Opposition leader Raila Odinga with Siaya Senator James Orengo during the burial of Mama Eva Donde in Gem Siaya county on August 17, 2019. (Collins Oduor, Standard)

The day before March 9, 2018 Handshake between President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga, the latter had a long meeting with Senator James Orengo and businessman Jimmy Wanjigi.

At no point did Raila mention to them his appointment with President Kenyatta the next day at Harambee House. Sources close to Raila and Orengo say the Siaya Senator was least amused. Getting to know about the Handshake through breaking news like everybody else was a slight for Raila’s confidant of many years.

Worse for him, Raila was accompanied to the ceremony by Suna East MP Junet Mohamed.

Flashback to 2002 elections. Speaking to journalists in Kisumu two days before presenting his nomination papers to vie for the presidency, Orengo declared himself the “peasants’ candidate” pitied against the “heirs” Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila.

Uhuru, son of first President Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, was a candidate. Raila, son of first Vice President Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, was not. However, he was regarded the king-maker of Mwai Kibaki with his famous “Kibaki Tosha” declaration at Uhuru Park.

According to Orengo, Uhuru and Kibaki were seeking the presidency on the basis of “entitlement”, while he was in the race as the “ordinary people’s” candidate. Orengo is the son of one Apollo Olunga, a junior police officer in early years of independence.

Such is the background to the latest tiff between Raila and Orengo in regard to the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) Bill.

The emotion and body language in Orengo in the Senate on Thursday betrayed underlying issues other than the BBI debate.

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Political pundits see in him a man in a hurry to curve his own territory away from Raila in post-2022 political dispensation. Indeed, talk has already come up in Luo-Nyanza as to who is Raila candidate and who is Orengo candidate for which seat in 2022.

The BBI and 2022 politics aside, those who have closely worked with Raila and Orengo talk of a deep seated sibling rivalry going back to the days of original Ford party at the return of multiparty politics in 1992.

Twilight years

In the twilight years of the single-party, Orengo endeared himself not just as lawyer to the doyen of opposition politics, Jaramogi Odinga, but his trusted confidant. That was at a time the younger Odinga was either in detention or away in self-exile.

Former Alego-Usoga MP Otieno Mak’Onyango, who closely worked with both men in Ford and later Ford-Kenya parties, says he smelt bitter sibling rivalry from the word go.

“Because of the confidence Jaramogi had in him, his history of activism right from university days, and that he was in Parliament long before the younger Odinga, Orengo regarded himself, and still does, as rightful, though adopted, inheritor to Jaramogi baton,” says Mak’Onyango.

Another former MP, Njeru Gathangu, who also closely worked with both men says: “Jim (Orengo) seems to believe Raila is what he is because of name connection and not because he has worked for it. That is why he will always put, or be seen to put, a spanner in the works to undercut Raila.”

Indeed, Raila’s confidants have read sabotage, not merely sibling rivalry as far as Orengo is concerned.

In the power struggle that ensued in Ford Kenya in the aftermath of Jaramogi’s death in 1994, Orengo threw his hat with Kijana Wamalwa who was pitied against Raila. Actually, Wamalwa was regarded more of a decoy and Orengo in reality the person weighing up to Raila.

Eventually when the split came and Raila founded his own vehicle, National Development Party (NDP), Orengo hedged his bets with Wamalwa, bidding his time to take on Raila head-on.

That is how Orengo came to be presidential candidate on his own in the 2002 elections, as Raila and Wamalwa threw their lot with Kibaki.

Orengo not only lost the presidential vote to Kibaki in his Ugenya constituency but, to rub it in and show who is the boss, also the parliamentary seat to Raila candidate Archbishop Stephen Ondiek.

Orengo would remain in political Siberia until he bowed to Raila and joined the ODM bandwagon in 2007.

Multiple sources in Raila inner circle allege Orengo coming to Raila house didn’t mean ceasefire, but afforded him opportunity for sabotage from within.

So, could last week’s outbursts by Orengo and Rarieda MP Otiende Amollo be related to the wider opposition to the BBI process?


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