[Revised June 26]: Here is an outline of my thinking on a potential Raila Odinga run for President of Kenya as the choice of what is still the informal coalition amongst ODM, Jubilee and most of the larger established “third parties” in 2022:
1) Two years in we still do not know the actual “deal” reflected in the 2018 Kenyatta-Odinga “handshake”. What we do know is that it was concluded very discretely between the two men and their closest personal associates to the exclusion of their “running mates”, parties and coalition partners.
2) The extraordinary discretion has remained intact to the point that as the informal 2022 campaign has proceeded and heated up, public speculation died off and attention shifted to the intermediate issues such of coalition formation, Uhuru’s consolidation of control of Parliament, the upcoming referendum (presumably to set up the execution of the handshake deal).
3) My personal opinion has been over the years that it was a big mistake that the position of Prime Minister “went away” in the “back room” at Lake Naivasha when the Kibaki/PNU and Odinga/ODM leaders set the final terms of the new Constitution to go to referendum in 2010. That was a key fault of the “Wako Draft” that was the raison d’etre for the Orange Democratic Movement from the 2005 referendum in the first place. If the position had not “gone away” Raila could have served his second term as Prime Minister in 2013-17 and the whole UhuRuto anti-ICC “coalition of the killing” scenario could been avoided (which perhaps explains why Kibaki would never let it happen). Hypothetically, if Kenyatta in early 2018 wanted to keep a hand in government and reduce risks to his interests after his term would end in 2022, it would seem relatively straightforward for Odinga to agree to cooperate in fixing that omission in the Constitution in return for support to finally get his turn in State House (even with more circumscribed power).
4) We have had two years to see that the Uhuru-Raila “friendship” is substantive and involves some real level of commitment between the two men. Both have shown uncharacteristic discipline and forbearance toward each other. Perhaps they have some knowledge in common that the rest of us are not directly in on?
5) Raila has been on his best statesman-like behavior, speaking to regional, continental and international issues and avoiding being embarrassed by old friends, like Tanzania’s Magufuli, who have fallen afoul of international opinion, even to the point of public criticism of Tanzania’s COVID response.
6) The main risk to the Kenyatta family “legacy”, the growing business empire, would be a single party strong president at odds with the Kenyattas. Whether or not there was actual intention back in 2012 to follow through on supporting Ruto in 2022-32 (which would only be known by the tightest insiders, the sort of who know the details of the superseding “handshake”) it is now abundantly clear that Ruto has been non-compliant in subordinating himself and would pose unacceptable risk.
7) None of the other candidates of national stature and recognition aside from Raila seem to compare favorably to Ruto as a popular campaigner. Most reached identifiable peaks some years ago and do not have clear command even of their own regions, especially in a devolved system where there are many more centres of patronage and exposure than in years past.
8) While Raila can be characterized as a “perennial candidate” he is widely understood as having actually won in 2007 (see my “War for History” page). He can point to his role as Prime Minister under Kibaki as an example of working in compromise with the dominant Kikuyu elite to secure some benefits for his own opposition constituents and as leading the most significant post-1964 reform effort in passing the 2010 New Constitution as an element of the “peace deal” and “National Accord” arising from his 2007 campaign (and bucking Kibaki to lead defeat of the 2005 “Wako Draft”). His other key “deliverable” was forcing “consultation” by Kibaki in 2011 after the President announced unilateral appointments for Attorney General and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, leading ultimately to the selection for the Court of international civil society leader and “second liberationist” Willy Mutungu through the Judicial Service Commission in return for Kibaki’s Attorney General choice. While I think it is clear that there should have been a runoff in 2013, Raila accepted the Supreme Court’s controversial affirmation of the 50.07% determination of the then-IEBC. In 2017, he won a reversal at the Supreme Court and stuck to his guns to boycott a referendum without his criteria for reforms and held on through extreme diplomatic pressure to his “People’s President” swearing in while negotiating toward his ultimate deal.
9) Progressives who see a “BBI Referendum” as an elite pact to water down the new constitution (see my last post about the recent writings of Yash Ghai) will face a difficult situation of realpolitik if they align with Ruto to campaign for “No” on a referendum. Ruto was the leader of the “No” campaign against the whole of the reform constitution itself in 2010, and a victory in a “No” campaign in coming months would position him as the populist “giant killer” going into 2022. Much of the 2010 constitution’s “progressivism” has laid dormant for ten years already–do they really expect a better deal from a Ruto succession? Can they realistically hope to start from scratch without an existing voter base to elect some “third force” reformist quickly after a referendum?
10) My sense is that with Uhuru’s support through a consolidated Jubilee, Raila would be generally acceptable to the major external players, the United States and China, along with the UK and France, as well as the other democratic European development donors, Japan and South Korea along with the Gulf States and others. Ruto, on the other hand, seems to be seen as just too crudely corrupt for development donors to warm up to.
11) Commentators are already raising the notion of a risk of election violence for 2022. As in 2013 especially, the idea of affirmative “peace promotion” provides a tremendous advantage for whoever starts out with the most power and disincentivizes open questions about democratic niceties like failed Results Transmission System acquisitions leaving incomplete and contradictory tallies. Ruto has had ten years as Deputy President on the strength of his understood role as the champion of his side of the fighting in the Rift Valley in 2007-08. He has a great deal more to lose now than he did then and fewer, less powerful allies it would seem. The implied threat was a lot more valuable in 2013 when it coincided with the interest of the Kenyattas, also in the dock for the 2008 retribution. The violence worked very effectively for the leaders of both sides in the wake of the stolen election in 2007, so we have to acknowledge that background, but I think the “usual suspects” will have different interests in 2022 and I do not see the implied threat generating the clout for a Ruto presidency that it generated for him as deputy.
12) Conspicuously, I have said nothing about the critical problems faced by most Kenyans today. I have not changed my mind about the performance of the current government (nor are my thoughts here new–I just see possible confirmation as events play out). I am not addressing what should be or could have been as opposed to what I see.