A storm is brewing in the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) party, with headquarters officials torn between supporting Governor James Ongwae and Dagoretti North Member of Parliament Simba Arati.
The two are currently embroiled in supremacy battles in Kisii. Mr Ongwae, who has the backing of his deputy Joash Maangi, Kisii Senator Prof Sam Ongeri and Woman Representative Janet Ong’era, is battling to maintain his popularity and have a say on who succeeds him.
On the other hand, Mr Arati, who has teamed up with Kitutu Chache South MP Richard Onyonka, former Kisii County ODM chairman Samuel Omwando and other party officials in the county, is fighting to dilute Ongwae’s influence, having declared his bid for governor.
Fighting for attention
In the last two months, Mr Arati has mounted a serious campaign in which he has scathingly attacked Mr Ongwae, his administration and friends, sending them back to the drawing board.
But the county leadership says it remains unmoved and that the devolved unit is still under Ongwae’s control
“We have Senator Ongeri, Ms Ong’era and my deputy Maangi here today. I’m going to ensure they work together and remain united as we gear towards the 2022 general election,” Mr Ongwae said at a recent event in his Marani hometown.
The rift between Mr Ongwae and Mr Arati has divided Chungwa House, with some officials appearing to take sides. The two leaders are seen as fighting for the attention of ODM leader Raila Odinga, and it now matters who invites him to party functions. Both are great allies of Mr Odinga and command their respective share of respect in Chungwa House.
Mr Arati has made it clear that he does not need Ongwae’s endorsement to lead Kisii.
On Monday, the Nairobi-based MP, whose rural home is in Bobasi, Onyonka and Omwando called a meeting for women at St Vincent Hall, which ODM Women League president Betty Syengo attended .
Last Thursday, the Dagoretti North MP took Mr Onyonka, Mr Omwando, who after the 2017 polls moved his support to Deputy President William Ruto, former MPs Simon Ogari and Robert Monda and over 50 people, mostly aspirants, to Chungwa House where they defected from their respective parties to ODM.
Mr Odinga received the group and other top ODM officials. Notably, however, the entire Kisii County ODM leadership was absent, with sources indicating they were unhappy that ‘disloyal’ members were coming back to ‘overshadow’ them.
But ODM deputy party leader and Kakamega governor Wycliffe Oparanya, accompanying Governor Ongwae in Kisii on Sunday, said everyone, including defectors, is welcome to the party as they want to see ODM grow.
He told aspirants not to defect, assuring them of equal chances to prove their case. “We don’t want aspirants to spend a lot of their money during nominations. That is why ODM has come up with four methods of choosing its candidates,” Mr Oparanya said, assuring of free and fair nominations.
Mr Oparanya was hosted by Mr Ongwae for a fundraiser for Entanda PAG Church.
Prof Ongeri, Ms Ong’era, Mr Maangi, Mr Onyonka and Kitutu Chache North MP Jimmy Angwenyi were present, as were governors Wilber Ottichilo (Vihiga) and Alex Tolgos (Elgeyo Marakwet) .
Ms Syengo, addressing the County ODM Women League, said Arati has been a committed ODM foot soldier over the years and wished him well in his governorship bid.
“The ODM National Election Board is committed to ensuring that we have free, fair and credible nominations so that we may clinch as many elective seats as possible across the country during next year’s general election,” Ms Syengo said.