By Titus Too
Prime Minister Raila Odinga is now banking his hopes on elders from the Kalenjin community as he fights to salvage the Rift Valley voting bloc amid a sustained onslaught from his G7 allies.
The ODM Presidential aspirant is planning another session with the elders — a third one in less than one month — as his adviser’s device new strategies to win the region that stands between him and the presidency.
Sources close to the Prime Minister say he had decided to deal directly with the elders and key opinion leaders, many of who were opposed to an alliance between Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta and Eldoret North MP William Ruto.
“We have found a new effective strategy to manage the Uhuru-Ruto euphoria in the Rift Valley. You will see the results very soon,” an MP allied to Raila and who asked not to be named told the County Weekly.
He added: “Elders are highly respected among the Kalenjin and working with them is just one of our strategies. We are working behind the scenes. We’re in contact with the people who matter not those who are abusing us in the media.”
With Ruto intensifying campaigns against him, over his alleged mistreatment of the community after he became the Prime Minister, Mr Odinga has decided to by-pass the MPs and deal with elders and the voters directly. Most of the elders in North and South Rift regions are said to have been greatly touched by Raila’s emotional apology to the community over the wrongs he may have committed against them and have decided to support him.
Mr Odinga’s troubles in the vote rich Rift Valley started after his falling out with Mr Ruto, who decamped from ODM and formed United Republican Party (URP).
Mr Ruto has now entered into a power sharing deal with Uhuru in which he would be his running mate. This was after he rejected a proposal to work with Mr Odinga.
Stay informed. Subscribe to our newsletter
The Raila-Ruto rivalry has put the Kalenjins at a crossroad with the community torn between the two camps.
Mr Odinga has, however, had two successful meetings with elders in Nakuru and in Eldoret where the elders from the Kalenjin community have declared their support for him.
Recently, over 600 elders in Eldoret endorsed the PM for the presidency and dismissed the yet to be signed pact between Mr Ruto’s URP and Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta’s The National Alliance (TNA).
As Mr Odinga met the elders in Eldoret, Mr Ruto took a spirited campaign to the neigbouring Nandi County accompanied by ten URP legislators and party chairman Francis Ole Kaparo. The leaders in Mr Ruto’s team express confidence that their alliance with Uhuru will win the election in the first round with over 65 percent.
On the other hand, Mr Odinga gained support as the elders declared they would campaign to ensure he won the presidency. Raila utilised the opportunity to declare that no one would intimidate or block his way in reaching out for support from the Kalenjin community.
The PM has on his side Cabinet Ministers Henry Kosgey, (Industrialisation), Dr Sally Kosgey (Agriculture), Franklin Bett (Roads), Musa Sirma (East Africa Community) and Assistant Minister Magerer Lang’at.
Other MPs from Rift Valley who accompanied him to Kenmosa village in Eldoret were Wilson Litole (Sigor), Josephat Nanok (Turkana South) Rev Julius Murgor (Kapenguria).
“Others think I cannot go to the Kalenjin without them, even in 2007, it is the community itself that drove them to support me because they loved me. This time round, it is not going to be any different,” Mr Odinga said in reference to Mr Ruto.
“You were deceived in 2002, do you want to be cheated again?” he asked the elders at a meeting in reference to Mr Ruto’s support for Mr Kenyatta in 2002. Then, the Kalenjin community delivered their votes to Mr Kenyatta who was running on a Kanu Party ticket.
The community again made an about-turn and voted overwhelmingly for Mr Odinga in 2007.
This time round, the two leaders -Mr Odinga and Mr Kenyatta are in the forefront in seeking voter support from the Rift Valley region ahead of the March 4, 2013 General Election.
Mr Odinga had used the elders meeting in Nakuru to apologise to the Kalenjin community.
A political analyst and Senior Lecturer at the School of Medicine at Moi University, Dr Lukoye Atwoli, says Mr Odinga’s strategy to work with the elders and selected opinion leaders may work for him if his strategy does not insult any leader.
“Through the elders, Mr Odinga may gain as long as there are no insults directed at Mr Ruto. or any other leaders,” said Dr Atwoli.
But the don said for Mr Odinga’s strategy to work, the elders should have a national outlook.
“The strategy is a good one for a presidential candidate if it takes a national image. The only problem is that if the perception takes an ethnic angle it becomes flawed,” added Dr Atwoli.
Dr Masibo Lumala, also a lecturer at the Department of Communication Studies at the same university says the ‘elders may or may not deliver’ votes to the PM.
“We have to consider the fact that the Kalenjins are a people who respect elders,” said Dr Masibo.
He noted that the PM had recently extended an olive branch by apologising to the Kalenjin community to which Mr Ruto accepted but went ahead to ask the community to deny the PM votes.
At the same time, the don said the International Criminal Court cases were the only reason the DPM and Mr Ruto had formed an alliance since they are both facing charges before the court.
A number of elders, who spoke during the Eldoret meeting, accused Mr Ruto of having “sold out” the community.
They included former High Commissioner to South Africa, Ms Tabitha Seii, who said Mr Ruto owes the Kalenjin community an apology. “He sold us out during the constitution making process, he let a civic seat slip from us in Eldoret town and now he wants us to go where we do not want, this man owes us an apology,” she said.
Simon Kipyego, who said he was URP’s Nandi Hills Chairman, officially defected at the Kenmosa meeting.
“My conscience cannot allow me to build a monarch in Kenya. Our community cannot be sold,” he said.
Others who defected included former Mt Elgon MP John Serut who said he had quit URP to join ODM as did a group of 60 URP grass roots leaders drawn from the North Rift.