Kenya: Has Raila stepped aside to let Kalonzo Musyoka to lead the opposition?

By Victor Abuso
Posted on Tuesday, 4 October 2022 14:42

Raila Odinga and Kalonzo Musyoka in Nairobi, Kenya, July 7, 2017. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya

Kalonzo Musyoka, one of the leading principals in the Azimio la Umoja One Kenya coalition, is now emerging as the new face of opposition politics in Kenya, a position previously held by Raila Odinga, who has since gone silent after losing to William Ruto in the August 2022 polls.

Raila, who made his fifth stab at the presidency, has only been seen in public once, after he lost in the election. On 15 September, he was present for the swearing in of Abdulswamad Nassir as the new Mombasa governor. On that day, he faulted the Supreme Court for upholding Ruto’s win.

In the past, Raila would have been the first to call for political meetings with strongly worded statements, in confrontation of the new administration, as was the case when former presidents Mwai Kibaki and Uhuru Kenyatta ascended to power.

With Raila’s absence in the political scene, Musyoka is now stepping up to the plate, creating an image of a man on a mission and positioning himself as the alternative voice, ready to lead the opposition politics ahead of the next polls in 2027.

Filling the void

A few days after the Supreme Court verdict on Raila’s case, Musyoka led other coalitions in their parliamentary group meeting. Raila would have normally read the final statement, but this time it was Musyoka who took up the mantle. He criticised the new government over how it was handling the high cost of living.

“The Ruto administration has started off [on] the wrong [foot] on almost every front,” Musyoka said.

Musyoka also responded to Ruto’s sentiments that he would not be engaging the Azimio leaders through a ‘handshake’, but would work with them. He said the coalition leaders are not interested in Ruto’s offer.

“We don’t want any job from you, we already have a lot of work to do,” he said.

Following the unveiling of the cabinet nominees on 27 September and Ruto’s inaugural address, Musyoka once again led a meeting of the coalition members of parliament to criticise the president’s speech. He termed it a “campaign speech” and promised to vigorously play the oversight role, starting with the vetting of Ruto’s cabinet nominees.

Musyoka has also criticised Ruto for nominating cabinet ministers who have integrity issues, urging him to withdraw their names to avoid national and international shame.

“The selection of the cabinet secretaries, some of whom have […] active criminal cases, is […]questionable,” he said.

Musyoka has assured supporters that the Azimio la Umoja One Kenya coalition is up to the task to execute its opposition role.

He has previously stated that even though he put aside his presidential ambitions to support Raila, he will challenge Ruto in the 2027 general election.

The big question is: Will he remain consistent in the opposition politics and can he fill in Raila’s big political shoes? Meanwhile, Raila has not indicated whether he will soon retire from politics.

Why the silence?

Due to his age (77 years), Raila had already begun to prepare to pass the political baton to a younger, but experienced politician – such as Musyoka (68 years) – ahead of the 2027 polls, says Edwin Kegoli, a political analyst in Nairobi.

“[Raila] Odinga knows that age is not on his side, he is slowly allowing Kalonzo [Musyoka] to lead the opposition politics,” he tells The Africa Report.

Kalonzo Musyoka should now ensure he gets the same support as [Raila] Odinga [and] therefore should seek his political blessings

However, to defeat Ruto in 2027, Kegoli says Musyoka must seek Raila’s blessings to control the politics of Western, Coastal and Nairobi regions where he has enjoyed political support for decades. Raila refers to those regions as his political ‘bedroom’.

“Kalonzo Musyoka should now ensure he gets the same support as [Raila] Odinga [and] therefore should seek his political blessings,” says Kegoli.

Paul Nzioki, a Nairobi resident, says he voted for Raila during the last polls, but believes that Musyoka – who dropped his presidential ambitions for Odinga for the third time –  has earned enough political experience and support.

“His time is now, he has gathered a lot of political lessons from [Raila] Odinga,” says Nzioki.

Jason Nyangweso, also a Nairobi resident, says Musyoka has to start moving across the country quickly, to show that he can pick up where Raila left.

“We want to see the consistency in him, he must work hard to fill in [Raila] Odinga’s shoes,” he says.

Short profile of Kalonzo Musyoka

Musyoka, a seasoned politician, is the leader of the Wiper Democratic Movement, which is part of the Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition.

He served as MP for Mwingi North Constituency in Eastern Kenya for 25 years, between 1985-2013.

During the coalition government between the 2008-2013, he served as vice president, after failing to clinch the presidency during the 2007 election.

He also served as foreign affairs minister during the rule of President Daniel Arap Moi, between 1993-1998, and also between 2003-2004 under President Mwai Kibaki.

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