Realignments loom in Nyanza as Ruto eyes slice of Raila loyal base

President William Ruto in Homabay town. [Michael Mute, Standard]

Major political realignments are in the offing in Nyanza as President William Ruto begins to woo the region to his fold. Ruto was in Homa Bay yesterday, accompanied by several leaders who have seemingly aligned themselves with him in an area that has traditionally been a loyal support base of Azimio leader Raila Odinga.

The region boasts energetic politicians full of political ambition threatening to change the political dynamics in Nyanza and Western.

Observers say Raila’s recent election loss has given many local leaders an opportunity to chat their own paths and create a new center of power with an eye on 2021 politics. 

They include a group of young MPs, civil servants, former politicians as well as influencers who are seeking to take advantage of the exit of veteran politicians like retired governors.

The list includes Ugenya MP David Ochieng, former Kisumu Senator Fred Outa, former MPs Martin Ogindo (Rangwe), Sylvance Osele (Kabondo Kasipul), former East Africa CAS Ken Obura and former Lake Basin Development Authority chairman Odoyo Owidi. Also on the list is former Raila-aide and ICT CS nominee Eliud Owalo.

The team received Ruto in Homa Bay yesterday, signaling the beginning of a close political association with the president. And as Ruto woos local leaders to his camp, it has emerged that there is a silent war in ODM between Raila loyalists and group of politicians increasingly seen to be establishing themselves as the next political force.

Ambitious leaders

The team of younger leaders seeking to blossom in Raila’s camp include Embakasi East MP Babu Owino, a favorite among young people, and Ugunja MP Opiyo Wandayi.

Wandayi has made the first attempt to crack into a major political position by eyeing to be the majority leader in the National Assembly. His pick for the post opened a can of worms in the party, with veterans opposing the move. Among those who were interested in the seat is ODM chairman John Mbadi.

With Raila keeping his cards close to his chest, it is unclear if he will remain politically active or retire. Some local leaders have now aligned themselves with fringe parties and are keen to use them to challenge the status quo and scramble for control of the region’s power.

Yesterday, Owalo claimed President Ruto had changed the dynamics of politics and claimed they will only engage in the politics of the economy. He was among the leaders who accompanied Ruto on his first tour of Nyanza since becoming president.

Huge support

Ochieng, who got a backlash in his constituency after teaming up with Ruto, is hoping to use his Movement for Growth and Democracy party to raise the political stakes. Although his party won only a handful of seats and a single MP seat in the region, Ochieng has remained steadfast in his quest to become a key leader in a region where ODM enjoys support.

Yesterday, Ochieng welcomed Ruto in Homa Bay and spoke on behalf of the region, symbolising his rising political star. This is despite the fact that other leaders, including former Migori Governor Okoth Obado, were present.

Other leaders from the region who were with Ruto yesterday include former MPs Dalmas Otieno (Rongo), Jared Kopiyo (Awendo), Nicholas Gumbo (Rarieda), Mathias Robi (Kuria West MP) and Marwa Kitayama of Kuria East.

According to Professor Eric Nyambedha, a political scientist, the jostling taking place in Nyanza signal’s change.

He however says a new kingpin may emerge in the region but will require the political endorsement of Raila. “A political kingpin could be a combined product of Raila endorsement and the individual political efforts,” said Nyambedha.

Outa said he does not regret aligning himself with President Ruto. He did not defend his seat in the 2022 polls and had claimed in a past interview that he was taking a break from politics. In Kisii, several young leaders have also muscled their way to becoming a force to reckon with.

The last election dealt a blow to some of the seasoned Kisii politicians but still presented a political fortification moment for younger politicians seeking a generational change in leadership. The average age of MPs in the region is 45. Reality has hit seasoned Gusii leaders who have been in the scene for decades.

Younger leaders

The new younger leaders in Kisii include Governor Simba Arati, Sylvanus Osoro (South Mugirango MP) Anthony Kibagendi (Kitutu Chache South MP), Clive Gisairo (Kitutu Masaba) and Japhet Nyakundi of Kitutu Chache North.

In the Western, Ruto has the advantage of hi relationship with ANC and Ford Kenya in widening his influence. Political risk analyst Dismas Mokua believes Mudavadi’s role in the government gives him political power and political influence to shape national and western Kenya politics.

But Mokua adds that Mudavadi must assist President Ruto in delivering on the Kenya Kwanza manifesto “failure to do so will means that he will have challenges.”

Barrack Muluka, a political commentator, says Mudavadi requires the support of all leaders from Western.

“These leaders should be asking themselves about how they can consolidate the gains achieved and how to make Mudavadi grow,” he says.

Story is written by Harold Odhiambo, Eric Abuga, Robert Amalemba and Olivia Odhiambo