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With the polls favouring his rival, Deputy President Ruto, Odinga will have an uphill struggle in the key regions that will decide the vote
Leader of Orange Democratic Movement and veteran oppositionist, Raila Odinga held his Azimio la Umoja rally to launch his presidential candidacy on 10 December at the 60,000-seat Kasarani Sports Centre in Nairobi backed by a phalanx of President Uhuru Kenyatta's cabinet secretaries and Gideon Moi, son of late President Daniel arap Moi.
But the other key politicians that Odinga needs to make his national alliance work – a former deputy president and leader of the Amani National Congress Musalia Mudavadi as well another former deputy president and leader of the Wiper Party Kalonzo Musyoka – sent regrets for their absence at the rally.
That points to tensions with the One Kenya Alliance, of which they are principals, and the difficulties that Odinga will have as he tries to harden up a national coalition of support.
Gideon Moi's endorsement of Odinga is important due to his position a lead in the Rift Valley and a direct rival to William Ruto for Kalenjin votes. The presence of Defence Cabinet Secretary Eugene Wamalwa, who in theory should remain apart from partisan politics, sent a strong message of support from President Kenyatta.
Earlier this week, Odinga received the endorsement of Mount Kenya business leaders at a meeting with the Mount Kenya Foundation officials at Safari Park Hotel (AC Vol 62 No 21, Raila beats Ruto as the oligarchs' favourite).
The endorsement by Kikuyu business leaders is seen as another calculated move to assuage distrust of Odinga among Kikuyu voters in Central Kenya. Odinga must win significant support from Central to have a chance of defeating Deputy President Ruto (AC Vol 62 No 24, Deputy President Ruto steals a march on his rivals).
The rally at Kasarani stadium follows weeks of meetings in which Odinga says he has been listening to people's demands for his presidency, and developing Azimio la Umoja, his manifesto. Over 200 MPs, 40 governors and 40 senators confirmed their attendance ahead of time.
Odinga's manifesto offers a reprise of sections of the Building Bridges Initiative, which was stalled by the courts. It also includes promises to tackle insecurity, corruption, economic revival and boost political inclusion.
The scope of President Kenyatta's support for Odinga's campaign will be critical. He has given Odinga the use of his Jubilee party's campaign machinery and sent some of his senior lieutenants to the Azimio la Umoja rally. It would have been a game changer if Kenyatta had turned up in person to endorse Odinga at Kasarani.
However, Kenyatta has indicated that he is backing Raila to succeed him against his estranged deputy Ruto. But that is not enough to get the votes out and give the campaign a boost. After weeks of delays, there is growing pressure to finalise a formal coalition between the ODM and Jubilee.
Odinga desperately needs Kenyatta's electioneering heft in the Kikuyu heartlands. Although Odinga is winning the backing of the Kikuyu business elite, many of whom distrust Ruto, he has not won enough hearts and minds among voters in Mount Kenya region where Ruto is polling strongly.
Equally unclear is what will happen with the One Kenya Alliance (OKA) principals, the leaders of smaller parties who formed the National Super Alliance with Odinga ahead of the 2017 elections.
Campaign organisers had been expecting Odinga unveil an pre-election agreement with OKA principals, the Wiper Party's Musyoka and Amani National Congress's Mudavadi. Their absence from the Kasarani rally made that impossible and raises questions about the durability of the alliance.
Musyoka and Mudavadi may calculate that their best strategy is to remain outside a formal alliance with Odinga, allowing them to shore up their own campaigns ahead and strengthening their bargaining power ahead of the August elections.
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