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Faces behind Raila's bid to lock Ruto out of Nyanza, Western

ODM leader Raila Odinga during the Azimio La Umoja rally Kakamega chapter at Bukhungu Stadium on December 31, 2021. [Collins Oduor, Standard]

In a departure from past election campaigns, ODM leader Raila Odinga is leaving nothing to chance in securing Western and Nyanza regions in his quest to become the fifth president. 

Among the leaders Raila is relying on to deliver the western Kenya vote include career politicians, opinion shapers and influential business people.

The lieutenants have been tasked with intense voter mobilisation exercise as well as driving Raila’s Azimio la Umoja agenda.

In his ODM camp, governors Wycliffe Oparanya (Kakamega), Sospeter Ojaamong (Busia), Wilber Ottichilo (Vihiga) and Wycliffe Wangamati (Bungoma) are leading the hunt for votes for Raila in the vast Luhya land.

Oparanya, who abandoned his presidential ambitions, has been instrumental in mobilising support for Raila’s bid and recently organised the Azimio la Umoja rally a Bukhungu Stadium in Kakamega.

The decision by a group of leaders to name him as the Luhya spokesman in December during the Bhukhungu II declaration has improved his outlook and positioned him as a key point man in the region.

According to Oparanya, Azimio will prioritise consensus and field single candidates for various seats.  “It would be a different scenario if coalition partners decide to compete against each other,” he said.

There is also Defence Cabinet Secretary Eugene Wamalwa who is said to be behind the Democratic Action Part -Kenya (DAP-K), which has brought together leaders who decamped from ANC and Ford Kenya.

Wamalwa has been frequenting Kakamega and Bungoma where DAP-K continues to receive defectors.

Vihiga Senator George Khaniri and Lugari MP Ayub Savula have also quit Mudavadi’s party for Azimio.

The leaders spearheading Raila onslaught in Wetang’ula’s Bungoma backyard include Kanduyi MP Wafula Wamunyinyi, a fierce critic of Wetang’ula.

Tongaren MP Eseli Simiyu, who together with Wamunyinyi staged a coup in Ford-K in an attempt to dislodge Wetang’ula, has also been drumming up support for Raila.

“Western has new leaders who will show us the direction,” the MP told the Sunday Saturday.

The entry of former Rift Valley Regional Commissioner George Natembeya into the Azimio camp has added the firepower.

Last week, Natembeya launched his bid to lock out ANC’s Chris Wamalwa from the Trans Nzoia governor’s seat.

Another political player that Raila is pegging his hopes on is the Central Organisation of Trade Unions Secretary-General Francis Atwoli.

Atwoli has been instrumental in rallying the region to back Raila and has lured a number of leaders to join Azimio la Umoja.

In the past few weeks, he has launched scathing attacks against Mudavadi and claims he will be sent into a political oblivion after the August 9 polls.

Martin Oloo, a political commentator, feels that Mudavadi and Wetang’ula will have herculean task convincing the people of Western to support the Kenya Kwanza Alliance.

“They left behind the masses who may not want anything to do with their dalliance with DP Ruto,” argues Oloo.

According to Martin Andati, a political analyst, the ground in Western appears to be shifting fast in favour of Raila.

“ANC lawmakers from Kakamega have all defected to Azimio leaving Mudavadi without strong allies in the populous county,” said Andati.

But Wetang’ula and Mudavadi insist that they are in charge. Former Sports Cabinet Secretary Rashid Echesa, a close ally of DP Ruto, urged the dual to focus more on national politics “and leave the small issues of defectors to us.”

In Nyanza region, Raila allies have been tasked to mobilise voters and potential voters, market Raila’s development agenda, court new allies as well as countering the Deputy President William Ruto.

Three governors are set to retire in 2022 and could play a big role in the succession races including the MP and senate seats.

Cyprian Awiti (Homa Bay), James Ongwae (Kisii) and Cornel Rasanga (Siaya) are among those in the frontline marketing Raila’s bid, as is Governor Anyang’ Nyong’o’ of Kisumu, who is seeking to retain his seat.

Ongwae’s face behind ODM’s strength in the area. He is one of the most respected Gusii leaders due to his non-abrasive style of politics.

The efforts by his foot soldiers have successfully countered Deputy President William Ruto’s strategy.

His deputy Joash Maangi, who was Ruto’s point man in the region, has now returned to Raila’s corner.

Others include Dagoretti North MP Simba Arati and Siaya Senator James Orengo, who are eyeing gubernatorial seats, and Raila’s brother Oburu Oginga.

[Additional reporting by Jackline Inyanji]