Siaya Senator James Orengo has sparked speculation about his intentions as his moves and public pronouncements put him at cross purposes with NASA leader Raila Odinga.
The brilliant senior counsel and long-time Raila ally is strongly opposed to the truce and cooperation deal between President Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila — he had not been privy to the handshake plotting.
He also quickly assumed the Senate Minority leadership from Ford Kenya’s Moses Wetang’ula, defying Raila’s urging against the move.
Raila is said to have spoken to Orengo several times before the senators removed Wetang’ula.
He is said to have warned Orengo that toppling Wetang’ula would destabilise ODM’s base in Bungoma. That may be coming to pass; Wetang’ula has sworn revenge and said the NASA “divorce will be noisy and messy.”
It is Orengo’s vociferous opposition to the peace pact, however, that has people wondering what is going on and why.
On Sunday, Orengo again publicly condemned the partnership agreement — and by implication Raila — saying it did not prevent Miguna Miguna’s harassment and forced deportation.
“Uhuru has to be held accountable now,” he told reporters. “Any engagement with him in any process would be an act of impunity because he is condoning blatant and brazen defiance of court orders…The handshake rises or falls on the pedestal of the rule of law, and if the State is out to undermine the rule of law, then it has no basis. The joint statement by the two also talked about rights and respect for the rule of law,” the senator said.
Orengo and others called for suspension of the pact until grievances were addressed and if not, then Raila would be party to any injustices committed by Jubilee.
The Siaya senator was a long-time Raila confidant and the two frequently consulted privately about important political matters.
It is significant that Raila kept Orengo in the dark about the talks with Uhuru.
This might indicate the NASA leader did not trust the senator to give him sound advice or possibly would not keep the secret. He is probably bitter about the exclusion, insiders say.
Since the deal, Orengo has also marshalled strong opposition, while other leaders have encouraged Raila to pursue cooperation while remaining committed to electoral justice and other Opposition issues.
Orengo has pulled into his corner sections of ODM leaders.
Also crusading against the deal are lawyer Miguna and businessman Jimi Wanjigi, both of whom were also kept in the dark.
Yesterday, however, a number of ODM figures said all was well.
ODM’s new secretary general Edwin Sifuna said he had neither seen or sensed any discomfort in the party over the deal.
“People are a bit impatient and want to see this thing kicking and working. We are in total support.”
“Once the [lawyer Paul] Mwangi and [Ambassador Martin] Kimani team lays out their plan, you’ll see anxiety coming down. The anxiety is because people want to see action, as we haven’t heard from the two gentlemen,” he said.
Sifuna described as “just rumour”, reports of internal plot to scuttle the deal.
Yesterday, ODM Treasurer Timothy Bosire denied there are any problems within the party over the deal but added, “There is need to clear the emerging curiosity and anxiety because this was a unique agreement and both sides have no clarity.”
Homa Bay Woman Representative Gladys Wanga praised the handshake and said the Miguna deportation issue should not rubbish the handshake.
CHARTING HIS OWN COURSE
Some ODM observers, speaking confidentially, said Orengo may be trying to scuttle the deal, or at least become a player at its centre.
The senator has been highly visible in representing NRM ‘General’ Miguna, who was twice deported. The Miguna case has given Orengo a good platform.
He is also believed to charting his own course after realising Raila may no longer trust him fully.
The polar opposite is Kisumu Governor Peter Anyang’ Nyong’o who may have been in the picture about Uhuru-Raila talks.
The governor travelled to Cuba with Uhuru shortly after the peace deal, apparently with Raila’s approval.
Raila has a long history with Orengo and Nyong’o and often turned to them for advice on critical decisions. This time, Raila may have turned only to Nyong’o.
The governor, speaking for many supporters, says Kenyans should give the handshake a chance.
Writing in the Star on Saturday last week, Nyong’o said, “There was never any assumption by President Uhuru Kenyatta and Prime Minister Raila Amolo Odinga that their handshake provided a magic wand for the instant solving of Kenya’s problems, nor was the handshake meant to put in place a government of national unity, which would absorb all interests left out in the current Jubilee administration.”
Nyongo, a political scientist known for being level-headed, said Kenya is “now ripe” for such a discussion.
“Paying homage to Uhuru Kenyatta as President is a sizable fraction of Kenyans one cannot ignore. Swearing total loyalty to Raila Odinga as the People’s President legitimised by a mammoth peaceful assembly at Uhuru Park is another conglomeration of people one cannot wish away.”
“If Kenya continues in its present direction, it would well go the way of South Sudan, Somalia or Congo,” Nyong’o wrote. “So, why should we so consciously dig our own graves?” “Uhuru and Raila simply found themselves at the bottom of a hole and they decided to stop digging,” he said.
Nyong’o cited a Luo saying that a general must always keep running ahead to attack the enemy, but he must never forget that part of the war is the possibility of retreating and re-strategising.”
At the weekend, the senator said: “Harambee House handshake is fast eroding Mr Odinga’s hard-earned stature as a reform icon and staunch critic of injustices committed by successive governments.”
Even within the Opposition, some leaders question Orengo’s intentions. Some say Raila has done well in expanding his circle for consultations, arguing he senator has recently given some strange advice to the ODM and NASA leader.
“Some of us in NASA felt very strongly that we ought to have initiated contempt proceedings against the IEBC when they refused to open the server,” an MP speaking for one faction said, requesting anonymity.
“We felt we should have demanded there be no elections until the IEBC complied with the court ruling and opened the server. Orengo single-handedly told Raila not to take that route. Up to today, we do not know why Orengo did not want NASA to sue the IEBC,” he said.
Some ODM insiders say Orengo may be assembling a team within the party in preparation to take over the party and Luo leadership in hopes Raila will retire.