The heckling that marred the last burial rites for the late Fidel Odinga has been a wake-up call to Raila Odinga that the culture of violence implanted in his Luo supporters may sooner rather than later boomerang against him and cost him potential partners forever. His action during the burial and afterwards signifies Raila was a bitter man.
Try as he could, a grief-stricken Raila could not prevail over the hecklers. In a sign of dark clouds hovering over his loyal support, the choreographed booing did not spare him. It is symptomatic of the chaotic rebellion brewing in the South Nyanza region where his party pointmen and loyalists are being scorned, beaten and chased away.
At a solemn moment when he should have been listened to in reverence as a bereaved father and their leader, the mourners interjected into his speech arousing his anger. Earlier, they had spared no moment for some leaders who were booed off the dais throughout their condolence speeches. Unlike other occasions, when Raila would sit quietly as his supposed opponents are publicly shredded, the Cord leader occasionally stood up to wave against the heckling.
However, confronted with crowds used to signals that it is okay to fray opponents as a sign of loyalty to Baba, the charged mourners did not let go even after it became obvious they were embarrassing the king. Raila has styled himself as a Pan-Africanist and the funeral of his son was the opportunity to consolidate and sell that perception. However, the humiliation of presidents Uhuru Kenyatta, Museveni and Kagame emissaries has far reaching political and diplomatic implications in terms of rapprochement within the East African community.
The self-anointed Pan-Africanist credentials were tested when it became obvious he presides over a violent stream in Kenya. This played out on his doorstep after other extremely violent events within the party in most last year. This might have prompted Raila to issue a quick apology while chiding his supporters for being eternally primitive. “The one who joins you in bereavement is a friend and those who heckled them were exhibiting primitive behaviour,” said Raila with wife Ida qualifying that “they did not do it on behalf of the Odinga family”.
However, the vile had homed in since the funeral was a live broadcast being monitored everywhere. Museveni, for instance, may have wondered why he should reconsider his contempt for wajaruo given the lingering hostility among Raila supporters towards him. He may be quick to draw the conclusion that he better off without such a neighbour at the helm of the Kenyan state.
Amani leader Musalia Mudavadi who had been a loyal deputy to Raila in ODM until things unraveled before the last elections was spared. He left ODM to which he was kingpin in Luhyaland under a cloud of suspicion and unsavoury behind the scenes maneuvers within ODM to render him politically irrelevant. He stood for president and came third behind Uhuru and Raila in a contest billed the re-run of the historical Kenyatta and Oginga family feud. Recently, he is said to be the engine behind renewed efforts to unify the Luhya vote in reparation for 2017. His efforts to re-brand the dormant UDF party into an electoral machine are however said to be undermined by the URP wing of Jubilee out fear the Kikuyu dominated TNA partner is courting Mudavadi. There unconfirmed rumours that because of his unparallel experience and devolution know-how, Mudavadi should be governor of Nairobi in 2017 in preparation for the ultimate prize in 2022.
The courting is however not restricted to Jubilee. Mudavadi has arguably become a bride that is being intensely courted by both coalitions. It is notable that the political equation in Luhya politics revolves around Mudavadi’s moves whose popular goodwill cuts across the land. Many pretenders to Luhya leadership are incriminatingly aware Mudavadi towers above them as a national leader easily marketable across Kenya. The ground too is shifting quietly with the former speaker Kenneth Marende and Cyrus Jirongo axis working on a plan B in Luhya politics. Marende rejected ODM chairmanship and injected from the party and is now chairing the KPLC. This is at the expense of a stillborn political party they intended to form with Jirongo.
ODM wing of Cord has spent the most of last year sending signals that it is ready to welcome the prodigal son Mudavadi back into the stable. Sources within ODM aver that the cantankerous Senator Moses Wetangula and his ally Senator Bonny Khalwale bring no measurable value to the Cord coalition other than as rubblerousers. Their support is thin and goodwill limited among the Luhya. Furthermore, they have fuelled suspicion within ODM fraternity in Luhyaland leading to apathy among ODM supporters. Indeed, ODM leaders in Luhyaland have no time for the two. “For now Musalia is our only political product we can market on the national stage. We just need to put our act together this time round. With him, we will form or be part government whichever way,” says an ODM governor.
UDF senator George Khaniri of Vihiga county has also become collateral damage in the hunt for Mudavadi. He had been presumably detailed to convince Mudavadi to “go back home” to ODM. The senator took every opportunity talking down Mudavadi to join and work with Raila, sentiments that did not go down well with Mudavadi’s core supporters in Vihiga who regard him as a political traitor.
“Do not hustle me to join Raila. I’d expect you to ask Raila to reciprocate the support the Luhya community has given him. I’m a party leader and leader of Amani coalition just like Raila is ODM and Cord leader. The least we can do is negotiate as equals,” Mudavadi told Khaniri at one point. That dressing down has seen Khaniri tone down pro-Raila rhetoric considerably even as reality downs within the county that going against Mudavadi is digging one’s political grave too early.
“Khaniri of all people should respect Mudavadi for inducting and supporting him throughout his career. Without Mudavadi, Khaniri would never have won an election. He has betrayed all that and I don’t see him going anywhere,” says a UDF official from Hamisi who once walked in the senator’s inner circle. Indeed, such reality is seen in Governor Moses Akaranga’s recent rapprochement where he has conceded to supporting Mudavadi presidential ambitions in return for an alliance that will see him through a second term.
Mudavadi, ever the gentleman, had been at Raila’s side since the death of Fidel that fateful Sunday and unlike Uhuru and Ruto, did not shrink at the idea of being heckled. He purposely attended the funeral and disarmed the prepared hecklers. First when he stood to speak, he condoled with “his friend” Raila at the loss of a promising son. Just when the booing was set to begin, he slipped in a masterstroke. “We’ve worked with my friend Raila before. There is no reason we cannot work together against,” he quipped. That ignited frenzied catcalls urging him to “biro” or come. As he stepped off the podium, he had to be turned back by MC Senator James Orengo to acknowledge the cheering crowd. That prompted ODM secretary general Ababu Namwamba to rush excitedly to and loudly whisper to Mudavadi “Look older bro, these people really miss and want you!”
This popular expression of nostalgia for Mudavadi runs deep within the recess of sober ODM leaders and supporters who yearn for the “gentle” years of the party when Mudavadi was at Raila’s side. He had become the emblem of tranquility within. Then, ODM culture of violence was unheard of as Mudavadi worked tirelessly to stem wrangling in the boardroom.