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How ODM plans to lock out Ruto out of Nyanza

POLITICS
By Harold Odhiambo and Eric Abuga | March 21st 2021

Kisii Deputy Governor's father Abel Gongera burial in Bomachoge constituency. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

Deputy President William Ruto is facing a daunting task in his quest to make inroads in Nyanza, the backyard of Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) leader Raila Odinga, ahead of next year's General Election.

Luo Nyanza has been steadfast behind the opposition chief since his first stab at the presidency in 1997.

The ODM chief has always been able to effortlessly rally the region to back his bid and political decisions despite disgruntlement from a section of former allies in the region where campaigning against Raila has been like a ticket to “political oblivion.”

Even though there have been pockets of disquiet from some members who ditched his Orange party but still with ambitions for political seats, they have still supported Raila’s ambitions.

His influence has also played a key role in swaying the Gusii vote to his side, although he now faces a stiff competition from the DP who has won some allies in Gusii region.

In Nyanza, save for 2013 when Migori Governor Okoth Obado beat ODM while riding on little-known People’s Democratic Party (PDP), the Orange party has held all the six gubernatorial seats in Nyanza and won a majority of the other posts.

And this is the narrative the Ruto team is burning the midnight oil as it strategies on how to solve the jigsaw puzzle of “Raila’s politics” that has dominated Nyanza politics for more than two decades.

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In the past, presidential hopefuls who Raila has competed with have managed only few votes from his Nyanza backyard.

The Sunday Standard has established that the DP is working on a robust plan to penetrate Raila’s backyard ahead of the 2022 elections.

Controversial primaries

At the core of Ruto’s forays in Nyanza is former Raila’s aide Eliud Owalo as well as a host of politicians who decamped from ODM after controversial party primaries.

A number of youth and opinion leaders have also joined Ruto’s political fold and are leading an underground grassroots mobilisation for the DP in a bid to gain grassroots support. They are also laying ground for Ruto’s first political tour in the region.

Although it is still unclear when the DP will visit Nyanza, a number of his supporters told Sunday Standard that they have started grassroots mobilisation for him.

In the past, Ruto has given Kisumu, Siaya and Homa Bay a wide berth and has only been visiting neighbouring Kisii and Nyamira.

Yesterday, a senior official involved in the attempt to crack Raila’s backyard told Sunday Standard that the strength of their mobilisation for the DP will give Ruto a greenlight to make his first political tour in the region.

“We have been doing grassroots mobilisation and we are confident that he will get the much needed support from Nyanza,” said the official.

The allies of the DP have been relying on the “Hustler vs Dynasty” narrative in a bid to tilt the region’s love for Raila.

The United Democratic Alliance (UDA) party linked to the DP has also started spirited attempts to recruit members in Raila’s backyard in an attempt to undermine the ODM leader.

John Odenyo, the secretary of the Nyanza Youth Movement for Ruto 2022, said they have been undertaking recruitment for UDA.

In the Kisumu North ward by-election, the team failed to agree on an aspirant to fly UDA ticket which had been part of their attempt to test its entry in Nyanza.

“In the next two weeks, we will be visiting various sub-counties in Kisumu to recruit more members for UDA. We have received several calls from people keen on joining the party,” said Odenyo.

He, however, admits that penetrating the Luo Nyanza voting bloc is not a walk in the park or a job for the faint-hearted.

However, it is too early to gauge whether their efforts will bear fruit as ODM party also readying itself for party polls and has started strengthening its house.

Part of Raila’s party’s efforts to lock out Ruto and other opponents from his backyard include luring his former diehard soldiers who decamped the party in 2013 and 2017.

ODM Director of Political Affairs Opiyo Wandayi has been tasked by the party leader to convince the former members to return to the Orange party and is among the lieutenants charged with strengthening the party.

Already, the party has made a major stride by reaching out to members like Raila’s cousin Jakoyo Midiwo, former MPs Nicholas Gumbo (Rarieda) and Oyugi Magwanga (Kasipul).

Others like Ford Kenya’s Olago Aluoch and Shakeel Shabbir (Independent) have vowed to back Raila even if they do not return to his Orange party.

But it is in Gusii and Migori where Ruto could make a breakthrough in his quest to infiltrate a region where Raila has enjoyed a lot of support in the past general elections.

In Migori, support for Raila in the Kuria region has been shaky. This was evident in the 2017 General Election where Jubilee party managed to infiltrate and bag two constituencies.

Prior to the ban on political rallies, the DP had planned an onslaught in Kuria with an aim of convincing the region to back him.

A similar scenario was also witnessed in Gusii region where ODM failed to win a single parliamentary seat.

Although President Uhuru played a huge role in winning the Gusii vote and wrestling part of it from Raila, his potential fallout with Ruto has not hampered the DP’s attempt to make inroads in the region.

But Raila has not left Ruto to run the show, if the recent results in the Kiamokama by-election in Kisii is to go by. The ODM chief unleashed his Gusii battalion consisting of governor Ongwae, Woman Representative Janet Ongera and Senator Sam Ongeri to deliver the seat.

ODM won the seat, with the UDA candidate coming a distant sixth with 491 votes.

Two formations

Ford Kenya Deputy Party leader Richard Onyonka explains that Gusii region, which is part of Nyanza, might once again have two political formations in 2022.

“We must rethink our political direction. Raila has an advantage than any other presidential candidate. He is a constant in Nyanza politics as he controls almost 90 per cent of votes in Nyanza,” Onyonka said.

Although Raila is yet to officially declare he will vie for the presidency in 2022, his handlers insist he will be in the race. Ruto has, however, indicated he will seek the top seat.

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