Is Raila Odinga losing friends fast? Hyped as Kenya's most flamboyant politician, Kenya's prime minister Raila Odinga enjoys a huge following at the grassroots. His personality both excites and elicits cultish personification. But 2011 hasn't started very well for him. From Nairobi, Wanjohi Kabukuru, reports why.

Author:Kabukuru, Wanjohi
Position:Kenya
 
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RAILA ODINGA'S GRASSROOTS popularity did not come by mere chance, and neither was it inherited from his father's long dalliance with Kenyan politics. (Odinga is the son of the first vice-president of Kenya, the late Jaramogi Oginga Odinga.) His current status was not accorded to him on a silver platter; he has earned it by sheer political determination.

In Kenya's politics Odinga leads the pack when it comes to mobilisation. But enter 2011, and it appears his undoing is increasingly being linked to his failure to get to the top seat and retain loyalty.

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Ever since he became Kenya's prime minister, Odinga has been losing friends faster than he has made them. His party, the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), which enjoyed a massive following across the country, is on the brink of collapse. A rebellion openly orchestrated by one of Odinga's staunchest allies in the 2007 presidential elections and his party deputy leader, William Ruto, began to form in 2009 when Odinga called for the resettlement of members of the Kalenjin community who had encroached into Kenya's largest water tower, the Mau Forest.

To Odinga's credit his no-nonsense approach to evict the Kalenjin from the forest earned him international accolades and rare praise from the Nairobi-based United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). But the praises of UNEP and the myriad diplomats based in Nairobi could not salvage his political support base among the Kalenjins. Ruto, who was by then the minister of agriculture, stood up for his community, earning the flak of environmentalists and defying his party boss.

Matters took a turn for the worse when Odinga suspended Ruto from his ministerial position to pave the way for investigations on a maize scandal. President Mwai Kibaki later quashed Odinga's decision. Since then Odinga and Ruto have ceased to be bosom buddies.

During the run-up to the constitutional referendum, Ruto decided to go against the grain. Observers say Ruto used this occasion to judge his popularity. In a mini reshuffle Odinga had his way, when Ruto was demoted from the agriculture posting to the less glamorous higher education portfolio, from which he has since been removed on separate corruption charges.

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That matters have not been rosy in ODM is now Kenya's worst-kept secret. The frosty relations in ODM were fuelled by the arraignment of Ruto on corruption charges. This move, rather than cement cracks in the party, widened...

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