The political events of the past two weeks — including the revenue debate at the Senate — have exposed the vagaries of Opposition leader Raila Odinga’s absence at the helm of his Orange party.
In his absence, ODM appears bereft of firm leadership, with fissures of rebellion widening by the day, key leader missing in action and rivals taking it on with reckless abandon.
On Tuesday, while taking a vote on the controversial county revenue-sharing formula, ODM senators fractured their usually solid vote, effectively aiding in defeating President Uhuru Kenyatta’s formula. Senate Minority Leader James Orengo blamed President Kenyatta’s inaccessibility for the loss.
From the suspect claim by Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka that he has a secret pact with Raila, Senate Majority Whip Irungu Kang’ata’s threat on Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) and a section of Coast MPs’ threat to quit, ODM’s rebuttals have lacked the full weight of the party machinery.
In all cases, the burden has fallen on party secretary general Edwin Sifuna to rebut, with little voice coming from the two deputy party leaders Wycliffe Oparanya and Hassan Joho.
Junet Mohamed, the self-declared Raila ‘cow’, has also gone quiet, opting to follow the events from a distance.
“ODM is between a rock and a hard place. It is a party nominally led by an aging and absentee leader but depends more on the whims and benevolence of President Kenyatta...and has cut all relationships and dealings with all its regional allies. Such a party doesn’t face a great future,” lawyer Ahmednasir Abdullahi told the Sunday Standard yesterday.
There is no love lost between Ahmednasir and the Orange party, given his role in two presidential election disputes of 2013 and 2017. He claimed the party will not recover after the Senate debate: “It will begin whittling down. We will see some of its politicians charting new courses for themselves and the Coastal region has started the same.”
Raila is recuperating from a surgery in Coast and has been advised by both doctor and family to take it slow. He has avoided media interviews and taking part in national debates, occasionally weighing in when it matters most, and leaving his troops to find their own bearing.
When he was away in Dubai for the surgery, Joho and Junet chartered a flight to go see him and obtain guidance. Prior and after the Dubai visit, Joho has maintained studious silence even in the face of a rebellion in his backyard.
Led by Kilifi North MP Owen Baya, the lawmakers have vowed to lead a massive exit from the party in the next General Election. Baya told the Sunday Standard that “enough is enough” and it was time to stop taking people from the Coast for granted.
“Had we had our party, we would be on the table bargaining for the interests of our people. Raila has shown that he does not have any interests with the Coast region’s residents and we have decided to have our own political vehicle for the sake of the future of our people,” said Baya.
Baya’s group calling itself Vuguvugu La Mageuzi Pwani comprises MPs Michael Kingi (Magarini), Andrew Mwadime (Mwatate), Aisha Jumwa (Malindi), Khatib Mwashetani (Lunga Lunga), Benjamin Taya (Kinango), Mohammed Ali (Nyali), Sharif Ali (Lamu East), Jones Mlolwa (Voi) and Paul Kahindi (Kaloleni).
Granted, a good number of them had long severed their relationship with ODM, and none is a senator. Still their grumbling did not attract a whiff of attention from ODM bigwigs.
“We will keep engaging the people of the Coast directly while seeking to fulfill all promises made to them over the years, without any regard to political brokers who want to build fiefdoms for onward sale to the bottomless pit of corruption,” Sifuna said.
The ODM official argued that the Coastal counties enjoy semi-autonomy in revenue and expenditure, greater say in tourist earnings, Port use and land rights blueprints, thanks to Raila’s firm stand on devolution.
“Raila’s love for the people of the Coast, and their love right back, is the worst-kept secret in this land. These Tangatanga MPs must be reminded that were it not for Raila and the ODM Party, there wouldn’t even be county revenue to fight over in the first place,” Sifuna said.
But it is at the Senate where ODM’s soft underbelly was much exposed, with MPs from Raila’s home turf being the only ones who supported the government position on the revenue, in line with his wishes. Many more rebelled and took independent positions.
Political analyst Javas Bigambo says the Orange party has not lost its mojo yet. He says it is the weight of the interests Raila is juggling that may be the issue.
“Raila has a lot of interests to balance if he still needs to maintain regions he once enjoyed support from. He has a lot of housekeeping to do. If he works with the assumption that things are rosy, he risks losing the hold on the regions,” Bigambo said.
The same sentiments are shared by Baya who claimed that instead of addressing the issues, Raila’s henchmen have either gone AWOL or left it to Sifuna to label them deserters. He claimed the habit of the party to brand critics as Tangatanga is a tired and lazy approach to politics.
“Same persons thought by labeling David Ochieng of MDG as Tangatanga during the by-election in Ugenya, the home constituency of Senator Orengo, he would lose. Instead, Ochieng convincingly clinched the seat. It’s foolhardy to imagine the labeling thing will work at the Coast,” Baya said.
But Sifuna told the MPs that there are many reasons that make Raila popular among the masses in the larger Coast region, which include his firm stand on Coastal land rights, devolution, education, employment rights and mainstreaming of minority issues.
He said it is the party’s strong stand on such issues that routinely invites the ire of opponents, led by people who believe a “continually ignorant population is fodder for their land-grabbing tin god, whose affinity for enslavement of the ignorant is now the stuff of legend”.