Canaan to Jerusalem: Inside Raila’s new political network
On April 13 - Easter Monday, a small team of leading politicians converged at the residence of former Funyula MP Paul Otuoma for an informal get-together.
In the meeting was Otuoma, Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) leader Raila Odinga, Kanu national chairman Gideon Moi, self-styled Jubilee Party Vice chairman David Murathe and Devolution Cabinet Secretary Eugene Wamalwa.
Also in the meeting were Siaya Senator James Orengo, Suna East MP Junet Mohamed and ODM Executive Director Oduor Ong’wen.
As expected of a gathering of politicians of that calibre, the country’s politics dominated the discussions, of course over generous amounts of food and drinks.
From Karen, the group left for another meeting, this time at the home of Central Organisation of Trade Unions (Cotu) Secretary General Francis Atwoli in neighbouring Kajiado County.
These two meetings were to set the stage for the purge on allies of Deputy President William Ruto in the Jubilee Party’s highest decision-making organ, the National Management Council, the National Assembly and the Senate.
Atwoli would later confirm that the meeting had indeed tackled various issues including possible political realignments ahead of 2022.
“Though the meeting ended up with some strategies. It was meant to be a get-together to celebrate Easter.
After all, Raila has always been paying me visits because he is my brother-in-law while Murathe usually comes due to the friendship I had with his late father,” Atwoli said.
It is at the same Ildamat home that Raila made his first public appearance since returning to the country from Dubai on Sunday, August 2.
On this occasion, Atwoli shared the photos of the invited guests on social media while also sharing his excitement following Raila’s steady recovery.
“Praise the Lord. We thank Almighty God to have enabled Raila Amolo Odinga to come back from a successful medical trip and immediately choosing my Ildamat home, in Kajiado, as his first place to come and have lunch with us,” Atwoli wrote.
In attendance was Orengo, former presidential candidate Peter Kenneth, Ntonyiri MP Maoka Maore and Murathe.
A day earlier and in Raila’s absence, Atwoli had led leaders from Western Kenya to Gideon Moi’s Kabarak home where the 2022 elections took centre stage.
Those present included Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya, Wamalwa and National Assembly Majority Whip Emmanuel Wangwe.
The leaders jetted to Kabarak after a tour of parts of Baringo including Marigat.
Details of the meeting were scanty but a brief statement from Gideon’s communication aide Alex Kiprotich said it centred on politics and development.
“The discussion centred on current political happenings, the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) and how Kanu, Jubilee and other like-minded parties like ODM can work together ahead of 2022,” Mr Kiprotich said.
It is these meetings that have caused apprehension within Raila’s ODM with his previous hangers-on expressing concern that the veteran Opposition leader is slowly drifting away from his trusted allies and surrounding himself with a new set of associates.
Multiple sources within the party protested that the veteran politician had become a rare figure at both the party’s new headquarters at Lavington, Nairobi and at his private offices located on Capitol Hill, Upper Hill since the Covid-19 pandemic struck the country in mid March.
While Raila’s appearances at the two offices have become rare, the frequency of his meetings with Atwoli, Murathe, Gideon, Wamalwa, Otuoma has left tongues wagging.
Also in this new, tightly knit group, loosely referred to as the “Jerusalem Team” are Kanu Secretary-general Nick Salat, one Edwin Ng’ong’a, an IT expert and shadowy businessman and a High Court judge based at the Criminal Division at the Milimani Law Courts.
The “Jerusalem” group, People Daily has established, mainly meets at Ildamat, Otuoma’s Karen home or at the “Gazebo” in Murathe’s residence in Garden estate, off Thika road in Nairobi.
Sandwiched between the residence of the late populist politician Josiah Mwangi (JM) Kariuki and the former chairman of the defunct Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK), the late Samuel Kivuitu, the tastefully furnished “Gazebo” provides the ideal venue for the politicians as they chart the country’s political future over Nyama Choma and drinks served by a resident chef.
Occasionally, National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi and Peter Kenneth, who succeeded Murathe as Gatanga MP in 2002, pop in to join the “Jerusalem” team.
At Karen, Senate Speaker Kenneth Lusaka, who is Otuoma’s a next-door neighbour, occasionally joins the group.
Raila’s new, almost hands-off style to party matters is, for instance, being blamed for the political storm caused by his earlier stand on the controversy over the sharing of revenue formula which almost cost him crucial support in his traditional stronghold of Coast region.
Raila had initially appeared to support the formula, which increased allocation to populous counties mainly in the central and western regions while slashing the allocations of less, populated counties, mainly in coast and northern Kenya.
It was only on Wednesday that Raila came out to “clarify” that he had not been fully briefed about changes made to the formula by the Senate Committee for Budget while he was away in Dubai to undergo a minor surgery.
He made it clear that no county should be made to lose money and that the implementation of any new revenue sharing plan should be delayed until more resources are allocated to counties and a win-win formula is adopted.
Close associates at Capitol Hill offices intimated to People Daily that the confusion regarding Raila’s stand arose from “misleading” information given to him by a senior party official.
“We are having to do the fire-fighting because Agwambo was given wrong brief on the formula which was used as the basis of his earlier statement.
In fact, the statement was put together with the help of a senior party member and ended up as misleading and antagonising to some of our supporters,” said the source.
A picture was painted of a Raila who has grown increasingly detached with party affairs and old friends only keen to massage his newfound relationship with President Uhuru Kenyatta. “Raila is my boss but it takes weeks before one can access him,” said the source.
Several MPs who spoke to People Daily protested that Raila’s new-detached approach has created space for a small clique of party functionaries to hijack it.
“Some fellows have taken advantage of Baba’s absence to cut personal deals and settle personal political scores,” complained an ODM MP from the greater South Nyanza who sought anonymity for fear of political backlash if he went on record.
“There is a group purporting to form the Kitchen Cabinet who are frequently seen at Harambee House soliciting for handouts purportedly to popularise BBI behind Baba’s back,” another MP complained.
That all was not well in Raila’s political bedroom emerged last week after a hitherto close associate, Wafula Buke, who was based at the party headquarters openly protested about Raila’s new modus operandi.
“History may say Raila’s last function as Pope of our liberation church was his swearing-in as the People’s President at Uhuru Park.
What we have witnessed so far after the event reads like a disengagement program after a long patriotic career,” he stated.
“Kenyatta’s son is now fully resurrected as both leader of State and the people of Kenya, courtesy of Raila’s misfiring retreat.”
Reached for comment, ODM chairman John Mbadi, even though admitting that he too was taking long to meet Raila face to face, maintained that there was no cause for alarm.
“Are they talking about Raila meeting with Atwoli? All I know he has met him once and it was during the weekend when he was just relaxing,” said Mbadi, the National Assembly Minority Leader.
“Nobody should say Raila is inaccessible. If anything, he is one of the most accessible leaders in the country.
I can also take up to a month before seeing him yet I am the ODM chairman. He is busy attending to hundreds of people who want to see him.
I only talk to him on phone. His office, I can say is like a market place,” Mbadi said.
But sources close to Raila revealed that his newfound dalliance with the “Jerusalem” group was informed by the need to go slow on “hard, bare-knuckled” politics and devote more time to family and “close, mutual and like-minded” friends owing to his advancing age and role as a statesman.
“Baba is in his mid 70s and is not growing any younger. He needs to relax. He must not attend each and every funeral in the country.
He needs to spend time with his family and a small group of trusted friends. That is why he is spending time with the Jerusalem group,” the source.