DESERTED

Is Raila losing reform crusaders to Ruto?

Those who worked with the ODM leader oppose his latest push for constitutional changes

In Summary

• Reform crusaders Hassan Omar, Kivutha Kibwana, Willy Mutunga, Martha Karua and Charles Nyachae are now on Ruto's side

• Karua has strongly criticised the government for trying to block Ruto's activities.

Deputy President William Ruto and ODM leader Raila Odinga in 2018.
RAILA-RUTO: Deputy President William Ruto and ODM leader Raila Odinga in 2018.
Image: FILE

ODM leader Raila Odinga’s push for the Building Bridges Initiative and changes to the Constitution is alienating him from reform crusaders.

Raila was among the most visible pro-democracy voices during the repressive Kanu era and championed the 2010 Constitution’s transformative agenda.

In fighting Kanu, he was in the trenches with former Chief Justice Willy Mutunga, Martha Karua, Paul Muite, the late George Anyona, Siaya Senator James Orengo and Gitobu Imanyara, among others.

 

Many of these people have remained loyal to Raila and his brand of politics over the years. Not any more.

Some have decamped to Raila’s rival Deputy President William Ruto, while others seem to be, like the DP, opposed to amending the Constitution.

Those opposed to President Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila’s clamour to amend the Constitution through the BBI process see it as "selfish and meant to advance personal power interests". 

For instance, former Mombasa Senator Hassan Omar, a former close ally of Raila, has joined Ruto’s camp.

Omar’s transition from a Raila loyalist to a staunch supporter of the Deputy President baffled many.

As a commissioner with the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, he was accused by pro-Ruto politicians of coaching witnesses for the DP and Uhuru’s cases at the International Criminal Court. The crimes against humanities cases collapsed.

Omar is now one of the staunchest supporters of Ruto.

 

Makueni Governor Kivutha Kibwana, who has declared an interest in the presidency, appears willing to join the DP’s team.

Kibwana has recently accompanied Ruto to several functions, fuelling speculation of an alliance in the offing.

The Makueni boss is one of the pro-reform activists of the '90s who fought for expansion of the democratic space in the country.

Similarly, Charles Nyachae, who led the Constitution Implementation Oversight Committee, met Ruto ahead of his visit to Nyamira on Thursday. Analysts say it is a sign the two would work together.  

Like Ruto, Mutunga and Karua have opposed changes to the Constitution. Instead, the duo has called for full implementation of the supreme law.

Karua, the Narc Kenya party leader, has also strongly rebuked the government for trying to block Ruto’s activities.

In August last year, Karua said she would choose Raila over the Deputy President in 2022 if she had to.

But on Thursday, she said there were efforts to suppress activities not “favourable to the President and his BBI brother, the former Prime Minister Raila Odinga”.

Karua said her party is concerned by utterances and directives by unelected persons, be they party chiefs, political allies or political entrepreneurs.

“This is a clear manifestation of power being exercised outside constitutional offices by unelected and unaccountable persons.”

On August 31, Mutunga dismissed the BBI process, saying that its report cannot be advanced without Ruto's involvement.

The former Chief Justice said the process was more divisive than unifying.

He said those spearheading the BBI should not talk about oneness without uniting themselves with Ruto.

Uhuru and Raila should stretch a collective handshake to the DP, Mutunga said.

But analysts are divided on whether Raila’s fortunes will change with the perceived flight of pro-reform crusaders from his camp.

Public policy analyst Kariuki Ngunjiri said he expected civil society firebrands to withdraw their support from Raila once he stopped checking the state’s excesses.

“A majority of the populace believe that they have been left on their own to suffer under an unchecked administration and proponents of social justice like Omar Hassan and Kibutha Kibwana seem to be awake to the common man's plight,” he said.

Political commentator Advice Mundalo, however, said it is a far-fetched imagination to assume that Raila is losing reform activists to Ruto.

“Raila Odinga is known and recorded in history books to have fought and championed for reforms ranging from multi-party democracy and not limited to fighting for human rights, freedom of the press and the 2010 Constitution 2010,” he said.

He added that Ruto, despite being an astute and tactful politician, is hardly known for championing reforms.

Ngunjiri said Raila has abdicated the role of being an alternative voice to the weaknesses of the current regime.

“Most reform figures feel abandoned. Thus, they're bound to stay away from him and join Ruto who has now captured and vindicated the spirit of what they have been seeking,” he said.

Ngunjiri  warned that the move could be dangerous for Raila since over the years, his campaign message has been based on reforms.

“That has been grabbed by William Ruto and he's now using it to his advantage,” he added.

Mundalo, on the other hand, said Kibwana and Karua are more of politicians than reform activists and would always play to the political drum rolls that sound best to their political ears.

“Raila Odinga has earned his place in the fight for reforms and democracy and that position is not to be easily lost to William Ruto,” he said.

He said the country needs to learn to differentiate between a people standing up for the truth and those standing up in sympathy of individuals.

(edited by o. owino)