How William Ruto's visit to Western bloc could turn tables on Raila

That Western is in Ruto's sights is not in doubt and was evidenced by his party fielding a candidate against Ford Kenya in the just-concluded Bungoma senatorial by-election. Ford Kenya retained the seat left vacant by Moses Wetang'ula's election as National Assembly Speaker.

Ruto had deal with ANC leader Musalia Mudavadi and Wetang'ula. In exchange for their backing to get the support of their Western Kenya base, he promised 30 per cent share of his government to the region.

Mudavadi is now Prime Cabinet Secretary while Wetangula leads the legislature. For their support, the region has also got a big stake in Ruto's government, with Dr Beatrice Inyangala, Dr Edward Kisiang'ani, Susan Mang'eni and James Muhati appointed Principal Secretaries. Ababu Namwamba (Sports) and Susan Nakhumicha (Health) are also reveling in cabinet offices. For former Mumias East MP Benjamin Washiali, the region was looking at more than just positions. He said there was a benefit in being with the government that the region was keen on.

"When you are not in government you get development but it comes to you as an afterthought. You have to wait for it," Washiali said.

Some political observers believe Ruto's visit has changed the region's political trajectory going by the pronouncements and body language of Raila's point men from Western.

Looming realignments

"Look at the likes of Cotu Secretary General Francis Atwoli and his former troops and you have the answer," says Barrack Muluka, a political analyst. According to Muluka, it appears Raila's foot soldiers have already shifted their allegiance to Ruto.

Ruto returned to the region on Thursday last week, his first visit as president, after a heated campaign period.

The president hosted the region's leaders including Atwoli, Kakamega Governor Fernandes Barasa and ODM lawmakers Titus Khamala (Lurambi), Bernard Shinali (Ikolomani) and Emmanuel Wangwe of Navakholo.

During a leaders' consultative meeting at Kakamega State Lodge, the president recalled how he was forced to address supporters along Kakamega-Webuye highway after being denied entry into the iconic Bukhungu stadium during his final public rally in the run-up to the election.

But it is the subtle political shifts as more leaders from the region show willingness to work with the Kenya Kwanza government that is causing jitters in Raila's camp. Mudavadi who received Ruto at the Kakamega airstrip told residents time has come for them to abandon Raila and rally behind the president.

"We need to read the signs of times and make a decision as a people. We must realise that there is change in the direction the government is doing things. It is an opportunity for us as a people and a community to make a difference since we have been ridiculed for a long time," said Mudavadi.

He argued that Ruto has stood with the people of Western as seen in recent appointments to government.

Political analyst Dismus Mokua says Ruto's visit was critical because the president needed to appreciate the region for the impressive show in the last elections given that Western was largely in the Raila matrix.

During the elections, Kakamega, Bungoma, Vihiga, and Busia counties gave Ruto 508,361 votes against Raila's 844,175 votes.

Mr Mokua argues that the president has already fulfilled key promises to the region including appointing Mudavadi and Wetang'ula to key positions. Ruto, he says, has a high appetite for grassroots engagement and wants to engage with Kenyans in their settings. He says Ruto is a shrewd, forward-looking politician ready to take advantage of his tour to charm the region that has been in the opposition's clutches for decades.

Poll pledges

Ruto assured Western residents that his government will implement the pre-election promises.

Save for Busia Governor Paul Otuoma who was missing, other county chiefs including George Natembeya (Trans Nzoia), Wilber Ottichilo (Vihiga), Kenneth Lusaka (Bungoma) and host Governor Barasa were present during Ruto's visit.

MPs present were Malala Injendi (Malava), Benard Shinali (Ikolomani), Emmanuel Wangwe (Navakholo), Titus Khamala (Lurambi), Innocent Mugabe (Likuyani), Peter Salaysa (Mumias East), Tindi Mwale (Butere), Peter Nabulindo (Matungu), Johnson Naicca (Mumias West), Nabii Nabwera (Lugari), Christopher Aseka (Khwisero), Fredrick Lusuli Ikana (Shinyalu), Clement Sloya (Sabatia) and Dick Maungu (Luanda). Also present were Kakamega senator Boni Khalwale and Woman Rep Elsie Muhanda.

Ruto called for unity. "Elections are now behind us and what we need to focus on is the unity of purpose, especially among leaders. This is the only way we will work for our people and deliver on the development agenda," said Ruto.

He also, in a tweet, commended leaders from the region for rising above party politics and agreeing to work together.

"We salute Governors Fernandes Barasa, George Natembeya, Wilbur Ottichilo, deputy governors, Opposition MPs, MCAs and Cotu Secretary-General Francis Atwoli for rising above party politics and agreeing to walk with us in creating and expanding economic opportunities for ordinary Kenyans. We are indebted to their sacrifice and commitment to our philosophy that it is not about us but the people," Ruto tweeted.

The president's visit also came with goodies including a promise to pump funds into the revival of Mumias sugar company and identifying a strategic investor to take over its management, upgrading of Kakamega airstrip and completing the stalled Kakamega Level 6 Referral Hospital and equipping it.