Deputy President William Ruto’s naming of Rigathi Gachagua as his running mate put paid to any hopes that ANC leader Musalia Mudavadi would be the chosen one.
When Mudavadi’s Amani National Congress and Moses Wetangula’s Ford-Kenya joined the Ruto-led United Democratic Alliance (UDA) to form Kenya Kwanza coalition, the prospect looked probable.
Internal jostling and hard bargain led to Mudavadi being promised the position of prime Cabinet secretary and Wetang'ula that of Senate Speaker. But as often happens during any bargain, there is a catch.
In exchange for a 30 per cent share of a Ruto-led government, Mudavadi and Wetang'ula were tasked with delivering 70 per cent of Luhya votes to Kenya Kwanza.
While this appears a tall order, Mudavadi and Wetang'ula are convinced it is doable, and they will deliver. Early this week, Mudavadi was upbeat, and said: “Wetang'ula and I have consolidated Western Kenya. We shall deliver not just 70, but 90 per cent.”
Ford-K leader Moses Wetangula says ANC and his party will deliver. “We gave Raila 90 per cent of Luhya votes in 2013 and 2017. Those votes will move with us wherever we go. Between Tuesday and today (Friday) we have held 24 rallies, town hall meetings and meetings in the villages. We are working round the clock and we shall deliver.”
Their optimism is however negated by Prof Egara Kabaji of Masinde Muliro University who says that it will not be easy for Mudavadi and Wetangula to deliver 70 per cent of the Luhya vote. Kabaji says the Luhyas do not lay too much stock in the tribe. “Western Kenya people cannot be herded like sheep. Each candidate knows he will get a share of the votes if they play their cards right.”
Political analyst Barrack Muluka also weighed in on the matter. “Western Kenya remains a high price competition space. Raila is claiming to have control of the region while Mudavadi and Wetang'ula want to ring fence it. In coming days, you will see Azimio and Kenya Kwanza deploy teams all over Western to outdo each other.”
A number of things stand in the way of Mudavadi and Wetang'ula delivering 70 per cent of the Luhya vote. Early this year, ANC lost to Azimio four lieutenants who would have assisted Mudavadi in his task.
MPs Tindi Mwale (Butere), Christopher Aseka (Khwisero), Titus Khamala (Lurambi) and Oscar Nabulindo (Matungu) decamped. This is significant because in 2017 elections, ANC won 11 seats against ODM's eight. Then, Mudavadi supported Raila's bid under Nasa and Raila got 1,186,379 votes in Western, up from the 755,525 he got in 2013.
A number of Luhya voters feel betrayed after Mudavadi cast his lot with Ruto and reneged on his promise to go all the way to the ballot.
Kenya Kwanza’s team on the ground comprises Kakamega Senator Cleophas Malala and former Senator Boni Khalwale who appear to be working at cross-purposes. There have been instances when Khalwale spoke against Malala in rallies.
Khalwale had shown interest in Kakamega governor seat but changed his mind to run for Senate on a Kenya Kwanza ticket.
The four governors in Western, Wycliffe Oparanya (Kakamega), Wilberforce Ottichilo (Vihiga), Wycliffe Wangamati (Bungoma) and Sospeter Ojaamong (Busia) belong to Azimio. With their resources and a campaign team for Azimio under the command of Oparanya, Mudavadi and Wetang'ula are up against a tough challenge.
Navakholo MP Emmanuel Wangwe scoffs at the idea of ANC and Ford-K getting 70 per cent of the Luhya votes. “Mudavadi and Wetangula were taken for a ride. No matter what they do, they cannot raise 70 per cent of Luhya votes. The small crowds Mudavadi attracts tell their own story. When Baba (Raila) was in Vihiga, the number of people welcoming him was overwhelming.”
The elusive quest for Luhya unity could also work against the duo. When Mudavadi and Wetang'ula shunned the December 31, 2021 Luhya unity meeting at Bukhungu stadium, a perception was created that they are stumbling blocks.
There is also emergence of Wafula Wamunyinyi’s Democratic Action Party (DAP) that is allied to Azimio. It has eaten into areas where Ford-K held sway for years.
Muluka is confident Mudavadi and Wetangula can deliver at least 60 per cent in Kakamega and 80 per cent in Bungoma, where Wetang'ula enjoys support and Raila has not penetrated. “Vihiga appears to be pulling in the opposite direction,” Muluka said.
According to the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), as of December 31, 2021, Kakamega had 804,735 voters, Vihiga 305,974, Busia 410,676 and Bungoma 644,366.
A positive factor in Mudavadi and Wetangula’s mission is the fact that for the first time, the populous Maragoli and Bukusu sub-tribes are working together. In past elections, they cast their votes in different baskets.
During a rally in Vihiga, Mumias East MP Benjamin Washiali said: “Now that the Maragoli and Bukusu are working together, delivering 70 per cent of the Luhya vote is not hard.''
Khwisero MP Christopher Aseka and his Shinyalu counterpart Justus Kizito said the 70 per cent target was hard to attain. "Mudavadi and Wetang’ula cannot deliver even 20 per cent and that is why the latter has decided to defend his Senate seat," said Aseka.
Kizito said Mudavadi is a national leader who should not be dictated to like DP Ruto is doing. "If Ruto was sincere, he should not have placed the 70 per cent hurdle in the way. Mudavadi must be treated with respect," said the lawmaker.