Opposition Alliance in Kenya Seen ‘Dead’ as Odinga Breaks Ranks

Updated on
  • Nasa leader to work with President Kenyatta to foster unity
  • Other opposition leaders unlikely to win 2022 vote: analyst
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta vows unity with opposition leader Raila Odinga in first meeting since elections

Kenya’s main opposition alliance was cast into disarray after its leader Raila Odinga broke ranks and agreed to a truce with President Uhuru Kenyatta following a seven-month standoff over disputed elections.

Odinga said March 9 he was abandoning a defiance campaign aimed at toppling Kenyatta and will work with him on fostering national unity instead -- an announcement that caught the other three main leaders of his National Super Alliance by surprise. The ructions in the opposition will help Kenyatta consolidate power during his second and final term and are a boon for the ruling Jubilee Party as it gears up for the next elections in 2022.

“Nasa is now dead and its epitaph written,” thanks to Odinga’s decision to strike his own deal, said Peter Kagwanja, chief executive officer of the Africa Policy Institute, based in the capital, Nairobi. “The ideological discordance is clear and its leaders have fallen apart.”

The truce may be good news for East Africa’s largest economy, which has been weighed down by political uncertainty and violence that has cost dozens of lives. Growth slowed to an estimated 4.8 percent in 2017, from 5.8 percent a year earlier.

Two Elections

Founded in February last year, Nasa united Odinga’s Orange Democratic Party, Kalonzo Musyoka’s Wiper Democratic Movement, Musalia Mudavadi’s Amani National Congress and Moses Wetang’ula’s Forum for the Restoration of Democracy-Kenya. Isaac Ruto’s Chama Cha Mashinani joined the alliance in April, but realigned itself to the ruling party five months later.

While Kenyatta, 56, was declared the winner of Aug. 8 presidential elections, Nasa rejected the results as rigged and the Supreme Court nullified the outcome. Nasa then boycotted an Oct. 26 rerun, saying the shortcomings identified during the first vote hadn’t been addressed. Kenyatta secured 98 percent support on much lower turnout and the court upheld his victory, which the opposition took to the streets to protest.

Divisions within Nasa’s ranks became evident on Jan. 30, when Musyoka and Mudavadi missed a mock ceremony in Nairobi where Odinga declared himself the so-called people’s president. Nasa said they’d been caught up in traffic, but some of Odinga’s fellow ODM leaders branded his coalition partners cowards for not attending.

Read more about a Kenyan government crackdown on its opponents.

Local newspapers cited Wetang’ula as saying he’ll contest the presidency in 2022 and Mudavadi announced he was considering a run of his own. Musyoka plans to announce his next move after a meeting on March 16 with his supporters. Odinga, a 73-year-old former prime minister who has now failed four times to secure the presidency, had warned the ODM would go it alone if pushed.

Kenyatta and Odinga plan to jointly address rallies in a nationwide tour aimed at boosting national cohesion, the Nairobi-based Star newspaper reported on Monday. The trip will begin in Odinga’s strongholds in southwestern Kenya, it said.

Nasa Talks

Odinga gave no prior indication of his meeting with Kenyatta, and Wetang’ula, Mudavadi and Musyoka said they weren’t privy to their discussions. The four Nasa leaders met on Monday and gave their backing to dialog uethat resolved the nation’s challenges, according to Mudavadi. They will now brief their political party structures to update them on latest political developments, he said.

“This is Odinga acting alone,” said Robert Besseling, executive director of political risk advisory firm EXX Africa. “The Nasa coalition partners will be the ones who need to reform a credible opposition without Odinga.”

Read more about the accord struck between Odinga and Kenyatta.

Nasa’s founding agreement precluded Odinga from running again as its presidential candidate and the coalition will be dissolved in February 2022 unless its leaders agree to renew it, according to Barrack Muluka, Amani’s secretary-general.

“There is very little incentive, if any, for ODM if they stayed in the coalition,” Muluka said. “That is why they will kick up a fuss and make you look bad, so that they have a valid reason, excuse or legitimizing factor to get out of the coalition. Raila is looking for an exit, that I cannot hesitate to state.”

Herman Manyora, a political analyst at the University of Nairobi, said Odinga’s party is the biggest component of Nasa and that while he stands a chance of securing the presidency in the 2022 election, Nasa’s other leaders are unlikely to win if they strike out on their own.

“They have limited options,” Manyora said. “Where can they go? They may find a hostile environment out there.”

— With assistance by Helen Nyambura-Mwaura

(Updates with meeting of Nasa leaders in first paragraph below Nasa Talks subheadline.)
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