President William Ruto has mounted a counterattack against the bullish opposition coalition that is determined to discredit his government by disavowing its legitimacy.
The president has been wooing lawmakers from the rival ODM and Jubilee political parties, who he hosts at State House before unveiling them in a photo-op that he relishes for showing off their newly struck camaraderie.
Political scientist Amukoa Anangwe reckons that Ruto is trying his best to cope with the unfolding political situation. “He knows the best way to pull the rug from under the feet of Raila and his team is to weaken him by taking away the foot soldiers,” says Prof Anangwe.
It is a strategy that works because it is the foot soldiers and not generals who fight wars. By raiding for MPs, he creates the perception that Azimio la Umoja is in shambles.
Prof Anangwe argues that this is the best way of countering the Azimio rallies because the alternative is stop them and cause a national and international uproar.
So the idea is to let Raila and his allies vent their anger and frustration, which earns Ruto marks as a democratic leader who does not curtail basic freedoms.
Ruto's political maneuvering began three weeks ago when he hosted key Jubilee MPs from Mt Kenya led by Kanini Kega (East African Legislative Assembly) and Sabina Chege (Nominated) in the company of Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua.
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Other Jubilee MPs who attended the January 23 meeting at State House, Nairobi, were David Kiaraho (Ol Kalou), Irene Njoki (Bahati), Mark Mwenje (Embakasi West), Amos Mwago (Starehe), Zachary Kwenya (Kinangop), Shadrack Mwiti (South Imenti), Daniel Karitho (Igembe Central), Stanley Muthama (Lamu West), and Joseph Githuku (Lamu).
But Ruto caused tremors in ODM on Tuesday when he hosted nine MPs from Raila’s Nyanza backyard, among them Gideon Ochanda who represents the Azimio leader’s rural Bondo constituency.
Others were Senator Tom Ojienda (Kisumu), Mark Nyamita (MP, Uriri), Job Owino (Awendo), Elisha Odhiambo (Gem), Caroli Omondi (Suba North), Shakeel Shabir (Independent MP, Kisumu East), Felix Jalang’o (Lang'ata) and Paul Abuor (Rongo).
The lawmakers received a tongue-lashing for going to State House without the blessing of the party and its leadership. Among those who were critical of the daylight dalliance were governors Anyang' Nyong’o (Kisumu) and James Orengo (Siaya).
Prof Nyong’o tweeted that he was "not surprised that an amalgam of self-seeking MPs went to State House without the blessing of our progressive party the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM)."
Mr Orengo also disassociated himself from the visit, describing it as "personal and not sanctioned by any of their official ODM party organs."
Apparently feeling the heat, Jalang’o responded that Ruto personally called him to attend the meeting at State House.
“We discussed the projects that the president promised to launch when he visited Nyanza last month,” he tweeted.
It may be true that the MPs are intent on advancing the development agenda, hence their keenness to work with the government instead of attending opposition rallies.
But they must also be aware of the political consequences of going against the party leader, and the perception created that the visit was for personal gain.
Only two MPs, David Ochieng (Ugenya)-who didn’t attend the meeting-and Mr Shabir, have been elected on a ticket other than ODM.
This is mainly because Ochieng’s Ugenya has different demographics compared to other constituencies in Luo Nyanza, where going against Raila is considered political suicide.
A large number of voters in Ugenya are Luhya and Ochieng himself is a fluent speaker of the language. Shabir has succeeded in Kisumu Town East largely because of his deep resources.
Political analyst Martin Andati predicts that the intrigues between Ruto and Raila will get more convoluted because it appears the president’s intentions are to cannibalise the opposition.
Mr Andati says Ruto is applying the tactics he used from 2018 to dismantle Jubilee by deploying his resources to entice boda boda riders and mama mboga.
“He has the goodies to give around but it is going to be murky because Raila does not need the MPs to mobilise the masses, especially in Azimio strongholds,” says Andati.
So when they visit places like Mavoko on Friday, Azimio will just need Kalonzo Musyoka’s ground troops to mobilise, whether Machakos Governor Wavinya Ndeti approves or not.
The same applies to their meeting in Busia on Sunday, where, because of Raila’s fanatical support, Governor Paul Otuoma’s word may not count for much whether he attends or not.
While Ruto has managed to dismantle Azimio in Parliament and create the impression that Raila has lost control, the Azimio leader will only be more determined to go straight to the masses.
Both leaders appear to have flicked the campaign mode switch and Ruto will not sit pretty and give the opposition a head start.
“The president knows Raila is campaigning and targeting 2027. And just like he did with Uhuru, Ruto wants to stay ahead and will therefore not be left behind,” says Andati.
Kenyans therefore will have to wait and see how the brewing battle will impact on State programmes and Kenya Kwanza’s performance.
Meanwhile, Azimio MPs like George Aladwa will find themselves in awkward positions when the president visits their constituencies to launch projects.
Ruto is today expected to launch the affordable housing project in Makadara and Mr Aladwa will be expected to receive him.
Aladwa and Babu Owino are behind the Azimio rallies in Nairobi and they have been heavily critical of the Ruto administration.
Another analyst, Gitile Naituli of Multi-Media University, however, thinks both sides are doing fairly well in their political strategy and they should continue without raising a lot of fuss.
“Let Azimio continue with their barazas (meetings) and the president also go ahead with his programmes. But eventually politicians will go where the public is,” says Prof Naituli.
While the analyst foresees Azimio conducting the meetings all the way to 2027 if they can mobilise enough resources, he thinks they will not succeed if Kenya Kwanza manages to improve the economy and livelihoods.
“Ruto will use every trick to undermine them as they enjoy their right to politic, but that is why we should love our country. We look chaotic but we are organized in our politics."
The Azimio MPs are caught between a rock and a hard place; they will be asked what they did for the people yet they cannot afford to annoy Raila on whose goodwill they were elected.
But as things stand, Ruto has the leverage to dispense patronage and he will continue having the upper hand as long as the MPs are under pressure to deliver.
As the president works with the MPs, they will also be expected to reciprocate by supporting his agenda because mkono mtupu haulambwi.