategy for his last attempt to win State House race.
Jubilee vice chairman David Murathe, a key ally of President Kenyatta, let the cat out of the bag when he publicly endorsed Raila as the most suitable and deserving successor to Uhuru.
“We think it is time Kenyans rewarded the long years of struggle by Raila Odinga. They owe to him,” he said, comparing Raila with former South Africa President Nelson Mandela. He called it the Mandela moment, saying he'd play a transitional president role.
Cotu secretary general Francis Atwoli — also close to the Kenyatta family — joined the Jubilee politician in the ‘Raila Tosha’ mantra.
“His candidature will go a long way in continuing President Kenyatta’s legacy. But for more politics let’s wait for 2022,” Atwoli said.
The sentiments, coming shortly after the lot shared lunch at Atwoli’s Ildamat home, have sparked a storm of succession speculation. It fuelled the widely held perception that Raila would be on the ballot with the blessing of President Kenyatta.
Confirming this are the sentiments of his elder brother Oburu Oginga that they have the government machinery – known as 'the system' - on their side.
“In my view, Raila is still fit for the presidential race. He has a lot of energy…something which we have been missing in the so-called system…we are with Uhuru Kenyatta who is holding the system. So, if we have the system plus our votes, which are usually more than the others, what else do we need?” Oburu asked recently.
Political analysts agree there's s no way Raila would be so keen on the BBI, a better-operating and better-packaged ODM and fresh allies, if he had no interest in the presidency.
Dr Charles Nyambuga, a political commentator from Maseno University, told the Star Siasa Raila is definitely vying and will be the ODM candidate.
He said what is in question is whether Murathe is speaking for the President himself or a wider group of people.
Nyambuga, though, said that as the time isn't right for Raila to talk politics, more town criers are likely to be dispatched to test the waters.
“They want to send signals and see the reactions. Raila cannot say now he is vying but all indications are that he is vying. He is conducting a muted campaign,” the don said.
He said Oburu and Siaya Senator James Orengo – the two closest confidantes of the ODM leader -would not be making the statements they are making if there was no Raila candidacy.
“The mixed signals are deliberate. It is a strategy to allow him to continue playing the father figure within the political establishment,” Nyambuga said.
“You cannot wish away Murathe and the same for Atwoli...past events have shown they are fairly critical,” he said.
Nyambuga said there's a possibility Devolution CS Eugene Wamalwa and Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya are following Atwoli's instructions for Raila's benefit.
Igembe North Maoka Maore, who was at the meeting attended by Raila, Murathe, Orengo and former Gatanga MP Peter Kenneth, have been rallying Mt Kenya to wait for Uhuru's signal on the vote.
"The President has shown a lot of faith in the BBI and the handshake. He is still our kingpin and we will follow his word on whom to elect in 2022,” Maore said recently in a meeting described as part of the muted campaigns for Raila.
Raila is busy rebranding ODM, overhauling its office and operations and also rallying support from bases such as Central, where he has not been getting massive backing.
ODM chairman John Mbadi (Minority leader and Suba South MP) said despite the pressure on his party leader, it would be for him (Raila) to make the final decision.
“It is he who will decide whether he is running or not. Ours is to approve. You can’t force someone to run since we are a democracy, in which case if he opts to run, the party will decide,” Mbadi said.
“Our candidate remains one and we have not even imagined changing,” the Suba South MP added.
The feeling across the board is that Raila and Deputy President William Ruto are the frontrunners in the presidential race.
Political analyst Martin Andati also said Murathe could be testing the waters, taking a wait-and-see approach.
Andati said the possibility of a Raila candidacy, though, remains fluid and said it's too early to make a conclusive prediction.
"It is tricky. You cannot say for sure that it (Raila’s 2022 bid) is there. It is still too early to say what will happen,” he observed.
“Two years is a long period…you can’t say conclusively that this is what they are going to do, especially with the games that are normally played around power minders,” Andati said.
Another school of thought is that Raila is being positioned as the candidate to beat in the race.
But this, observers say, will depend on how he appeals to his non-traditional political bases.