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Soft 'handshake' in the making

 President William Ruto with Siaya Governor James Orengo during his development tour of the county. [Collins Oduor, Standard]

It had been a trip that had been expected to change the development scope of Nyanza region.

It was also meant to market President William Ruto's plan to a region that had been in the bad books of past regimes that floored ODM leader Raila Odinga in polls.

But as the rotor blades of the three military helicopters carrying the president and his deputy Rigathi Gachagua began rotating to mark the end of his tour of the region, one thing was clear; an indirect soft "handshake" and a spirit of togetherness with the opposition had been built.

Messages of the need to embrace togetherness for the sake of development dominated speeches with the president vowing to serve all Kenyans equally regardless of their voting patterns.

And in a show of force and unity, key Kenya Kwanza principals who form the base of the country's leadership were all present in Ruto's visit to Siaya where Raila's troops gave Ruto a warm reception. Both camps vowed to work together for the sake of development.

Reading from their statements in reconciliatory tones and their pronouncement on the need for togetherness in the delivery of services to Kenyans, the Government and the Opposition could have just weaved into each other's hearts to create a new bond. It remains to be seen if the bond anchored on development will last.

The developments came as Raila's ally and Siaya Governor James Orengo asked the president to meet with the ODM leader in the spirit of togetherness and argued that the election period is now in the past.

"In the spirit of togetherness, I urge you to sit together at the table of brotherhood with your brother Raila. Elections are now over," said Orengo.

In his speech, president Ruto said that his administration will work with all Kenyans and stressed the need for both the national and county governments to work together to transform the lives of the people. His deputy Gachagua also said they do not have any problem with Raila and claimed that they only had differences in opinion because they were competitors.

"We are done with politics and our focus now is on development," said Gachagua.

The visit was one of a kind. For the first time, Raila's allies openly embraced government officials and vowed to work with them for the benefit of Kenyans. The only other time a similar scenario was witnessed in Nyanza was after the famous Handshake in 2018 with former president Uhuru Kenyatta. The two-day working tour of the president, however, points at the changing trend in the political game of chess between the Government and the Opposition.

 President William Ruto, his deputy Rigathi Gachagua, Speaker Moses Wetangula and ICT Cabinet Secretary Eliud Owalo in Rarieda Siaya county on January 14, 2023. [Collins Oduor, Standard]

In his visit to the region, all the elected ODM MPs welcomed Ruto. In return, the president gave them an audience to share with him the development plans they want the national government to deliver.

While he gave residents assurances of his intent not to sideline any region in development in public, The Sunday Standard established that he gave the leaders his word on working with them to deliver development in a closed-door meetings held in Siaya, Homa Bay and Kisumu.

Speaking in Siaya, Ruto urged residents to work with the Government for purposes of development and said that there is only one government in the country.

"There is no other government apart from this one. This is your government and you should support it. We are going to work for the people of Kenya without bias," said Ruto.

While addressing residents at various stops, the president shared his development plan for the devolved units and declared his intentions to pursue several projects. Addressing residents in Rarieda during a thanksgiving ceremony organised by ICT CS Eliud Owalo, senior Kenya Kwanza leaders who accompanied Ruto threw their weight behind the need for togetherness.

He praised the president for opting to work with all Kenyans and assuring them that he will work with them whether they voted for him or not. His sentiments were shared with Prime Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi who said that they will not tolerate divisions and will instead focus on uniting all Kenyans.

"President has directed that we have to serve all 47 counties of this country in equal measure, despite the political affiliations. We will work together and partner," said Mudavadi.

Several leaders from Azimio la Umoja Coalition who welcomed the president including Busia Governor Paul Otuoma who vowed to work with the Government on the development front. The leaders, led by Orengo urged the residents to give the president space to work.

 President William Ruto, DP Rigathi Gachagua and Homa Bay Governor Gladys Wanga at the shores of Lake Victoria. [PPS]

"I want to assure the president that Siaya is his home as stipulated in the Constitution and he should feel free to tour any part of the county," said Orengo.

Orengo, who had earlier welcomed the president and led the area MPs in a closed-door meeting, challenged the elected leaders to focus on delivering to the people.

"As elected leaders, it is wrong for us to talk about 2027. We promised our people several things and we must ensure that we deliver for the people now. 2027 can wait," said Orengo.

Orengo, who appreciated the Constitution for allowing the county governments to work with the national government, said Kenya is one nation where no one should build borders or walls.

In the spirit of peace and brotherhood, the governor called on the president to sit down with Azimio One Kenya leader Raila.

"The elections are over and for the good of Kenyans and in the spirit of the handshake, kindly bring our party leader on the table," he said.

Alego Usonga MP Atandi applauded the Head of State for visiting the county, saying presidency is a symbol of national unity.

"We're going to ensure that we play our part by checking the Government faithfully," said Atandi.

His Suba South counterpart Caroli Omondi also urged the elected leaders to work for the people.

"The election of President William Ruto marks a generational change and we are promising to work with you as well as holding the Government to account," said Omondi.

[Stories by Harold Odhiambo, Isaiah Gwengi and Olivia Odhiambo]

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