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Uhuru’s secret charm that tamed Raila

President Uhuru Kenyatta appears to have achieved what no other person has in the history of Kenyan politics. Which is, to ‘tame’ one Raila Amollo Odinga.

Those in doubt need to look as far back as 1982 when Odinga commenced his long political journey with his self-confessed participation in a military coup, that proved costly for some of the coup plotters.

Still, the doubters could look at how the opposition leader has strategised to make the political lives of former Presidents Mwai Kibaki and Daniel Arap Moi unbearable.

President Kenyatta himself witnessed first hand in his first term what a determined and resolute Odinga can do.

But fast forward to the present times. Odinga is no longer the staunch defender of ‘Wanjiku’ he used to be.

He rarely comments on topical issues like unemployment and corruption with a tough stance as he used to, and has transformed into President Kenyatta’s number one fan in public.

The recent closing of ranks by the Jubilee Party and opposition lawmakers to raise the country’s debt ceiling is the most recent case in point.

The Odinga of two years ago would never have even contemplated this idea.

So how, just, did Uhuru manage to ‘tame’ Raila?

1. Diplomacy – History suggests that Odinga is at his best when its time to do physical battle. Kibaki witnessed this full throttle during the disputed elections of 2007 and later when the two led the Grand Coalition government for five years.

Moi twice tried to detain Odinga for years, only for the man to walk out of jail more determined than ever.

Then Uhuru tried dialogue and a ‘handshake’. He referred to Raila as his ‘brother’ and now embraces him at every chance. It appears to have worked!

2. Trappings of power – Odinga loves the trappings of raw power. In his stint as Prime Minister, he once fumed publicly about being offered a ‘nusu mkeka’ and dais without a toilet at a public event.

Kenyatta has offered to share some ‘power’ with that Odinga, who now speaks last in political functions. The ODM leader now represents the president in international engagements, as was the case at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt. Odinga also receives delegations of senior public servants to ‘brief’ him on policy matters. He even issues ‘orders’ to public servants as it happened during the accident at the Likoni Ferry.

3. Job opportunity – Kenyatta ensured Odinga was appointed the African Union High Representative for Infrastructure Development in Africa. This opportunity comes with a job description. Odinga now has his hands full so much that he cannot politic all day and night as was the case when he didn’t have a diary. He has even suggested that the country should ‘stop’ politicking for now and concentrate on development.

4. Presidential ambitions – President Kenyatta has ensured Odinga’s presidential ambitions remain alive. Odinga has not announced he will contest the presidency in 2022. Neither has he announced that he won’t. The presidency is without doubt Odinga’s dream job. Even if for one term of five years, as he reportedly promised his colleagues Musalia Mudavadi and Kalonzo Musyoka. The push for a referendum via the Building Bridges initiative may as well offer a clear view of a Uhuru/Raila game plan.

5. Age factor – President Kenyatta has to count himself lucky in his quest to ‘tame’ Odinga. Odinga is not young. He is 74. Research and science indicate human beings start slowing down at 65. They even lose interest in material things in the world and some even turn to lead religious lives. Even if Odinga wanted to sustain a voice against the government, it is unlikely he will have the agility and stamina to do it as he did – say – five years ago. By the way, is he able to address four to five political rallies in a day?