Deputy President William Ruto is quietly making inroads in Nyanza - the stronghold of opposition leader Raila Odinga - as he prepares for the 2022 presidential battle.
Although Ruto is more actively present in Abagusii region, he has for the past three months been recruiting point men in Luo Nyanza in a discreet operation targeting former MPs and MCAs.
The Deputy President lost quite a chunk of support from Nyanza due to his political differences with Raila during and after the 2017 elections, but he appears determined to rope in Nyanza in his presidential bid.
But buoyed by this week’s reconciliatory handshake with Raila, Ruto’s allies in Nyanza now have a new lease of life and are already preparing to have Ruto tour the region to market himself.
Until Thursday when Ruto and Raila publicly hugged and shook hands during the national prayer breakfast, the DP was widely regarded in Nyanza as an enemy to the peace pact between President Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila.
One of Ruto’s key allies in the region – George Ayugi, popularly known as Mbuta – said the DP was silently building a strong campaign machine in Luo Nyanza. Mr Ayugi, a former ODM youth leader who joined Ruto in 2008, sits in a number of boards of parastatals, courtesy of the DP.
He said nearly all former MPs from Nyanza had joined the Ruto camp and were holding frequent meetings on his 2022 bid.
“Ruto’s campaign machine is being assembled and you will be shocked to know who are in the team from Luo Nyanza,” Ayugi said.
Last month, former Kabondo-Kasipul MP Sylvans Osele and his Ndhiwa counterpart Augustino Neto publicly declared support for Ruto, saying he was better placed to succeed President Kenyatta.
In Kisii County, Ruto is already on the campaign trail. Last week, made an extensive tour of the county during which local MPs assured him of support.
Sources tell the Sunday Standard that the DP, who is leaving nothing to chance to succeed President Kenyatta, has identified his main political contacts, who he is using to galvanise the community behind him.
Ruto’s close allies say he is taking advantage of the fact that the Abagusii community has no presidential candidate. He is also taking advantage of Raila’s recent remarks that he had interest in the 2022 presidential race to try his luck in Luo Nyanza.
Raila last month said he had no interest in the 2022 presidential elections, adding that his focus currently was in building bridges – a joint peace and reconciliation programme with President Kenyatta after the famous March 9 handshake.
He spoke after Siaya Senator James Orengo said the former Prime Minister remained their best bet for 2022.
“I am not interested in the 2022 politics. I am currently busy in the unity of the country. Those linking me to 2022 politics are saying so as individuals,” Raila said.
This stance has caused confusion in both the National Super Alliance (Nasa) and ODM where Raila wields great influence. It is this void and confusion that Ruto’s strategists want to ride on in Nyanza.
In the recent past Ruto has been making inroads to Kisii and Nyamira counties, meeting delegations from the region in his Karen home just before and after the unity rallies.
Leaders who attended the meetings said the Deputy President has not shied off from asking for their support as he prepares ground for his presidential bid.
In the last elections, Jubilee put up a spirited fight to weaken Raila’s tight grip on Nyamira and Kisii, chipping away some constituencies.
Last week, for the first time, the DP addressed a well-attended rally at Nyamarambe market in South Mugirango, the same place he together with his close ally and former area MP Omingo Magara were assaulted in 2007 campaigns. The two were at the time campaigning for ODM.
During the rally, Ruto promised to donate a school bus for Nduru Girls Secondary School before he handed Sh100,000 to the jubilant girls.
“As leaders we have an obligation to shoulder the responsibility of leadership by breaking the barriers of political differences and focusing on development,” he said.
In wooing the Gusii vote, the DP is closely working with several MPs from the region who have made it clear that they will rally behind his 2022 bid.
Kenya National Congress Party leader Manson Nyamweya, who unsuccessfully ran for the Kisii governor’s seat surprised many when he declared his support for Ruto.
A staunch Raila supporter, Nyamweya seems to have made a U-turn.
“We are ready to take the right route. I will support Ruto because he has shown that he can unite with other leaders on the basis of economic growth,” he said.
“He came to Kisii on the sole purpose to launch development projects. Politics has no permanent friends or enemies. My party will work closely with Jubilee because we serve same interests.”