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Drive to enlist UDA members heats up with focus on posts

POLITICS
By Steve Mkawale and Titus Too | May 16th 2021
Kandara Member of Parliament Alice Wahome addresses a press conference in Kisii town on May 14, where UDA allied MPs claimed they are being intimidated by the Government during Bonchari by-elections campaigns. [Sammy Omingo, Standard]

Rift Valley politics is bracing for a shakeup as legislators allied to Deputy President William Ruto’s Jubilee Party prepare to jump ship to the United Democratic Alliance (UDA) Party ahead of next year’s General Election.

The Standard on Sunday has established that governors, senators, MPs and MCAs are angling for positions in the new party, which they intend to use to either seek re-election or frustrate their rivals.

The political realignment has been triggered by a falling out between President Uhuru Kenyatta and Ruto, who rode the crest of a wave of popularity in the Rift Valley to emerge victorious in the 2013 and 2017 elections.

With Ruto on record saying he may consider exiting Jubilee for UDA, whose national chairman is Johnstone Muthama, there has been manoeuvering behind the scenes to secure control of the party that has not gone down well with some of the DP’s supporters.

“We are aware of agents of disunity moving around hoodwinking people that they have the blessings of the deputy president to control affairs of UDA in counties. They have positioned people to take up positions as interim officials,” Bahati MP Kimani Ngunjiri told The Sunday Standard recently.

The MP, who is one of Ruto’s firm supporters, has been hosting delegations of elders, youth leaders and women at his Bahati home to popularise UDA and the ‘wheelbarrow’ agenda, which is aligned to Ruto’s ‘Hustler Nation’ movement.

As UDA embarks on a drive to register new members in the next two months to pave the way for elections, Mr Ngunjiri warned that political brokers are planning to hijack the party’s leadership at the grassroots. He urged Mr Muthama to ensure all party activities are done transparently as the recruitment process continues.

Nandi Senator Samson Cherargei said elected leaders from the region “are in agreement” that UDA is their party of choice in the next General Election. The UDA secretariat, he added, has already trained coordinators through a website that will be used to register members.

“We are excited over the ongoing exercise. Coordinators will do the outreach and members recruited virtually because of the prevailing Covid-19 situation. We target to register over 300,000 members in Nandi County alone,” said Mr Cherargei.

GRASSROOTS ELECTIONS

Aldai MP Cornelly Serem said the region is undergoing political change ahead of the elections. “We are planning for our next home after the Jubilee debacle. Currently, we are registering members and then hold grassroots elections. All leaders are involved.”

Uasin Gishu UDA coordinator Paul Kiprop allayed fears that some officials are receiving preferential treatment in the new outfit. He said those managing the party were doing so on a voluntary basis to mobilise support and strengthen it ahead of the elections.

“In Uasin Gisu County, Soy MP Caleb Kositany and his Kapseret counterpart Oscar Sudi are championing party issues. There are still challenges of resources and we call on UDA supporters to assist in fostering it,” Mr Kiprop said.

The Rift Valley–once a Kanu bedrock–has witnessed shifting political party allegiances in the past two decades. The region stood by ODM in 2007, URP in 2013, and Jubilee in 2017.

“The problem that leads to a transition in parties is mistrust and inconsistency in party leadership. We would not be having UDA membership registration at the moment if Jubilee was consistent and stuck to its manifesto,” said Kiprop.

Mr Sudi, one of the DP’s fiercest defenders, predicted that the Rift Valley will be ‘placed under lock and key’ by Ruto’s camp ahead of the 2022 polls. “Everyone wants to identify with UDA since it is a party with a good future. Its popularity is growing by the day. In the next five months, we will have hit even greater heights.”

In Narok County, Emurua Dikir MP Johana Ngeno said that although he was elected on a Kanu ticket, he would be the first to jump ship and join UDA. “It is an open secret that we will be moving to UDA when the time is right. I am currently busy ensuring that my constituents register as members of UDA for the June party grassroots elections.”

Besides the ongoing mass registration of members, Ruto allies have been wooing some of the deputy president’s critics in the Rift Valley to return to the fold. Former Bomet Governor Isaac Ruto has been reeled in and has been instrumental in spearheading the ‘wheelbarrow’ agenda in the South Rift region.

Close allies of the deputy president told The Sunday Standard that plans are underway to welcome back former powerful Internal Security Permanent Secretary Zakayo Cheruiyot and West Pokot Governor John Lonyangapuo.

Analysts have, however, warned that Independence-party Kanu could give UDA a run for its money. Gitile Naituli, a professor of management and leadership at Multimedia University, said there are signs party chairman Gideon Moi will enter into an alliance with like-minded leaders thus thrusting him at the centre of the Uhuru succession matrix.

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