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Inside Ruto's relentless charm offensive to tilt Azimio support

Politics
 President William Ruto, DP Rigathi Gachagua, Nakuru Governor Susan Kihika, Homabay Governor Gladys Wanga, and COG chairperson Anne Waiguru with other Governors and members of the Cabinet during the second day of Kenya Kwanza retreat in Naivasha on February 20, 2024. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

President William Ruto is gaining ground in his incursions in what has traditionally been opposition strongholds as he intensifies his bid to tilt support in areas where Azimio leader Raila Odinga enjoys significant backing.

As he strategises to maintain the support he enjoyed in Mt Kenya in the 2022 General Election, observers believe he is targeting to consolidate Nyanza and Western to maintain significant nationwide support.

This is happening as those spearheading grassroots mobilisation in the two regions continue with their quest to market Kenya Kwanza’s development plans.

In Nyanza, planned development projects that the government is pursuing have evolved into an irresistible bait to lure the region to back Ruto’s administration.

The decision by Kenya Kwanza to front the ODM party leader for the African Union Commission chairperson’s bid has upset the apple cart in ways never seen before. 

Ruto’s allies are hoping to convince the region to support his regime because he is also backing Raila for the AU job.

In Nyanza, the president has heavily adopted a development-oriented approach to convince the region to support his administration and possibly his Kenya Kwanza coalition.

While some of his allies are leading mobilisation to strengthen UDA party, others are focused on fast-tracking the implementation of government projects in the region.

The political front is led by several former Raila allies who decamped to UDA. In contrast, the development front is being championed by Interior Principal Secretary Raymond Omollo and ICT Cabinet Secretary Eliud Owalo.

Last Friday, Omollo urged the region to support government programmes and stressed that the projects lined up are on course.

“The infrastructure projects are on course. The construction of Mfangano Ring Road is on course while the construction of Homa Bay pier is also on track,” said Omollo.

The PS said the projects are instrumental in improving the economy of the region and rallied political leaders to avoid rhetorics and instead focus on bringing services to the people.

His comments come at a time when Ruto has also rewarded the region with new sub-counties and divisions through a Gazette notice dated February 14, 2024.

The new sub-counties include Suba Central and Suba West while the divisions are Ruma/Kaksingiri East, Kaksingiri West, Gwassi South and Gwassi North.

In the Gem constituency, the government has created nine locations and six sub-locations while Bondo has received two divisions, two locations and four sub-locations. 

 Suba South MP Caroli Omondi welcomed the move saying it will take government services closer to the people. 

Former Migori Governor Okoth Obado, a close ally of Ruto and coordinator of UDA for Nyanza, says that the region has already has started warming up to Ruto.

He argues that lobbying for the AU job is just the icing on the cake that the president has already baked in his efforts to gain ground in the region.

“People are now becoming more realistic. They are now beginning to see that the journey to Canaan will not be there,” Obado says.

He thinks that there are a large number of people who are still living in denial when it comes to lobbying for Raila’s AU bid.

Softer landing

“There is a very conscious or a mischievous effort from some people in ODM itself who are now asking their MPs and other political leaders allied to them that Raila does not need Kenya Kwanza in his bid for AU chairmanship,” Obado says.

 “Raila’s success at the AU depends on 100 per cent of the goodwill of Ruto,” he adds.

Constitutional lawyer and political analyst Bruce Odey says Ruto’s backing for Raila’s bid is likely to give him a softer landing in Luo Nyanza regardless of whether he gets the seat or not.

 “So this will be a new chapter of a relationship between Ruto’s government and the Luo Nyanza. If Raila eventually clinches the position, then he will have to return the favour by probably even campaigning for Ruto’s second term in 2027,” Odeny says.

 He likens it to the handshake between Raila and Uhuru Kenyatta that changed the negative perception the region had on the then president.

According to lawyer Joshua Nyamori, the decision by Ruto to back Raila for the AU commission bid has robbed his troops of some of their weapons against the president and UDA. 

 “Previously, UDA leaders met hostile reception everywhere and ODM leaders called for UDA adherents to be shunned, attached, and sanctioned. Right now things are different,” says Nyamori.

A section of analysts believe this could be the ultimate game-changer to win over the support of the region to back his presidency and his ultimate reelection bid in 2027.

“President Ruto is focused on gaining ground in Nyanza and Western. Enabling Raila to ascend to AU chair is only going to bolster his campaigns there and will hopefully endear him to the people,” says Mark Bichachi, a political analyst.

 According to government insiders, the president will pitch tent in Nyanza in the next two weeks to unveil a number of projects in the region.

He is expected to visit Homa Bay tomorrow but the plans are yet to be confirmed.

 Some analysts, however, opine that Ruto still has a tall order to convince the region to back his administration.

 In Western, Prime Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi and Sabatia MP Clement Siloya have been popularising President William Ruto and the ruling coalition.

 Mudavadi has made it clear that he will back President Ruto in the 2027 General Electionsand rallied locals in his Vihiga home turf to support the president and his government.

Shifted allegiance 

Interestingly, several MCAs have shifted allegiance to Kenya Kwanza giving the ruling coalition support of 23 out of 36 in the Vihiga County Assembly

Leader of the minority in the Assembly Vincent Atsiaya now wants Speaker Chris Omulele to declare Kenya Kwanza the majority side in the House.

 But area Senator Godfrey Osotsi said the confusion in the Assembly leadership could be the work of dark forces determined to kill devolution.

 He has dismissed claims that Kenya Kwanza is gaining ground in the region and believes the case in Vihiga is isolated.

 “The MCAs should not let those out to kill devolution and oversight by hiding behind Kenya Kwanza and Azimio’s success,” said Osotsi.

 In Busia, former Governor Sospeter Ojaamong and Teso South MP Mary Emase have been drumming support for President Ruto, who has been a regular visitor in the county.

 Ojaamong has urged locals to support the president, arguing that Raila will not be on the ballot in 2027.

 “I have decided to join UDA party and work with President Ruto because I want my people to be in government for them to benefit,” said Ojaamong.

National Assembly Speaker Moses Wetang’ula has ensured his Bungoma turf remains in government.

Sweeteners 

 In Kakamega, Governor Fernandes Barasa has been leading an ODM charge to stop Kenya Kwanza from claiming the opposition stronghold.

ODM deputy party leader Wycliffe Oparanya is also leading a similar charge and maintains that the incursions of Kenya Kwanza in the region has not affected the strength of ODM party.

 Barrack Muluka, a communication consultant, opines that Luo Nyanza is difficult to lure with sweeteners.

“If the perception is that Raila is being removed from the Kenyan political arena to make politics easy for Ruto in 2027, the president is likely to run into political headwinds,” says Muluka.

He believes that Ruto could be losing ground in some of the areas that supported him in 2022 and is probably targeting to merge Western and Nyanza to make up for his losses, especially in Mt Kenya.

“This kind of strategy is likely to be costly. Other formations are also possible and they can mess up Ruto. He had best find out why he is losing traction on his 2022 base and fix it,” adds Muluka.

[Report by Harold Odhiambo, Brian Kisanji, Anne Atieno and Olivia Odhiambo]

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