OJUOK: Kalonzo rebrands as protests begin to define Raila

The Wiper leader is likely seen as the top contender in the 2027 succession politics.

In Summary
  • The one thing the Wiper chief may have been right about is the consistent failure of his elected party politicians to pull their weight when required.
  • At election time, the three Ukambani counties and their diaspora constituencies are usually locked for the party.
Wiper party leader Kalonzo Musyoka
REBRANDING: Wiper party leader Kalonzo Musyoka

Last week, Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka, rather uncharacteristically, took to the microphone at a function and accused his Kamba community of showing cowardice during the Azimio protests.

The coalition called the demos to demand electoral justice and a reduction in the prices of essential goods.

In his view, the community had failed to come out into the streets like their Luo counterparts. He later warned them that they had to act like the Luo if they desired, through him of course, to capture state power in the future.

Perhaps the former vice president didn’t realise that some of the most epic battles between police and protestors occurred on the last day of the demonstrations, when youths pouring out of the Kamba-dominated Pipeline and Kware areas of Embakasi South constituency engaged police, long after the Azimio principals had folded for the day and left the scene.

It may also have been possible that Kalonzo didn’t see Nairobi protests by youths from his backyard as being sufficient if they were not backed by similar demos in the Kamba heartland of Kitui, Machakos and Makueni counties.

I have to say from the onset that I have been surprised to see Kalonzo, Narc-K leader Martha Karua, DAP-K chief Eugene Wamalwa and Jubilee secretary general Jeremiah Kioni, right in the middle of the protests.

The nature of Kenyan election coalitions, especially for the losing side after the polls, is that the camaraderie between the main principals usually fades off as they all begin to pursue different paths to the next general election.

In contrast, the top leaders of the Azimio formation seem to have become even closer, after the disputed 2022 elections. I suspect I know why.

One of the most silent but pregnant issues within the Azimio coalition is the not-so-small matter of Raila’s succession. It is generally taken for granted that the former Prime Minister will not be taking a sixth shot at the presidency in 2027, aged 82. There may be many people angling for his “lucrative” support base, but the early faces are obviously Kalonzo and Karua.

However, the Raila vote base is one that was acquired from years in the trenches, fighting for greater freedom and democracy, and meticulously cultivated into a lethal political machine. It goes without saying that anyone salivating for it has to have what they colloquially refer to as 'street cred'.

It is on this score that Kalonzo, as the frontrunner to be Azimio’s pick for presidential candidate in the 2027 election, not only needs to maintain visibility next to Raila as they encounter teargas and police violence, but would be more comfortable if his own community was doing the same.

After all, the Luo community, as the vanguard of Raila’s political support and key cog in any coalition calculations for 2027, will probably frown upon handing power to any person or community whose 'maandamano transcript' doesn’t measure up to the requisite 'street cred'.

Five years is a long time and political friendships are very difficult to sustain, more so in coalition setups. A lot of events will shape the next general election that are still unknown at this time. In fact, the foregoing is merely a fraction of the whole picture.

The current consensus within the Azimio formation is that when Raila needed him most, during the last polls, Kalonzo and his base turned out brilliantly, unlike the rest of the principals. In a sense, they owe him one. However, beyond the coalition dynamics, assuming it can hold until then in the first place, are the issues within constituent parties.

Within ODM, the dominant party in the coalition, there will certainly be movements up, down, in and out. To start with, all the three holders of the positions right below the party leader, namely, deputy party leaders Hassan Joho and Wycliffe Oparanya, as well as chairman John Mbadi, have largely faded from view.

This has left Nairobi senator and Senate deputy Minority whip, Edwin Sifuna, as the second most visible face in the party.  Sifuna has gradually gained popularity within the Raila support base for his uncompromising stance regarding the issues advocated the coalition.

His rising stature, coupled with the evident absence of other top ODM leaders from recent party functions, therefore, makes Sifuna an early favourite to not only play a key role in the party’s near term future plans, but also one Kalonzo as coalition’s candidate would have to work with.

The one thing the Wiper chief may have been right about is the consistent failure of his elected party politicians to pull their weight when required. At election time, the three Ukambani counties and their diaspora constituencies are usually locked for the party.

However, period between the two elections is when the counties seem to make a disappearing act, leaving Kalonzo doing the heavy lifting, until campaign season comes around again, and they need the Wiper ticket one more time.

In the two weeks of the Azimio demos, the only Wiper legislator one could pick out with ease was Kitui Senator Enock Wambua (mostly because he was teargassed at KICC on the first day of protests).

While their boss eyes the presidency and needs the support of his co-principals and their support bases, Wiper legislators have made their leader seem like the proverbial owner of one cow attempting to become cattle dip chairperson. 

To give credit where it’s due, in standing firm with fellow Azimio leaders in demanding electoral justice and better living conditions for Kenyans, the former VP has slowly let go of the watermelon tag. It is hard to question his commitment to the cause at this time.

As stated earlier, there is no knowing what the next four years hold, but it is also difficult to see who will challenge him for the coalition ticket if Raila is not on the ballot. This is especially so because he comes to the table with his backyard still intact, unlike many pretenders within the coalition.

The last Azimio parliamentary group meeting at Stoni Athi last week appeared to have attracted remarkable numbers. Previously lukewarm legislators made a triumphant return.

Many Azimio governors, senators and MPs who had vowed to “work with the government to develop our people” returned to the fold, obviously spooked by the government’s inability to get anything done, as well as spreading despondency within the population.

If the proposed bipartisan talks fail and the formation returns to the streets for protests, it will be interesting to see what additions if any, among the MPs, will emerge.

And for a man looking behind him for his troops, before he conquers other lands, the next weeks and months will define Kalonzo’s place within the bigger picture of Raila’s succession.

I am certain he enjoys the effortless fumbling and loose talk within the Kenya Kwanza regime, because it helps move more and more of his lukewarm people closer to him. Interesting times indeed.

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