On January 9, 2016, Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) leader Raila Odinga was breathing fire.
His target? Then Director of Public Prosecutions Keriako Tobiko who had, after getting reports from the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission and the Directorate of Criminal Investigations, found that no government official was culpable for the Eurobond scandal.
Mr Odinga was angry that, even after a sustained campaign, with media calling for investigation into the Sh200 billion Eurobond, Mr Tobiko had not only come to the conclusion that no one was liable, but had shifted the case to the auditor-general, who was to audit the use of the bond proceeds in ministries.
Fast forward to the current situation, where the media has catalogued irregular award of tenders for Covid-19 supplies and theft of donated consignments, and the former Prime Minister and his party are singing a different tune.
On Saturday, ODM, in a statement signed by Secretary-General Edwin Sifuna, chastised the media over coverage of the scandal. It also criticised the DCI for launching investigations into the goings on at the Kenya Medical Supplies Agency (Kemsa), a process, the party insists, should only happen after an audit.
“Precedence has been set before (sic), where the media goes on a sensationalist extravaganza, with half-baked information obtained from shadowy sources, ending up creating more problems than solutions,” the Orange party said.
On Monday, Mr Odinga defended the Sifuna statement, saying, so far, those alleging theft of Covid funds had no evidence.
“As matters stand now, none of the people taking to the podium or social media to condemn theft of funds has any evidence. The so-called condemnations of theft could well be part of a cover-up,” he said.
But he was quick to state that the party had not changed it’s stance on graft: “ODM will not defend anyone, including members or relatives and friends of its officials, found to have benefited from funds and other resources meant for fighting the coronavirus pandemic,” he said.
While there have been arguments that the spotlight on the theft of Covid funds — most of which are donations — could jeopardise the war on the pandemic if partners pull out, a speedy investigation of the graft, not an audit, is what is needed to inspire confidence in the country’s systems.
For the ODM leader, the apparent change of stances–from a Second Liberation fighter, a rights defender and an African statesman out to put his life on the line to expose government scandals — to one who now wants the media and anti-corruption crusaders to only speak after an audit, has exposed a new man, a new Raila.
Prof Winnie Mitullah, a governance expert, thinks Mr Odinga is caught up in the politics and intricacies of the March 2018 ‘Handshake’ with President Kenyatta — which, she said, had never been revealed (as to what exactly the ODM leader was to bring on the table) –made even worse by the apparent lack of a “typical opposition.”
Since Mr Odinga had established himself as the voice of accountability, Prof Mitullah argues, “it is only reasonable that Kenyans will expect him to keep beating the drums of accountability, especially now when we do not have an opposition per se.”
“What is happening now can be seen in the frame of the contradictions of politicians. There is some softness that comes with belonging to a particular side. As an outsider, Raila set himself apart as particularly good in oversight and exposing graft. As an insider, one still questions why he is not as powerful, especially in the interest of opposition from within,” Prof Mitullah said.
Rule of law
For a man who stood for constitutionalism and the rule of law, Mr Odinga has also been accused of turning a blind eye to President Kenyatta’s excesses post-Handshake.
These include what’s seen as the Executive’s emasculation of Parliament, frustration of the Judiciary by starving it of cash, and the President’s refusal to appoint judges. The Head of State is also accused of mishandling protesters, and abetting police brutality — issues Raila fought while in opposition.
To his credit, Mr Odinga strongly condemned the gangland arrest and ejection from Nairobi of three senators who were opposed to a government-backed revenue sharing formula.
Belgut MP Nelson Koech, an ally of Deputy President William Ruto, says Mr Odinga’s statement on the Kemsa scandal was “a revelation of who the former prime minister is”. He said: “This is not a new Raila. It’s the real Raila unfolding.”
“It’s extremely sad that millions of Kenyans are now victims of the real Raila. He’s now defending the indefensible and the obvious.”
The DP, whom Mr Odinga ‘suspended’ as Agriculture minister in February 2010 over a maize scam, had on Sunday joined the lynch mob against ODM, calling its members “lords of corruption”.
Amani National Congress leader Musalia Mudavadi also criticised the ODM statement.
Political commentator Javas Bigambo said “ODM has had an open change of heart since the Handshake, and this has largely compromised its previous positions on graft and accountability in general. It’s now apparent that ODM is throwing a blanket of smoke on the war against corruption, especially when they take a stand different from what they had done earlier.”
But National Assembly Minority leader Junet Mohamed rubbished claims of Mr Odinga’s apparent tilting towards the side that seems to stifle calls for accountability. “The burden of speaking for Kenyans and being in the opposition is not a preserve of Raila. It’s for everybody. People must know that the work of holding the government to account is theirs. It’s the people who voted for this government.”