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How General Ogolla's departure hampers Ruto bid to win over hearts in lake region

President William Ruto and the late Chief of Defence Forces General Francis Ogolla at State House in April 2023. [PSCU]

President William Ruto is facing a herculean task to infiltrate ODM leader Raila Odinga's backyard and entrench his influence in a stubborn political base that has been a fruitless hunting ground for past presidents.

Although the president has made significant strides through his soft handshake with Raila and relentless inroads by his troops through the United Democratic Alliance (UDA) party, his incursions have suffered a blow following the demise of Chief of Defence Forces Francis Ogolla.

At the time of his death, General Ogolla was the appointee from the region holding the highest position in Ruto's administration.

In fact, the president and his allies were vocal about Ogolla's appointment as part of a strategy to convince the region that he holds it at the heart of his administration.

The president's situation in Nyanza is compounded further by the stalled projects his administration had hoped to deliver to the region to transform its economy.

They include the construction of Koru Soin dam, the revival of small ports and the construction of a fisheries research centre in Kano which have all stalled.

In his visits to the region, since he was elected in 2022, Ruto has been keen to market political appointments from the region as he rallied Nyanza to back his presidency.

It remains to be seen if he will consider another gallant expert from the region to head a senior position in his government to replace the departed Ogolla.

The strategy he adopted to win over Nyanza is a stark contrast to past presidents who never considered top political appointments from the region. Some of them even sidelined top qualified experts in the military to consider other regions.

Some observers believe the president will have to make another top appointment from the region or help Raila win the African Union Commission chairperson's bid to entrench his support.

They believe the demise of Ogolla has lost a nut of trust in the Kenya Kwanza government for failing to protect one of the country's most important leaders.

Communications specialist Dr Charles Nyambuga thinks Ruto will have to do more to win the confidence of the region. 

"Public opinion still has that suspicion that government was not overly careful about its own senior officer CDF Ogolla, on how it would send him on an errand such as what they were sending him to, and in a chopper that was not worth his level," saya Nyambuga.

But as this happens, Ruto's allies in the region are optimistic that he is on the right track to win over Nyanza and will change the scope of the region's politics.

UDA coordinator in Nyanza region Aggrey Otore, the coordinator in South Nyanza Kennedy Ondiek, and the acting chairman in Karachuonyo Constituency Kennedy Obuya said the death will not have any political impact on Ruto’s support from the Luo community.

“General Ogolla’s death is not associated with the politics of this country. Therefore, President Ruto’s political support is intact and the number of UDA members continues to grow daily,” Otore said.

Communication Strategist Barack Mulluka says it makes no difference one way or another, and maintains that the region does not have faith in President Ruto's regime.

"Bad things, even when there's no evidence or proof to implicate the regime, it only entrenches the absence of confidence," Mulluka says.

Raila’s allies, on the other hand, pour scorn on any prospects of the president’s missions eclipsing ODM.

According to Minority leader Opiyo Wandayi, the region remains an ODM bedrock and will not change.

Interviews with several analysts established that the president could be seeking to bank on Raila’s changing political fortunes to attempt to inherit his support base.

They claim the president could be aligning himself strategically with Nyanza because he is aware Raila’s political career is approaching its sunset years because of his age.

According to lawyer Joshua Nyamori, a political operative leading UDA drives in Kisumu, most residents are receptive to UDA ideology.

Nyamori claims that they are keen to ensure that UDA produces the next governor, senator, and Woman Representive in Kisumu.

Former Migori Governor Okoth Obado, who is the UDA Party Nyanza Regional Manager, says the party's mobilisation drive is progressing well.

"To say the truth, there is nobody who will now come up and say that he is being betrayed. There is no traitor again because it is like everybody has come to this side," Obado said.

In Siaya, however, the party has been experiencing hostility from residents. Two weeks ago, a UDA office in West Yimbo ward, Bondo sub-county was defaced by unknown people in what is suspected to be political rivalry.

The office, which was rented and freshly painted with UDA logo and colours is situated less than 20 metres away from the ODM office.

[Report by Anne Atieno, James Omoro and Olivia Odhiambo]

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