The new Raila: From chief Jubilee critic to apologist

His predicament stems from having to guard against offending people and regions he is banking in case he runs in 2022.

In Summary

• Since the Kemsa scandal, Raila and his party have come out to fight off the graft claims. They said an audit is first required before fingers are pointed.

• ODM came out gun blazing to condemn the media for reporting the theft of the public resources at Kemsa

ODM leader Raila Odinga with Kirinyaga Governor Anne Waiguru at Capitol Hill, Nairobi on Wednesday, November 14, 2018.
HANDSHAKER: ODM leader Raila Odinga with Kirinyaga Governor Anne Waiguru at Capitol Hill, Nairobi on Wednesday, November 14, 2018.

ODM leader Raila Odinga’s tread-carefully stand on the alleged scandal at Kemsa over Covid-19 funds has dramatically brought to fore his diminishing if not extinguished role as Opposition leader.

Since the scandal at the Kenya Medical Supplies Agency involving Covid-19 tenders, Raila and his party came out to vigorously to fight off 'premature' graft claims.

They called on Kenyans to be patient until the Auditor General carries out an audit but emphasised they will not tolerate corruption.

In another stark contrast with the past, ODM came out gun blazing to condemn the media for reporting the alleged theft of the public resources at Kemsa. Deputy President William Ruto called Raila the "former opposition".

Ndung’u Wainaina, executive director of the International Center for Policy and Conflict, said that without a vibrant and  vocal  opposition, the government will  trample on constitutionalism and corruption will become the order of the day.

Wainaina said  is “immoral and wrong for ODM to be vague," saying it should either formally join government or be a genuine opposition providing alternative leadership and calling out the government as needed.

“It is very unfortunate that ODM has been reduced to such a low fickle entity. It does not know whether it is in opposition or in government. Its entire leadership from top down are like juggling liver or mere wattles or aimless pendulums,” he told the Star.

ODM is executing a tough and not always successful balancing act as it has been virtually co-opted into government due to the March 9, 2018, cooperation handshake between President Uhuru Kenyatta and the former Prime Minister.

Party secretary general Edwin Sifuna said they are “cognisant of our role as a unifying agent in Kenyan politics”.

“We will keep raising any concerns we have with government operations, specifically Covid-19-related issues, through the proper channels, without unnecessary drama and hubris,” he said in a statement that kicked off a  storm among supporters and civil society groups.

“We will therefore not join the condemnation bandwagon, but will keep probing and defending the right of Kenyans to get government services efficiently and at the right prices," Sifuna added.

Raila's predicament stems from his having to guard against creating rifts with persons or regions he is banking on in case he runs for president in 2022.

The ODM supremo is also bound by the desire to avert instances where his take on the probe would jeopardise his support in traditional bases.

In a revelatory non-Kemsa example that many called a blunder, Raila at first supported the contentious revenue sharing formula that would deprive less populous counties in his traditional  base - and benefit more populuous Mt Kenya counties. He could use their votes in 2022 if he runs.

But after a hue and cry, Raila hastily and awkwardly retreated, saying he had just returned from Dubai and had been improperly briefed on the issue. He said he wasn't abandoning anyone and called for a vague 'win-win' formula.

But back to the dominant Kemsa story, in a statement on Wednesday, Raila insisted Kenyans will only know if money was stolen in a Kemsa 'heist' after a forensic audit has been carried out.

“Our experience in this country is that the best way to bungle and cover up corruption investigations is to have many different voices each with its own version of truth. It is with this background in mind that ODM wants a speedy professional audit that can lead to prosecution instead of a political shouting match that creates more confusion and ends up clouding the issues and even covering up for the thieves,” he said.

Raila with his comrades in civil society had been the Jubilee administration’s fiercest critics during Uhuru’s first term, however, the post-handshake events and the Building Bridges Initiative have drastically altered the terrain and muted Raila's fiery rhetoric.

As the face of opposition politics for decades, Raila had been the heartbeat of the opposition, constantly and consistently keeping the ruling party on its toes through hard-hitting press statements, criticism of its policies and programmes as well as frequent street demonstrations.

Raila, 'the people’s president', took on the Jubilee administration on the Eurobond, the National Youth Service scandals, the Sh6.8 billion Northern Water Collector Tunnel, land grabbing and other issues.

But since he teamed up with Uhuru and with top government officials now pay him homage at his Capitol Hill office, he has become more less a co-principal in the Jubilee administration.  

Kenyans have raised concerns that the man known as the opposition ‘enigma’ no longer speaks out about the ills in government and his low profile in playing a watchdog role has been viewed as a dangerous loophole in the development of Kenya’s fledgling democracy.

With Opposition MPs being its lead cheerleaders, the Jubilee regime is now trashing court orders and at times violating human rights as it sees expedient.

Former Mukurweini MP and anti-corruption crusader Kabando Wa Kabando said the position taken by Raila and his party was wrong and reflects badly on his long standing record in the fight against graft.

“Raila should disown criminals around him. As a statesman, he owes us leadership beyond reproach. He should let the crooks carry their cross,” he said.

Waikwa Wanyoike, a litigation director at the Open Society Justice Initiative, said ODM is setting the country on the wrong trajectory if it can no longer speak up against the ills committed by government.

“Time to stop ODM from getting public money from Political Parties Fund. The fund was established to make multipartism robust. The public pays ODM to be vigilant against Jubilee’s illegalities. Not to be Jubilee’s mouthpiece,” he tweeted.

Economist David Ndii, who was at the centre of Raila' presidential run in 2017, criticised the ODM chief's approach to corruption and what he called the authoritarianism the Jubilee administration has exhibited in recent days.

It was an apparent reference to police violence to put down anti-corruption demonstrations against misuse of Covid-19 funds.

But two of Raila’s right hand men — Junet Mohamed (Suna East MP) and Opinyo Wandayi (Ugunja)— said ODM has not abandoned its watchdog role.

Junet said politicising the investigation at Kemsa will lead to a  cover-up.

“We in ODM are calling for an exhaustive audit that produces incontrovertible evidence to make a watertight case against anyone found culpable,” Junet tweeted.

A professional exhaustive audit is the way to go in unearthing rot and building insurmountable evidence,” said Opiyo, who chairs the Public Accounts committee of the National Assembly.