Opposition leader Raila Odinga has stepped up a charm offensive, hosting politicians from across the political divide. They have included those who are fleeing Deputy President William Ruto’s camp, with the ODM leader’s allies saying he is cobbling a new alliance to shore up his quest to succeed President Uhuru Kenyatta.
Raila has in the last couple of months been holding a series of a high-profile meetings that have resulted in politicians who were hitherto his sworn critics switching alliances.
The meetings at his Capitol Hill offices and Karen home have triggered speculation that the former premier could be putting in place regional kingpins to push his possible presidential bid in 2022.
Since his March 9, 2018 handshake with President Uhuru Kenyatta, Raila appears to be succeeding in penetrating Central and other regions that did not previously support his bid, and converted some of his former political foes into dependable foot soldiers.
Some of the high-profile political figures who have switched camps and declared their backing for Raila include Devolution Cabinet Secretary Eugene Wamalwa, Mandera Governor Ali Roba, embattled Kirinyaga Governor Anne Waiguru, Laikipia Woman Rep Cate Waruguru and Laikipia North MP Sarah Korere.
Others are Lands Chief Administrative Secretary Gideon Mung’aro and Suleiman Shahbal, a 2017 Mombasa Jubilee gubernatorial candidate.
Allies of the Opposition supremo yesterday talked of a double-pronged strategy of isolating his main rival Ruto, while bringing on board influential political figures ahead of an impending referendum and 2022 General Election.
National Assembly Minority Whip Junet Mohammed and Ugunja MP Opiyo Wandayi – another close ally of Raila – said the country should expect a united front ahead of the two events.
Central Organisation of Trade Unions (Cotu) Secretary General Francis Atwoli said they are pulling out all the stops to have Ruto isolated, even within his Rift Valley backyard.
Atwoli has been instrumental in spearheading the herding of Western politicians to support Uhuru and Raila’s political agenda.
He has also been accused of fomenting political dissent in Ford Kenya that resulted in the recent coup against party leader Moses Wetang'ula by a faction backing the Uhuru and Raila-led Building Bridges Initiative (BBI).
“I can tell you that Western Kenya is now a closed chapter and is solidly behind Uhuru and Raila,” said Atwoli.
“Those still sitting on the fence have to make up their minds about where they belong before it is too late. It is either you are backing the BBI or you are with Ruto. Ruto cannot be an alternative for the Western region, and I have said it on more than one occasion that he (Ruto) will not be president in 2022.”
Junet said politics was not about friendship or enmity, but interests, and added that more political leaders were already lining up to join the BBI brigade.
“The agenda of uniting the country requires bringing everybody on board. We expect more people to join the team. This will be the biggest political wave in bringing the country together,” he said.
Wandayi added that winning back perceived adversaries and maintaining friends has always been the nature of Raila’s politics.
“Bringing people together is in line with his long-held vision of uniting the country. He never tires from reaching out to friends and perceived adversaries. Over time, he has developed into a political institution that attracts many political figures,” said the legislator.
He added that some of those who close ranks with Raila sometimes do so for their own interests and thereafter ditch him.
In efforts to woo North Eastern politicians, Raila has had four meetings with Roba and another with Mandera MPs, both from Jubilee and the Economic Freedom Party (EFP).
“Today I met Raila Odinga and Senator (James) Orengo for a consultative meeting on a number of issues, including continued partnership in politics, and sought his advice on a number of other issues relating to governance and networking,” Roba said after the Thursday’s meeting at Raila’s Karen home.
Sources at the meeting that took close to two hours disclosed that the leaders discussed the pending referendum and how the region should rally its residents to back it.
“They discussed how they can forge a political partnership going forward to the referendum and 2022 polls,” said the source who was at the meeting.
It is reported that following the meeting, Roba convened a meeting with a majority of North Eastern political leaders and rallied them to support Uhuru and Raila’s agenda of changing the Constitution, as well as the Big Four Agenda of the Jubilee administration.
Roba has been one of Ruto’s strong supporters in a region where a majority of MPs were elected on either Jubilee or EFP, an affiliate of the ruling party, tickets.
In Western Kenya, Raila is in the race to prop up Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya, CS Wamalwa and other new faces to take up the positions of Bungoma Senator Moses Wetang'ula and Amani National Congress leader Musalia Mudavadi, his partners in the National Super Alliance (NASA).
On May 22, Raila held a consultative meeting on “matters of national importance” with Wamalwa, who was accompanied by MPs Eseli Simiyu and Wafula Wamunyinyi.
Eseli and Wamunyinyi are the ring leaders in an effort to kick Wetang'ula out of the helm of Ford Kenya.
Eseli said yesterday they plan to have the party fully back BBI and the pending referendum. He accused Wetang'ula of double dealing.
“Wetang'ula has been attending BBI rallies and even submitted views before the task force. But his behaviour is otherwise,” said Eseli.
He said once they resolve the raging dispute on the party leadership, they would lead party organs in supporting a referendum.
“We will also put before the party organs what our plans are for 2022. We have to be at the decision-making table in the running of this country,” Eseli said.
Currently, Oparanya, Wamalwa and Bungoma Governor Wycliffe Wangamati have been spearheading unity of the region after they were installed as the spokespersons of the Luhya community at a meeting hosted by Atwoli.
But Kimilili MP Didmus Barasa, a Ruto ally, yesterday dismissed the pro-handshake team, saying they were to blame for the region’s underdevelopment.
“If the Western region is undeveloped, then Eugene Wamalwa, who has been a CS for 15 years now, takes a huge chunk of blame for this. We all know that development agenda are always conceived at the Cabinet where he sits. He always meets the president during Cabinet meetings,” charged Barasa.
“The three musketeers in the name of Oparanya, (Busia Governor Sospeter) Ojaamong and Eugene, spare us these theatrics.”
In Central, Waiguru has in a previous interview indicated that the region was ready to back a Raila presidency, stating that a wind of political change has hit central Kenya.
“If it is Raila, he should know that the region will want a piece of his government,” Waiguru said in an exclusive interview on KTN News’ PointBlank show.
Waruguru last week also pledged loyalty, declaring support for the unity deal between Uhuru and Raila. She had been one of Ruto’s vocal backers and a critic of the handshake.
“National unity is the strength that binds and inspires the people of our country.… If we let the Kenyan third generation travel in a tribal train, we’ll have lost it all,” she said.
“And as long as my people in Laikipia will benefit from government projects, I don’t mind. They are the ones that matter to me.”
At the Coast, Raila has bagged new allies in Mung’aro and Shahbal. Both unsuccessfully contested under Jubilee in 2017 against ODM candidates for Kilifi and Mombasa governor slots, respectively.
The two have held several meetings with Raila in what is perceived to be an attempt to win his backing in their 2022 second bids.
Mung’aro yesterday told The Standard that he visited Raila at his Capitol Hill offices in his capacity as Lands CAS.
“It was just to know how everything is going in the Coast region, specifically the land issues,” he said.