Former Kenyan prime minister Raila Odinga’s influence in President Uhuru Kenyatta’s administration is expected to grow further, with reports suggesting that he is being considered for a key role on a team to steer the country’s post-pandemic economic recovery efforts.
On Tuesday, a local Kenyan daily, citing sources close to the two leaders, reported that Mr Odinga would chair an economic recovery council whose members would be drawn from government agencies, the private sector and civil society.
State House has yet to confirm the media reports of impending appointments to the council.
This past week, Mr Odinga was involved in two separate high-profile meetings where “Covid-19 mitigation efforts” were reportedly discussed.
On Thursday, he hosted a delegation from the East African Legislative Assembly at his Capitol Hill offices in Nairobi, a day after holding a meeting with prominent Kenyan women leaders.
The women included Cabinet Secretary for Public Service and Youth Affairs Margaret Kobia, Kitui County Governor Charity Ngilu and Kirinyaga County Governor Anne Waiguru.
Posts on Mr Odinga’s twitter handle announcing the the two meetings indicated that the discussions focused on Covid-19 mitigation.
President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga were bitter rivals in the past two presidential elections whose outcomes were both contested at the Supreme Court. However, the duo mended fences by declaring a truce on March 9, 2018, popularly known as the “handshake”.
Mr Odinga was soon after appointed the African Union High Representative for Infrastructure.
The opposition leader has also been leading campaigns to mobilise support for constitutional reforms under the Building Bridges Initiative.
Both leaders have in the past maintained that the terms of their deal didn’t include power-sharing or any role for the opposition leader in government.
But instances where Mr Odinga appeared to wield state power, including receiving briefings from Cabinet secretaries on development projects and issuing directives to senior officials, have raised eyebrows.
Speculation about a role for the former prime minister on the economic recovery council will especially unsettle the faction of the ruling Jubilee Party loyal to the Deputy President William Ruto.
The pro-Ruto camp blames Mr Odinga for fuelling the falling out in the ruling party, and sees the BBI reforms campaigns as part of a grand scheme to block Mr Ruto from succeeding President Kenyatta in 2022.
The falling out has escalated in the past two weeks, with the president purging the party’s leadership in Parliament of the leaders loyal to his deputy.
Extending a crackdown
On Friday, senators removed Deputy Speaker Kindiki Kithure, extending a crackdown that started with the ousting last Monday of Kipchumba Murkomen and Susan Kihika as Majority Leader and Majority Chief Whip, respectively, during a parliamentary group meeting,
Five nominated senators who skipped the meeting chaired by President Kenyatta at State House, Nairobi, have been threatened with sanctions, including withdrawal of their nominations.
The Jubilee Party secretariat has warned of a similar purge in the National Assembly, where the Majority Leader Aden Duale and chairpersons of key House committees are also loyal to Mr Ruto.
After weeks of staying away from the political limelight, embattled Deputy President Ruto made his first public appearance on Wednesday, distributing relief food in Kiambu County.
In a week when the Kenyatta administration increasingly faced criticism over its response to the Covid-19 pandemic, flooding and locust invasion in parts of the country, Mr Ruto portrayed his rivals as being out-of-touch with the reality of Kenyans suffering from a humanitarian.
His public appearance also seemed to rally his troops in the National Assembly: On Thursday, some MPs called a press conference to say that they will not be intimidated by threats of a purge.