ODM leader Raila Odinga has been meeting governors from Nyanza to plan a regional leaders’ forum in efforts to tighten his grip on the region, as divisions rocked Deputy President William Ruto’s camp in Kisii.
The meetings are efforts to consolidate Mr Odinga’s support in a region, which supported his previous presidential campaigns until the last elections, when President Kenyatta’s Jubilee made inroads that the DP has built on to rally several lawmakers from Kisii and Nyamira behind his State House bid.
However, a power struggle has erupted among the DP’s supporters in Gusii with Nyamira lawmakers now resisting the leadership of Kisii Deputy Governor Joash Maangi, who has been Dr Ruto’s pointman in the region.
Mr Maangi has represented Dr Ruto in key functions held in the region in the last two years and led several delegations to his Sugoi and Karen homes.
However, his statement that the DP’s would lose support in Gusii were President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga to endorse Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i for the presidency has infuriated Dr Ruto’s backers in Nyamira.
MPs Joash Nyamoko (North Mugirango), Shadrack Mose (Kitutu Masaba) and Vincent Kemosi (West Mugirango) said they do not want to be associated with Mr Maangi, citing his alleged flip-flopping.
The infighting among Ruto allies has spilled to their grassroots supporters, with two groups emerging in Kisii — one behind Mr Maangi and another backing South Mugirango MP Silvanus Osoro.
The deputy governor is rooting for former Kisii ODM Chairman Samuel Omwando as UDA coordinator in the region while Mr Osoro and Mr Antoney Kibagendi, who works in the office of the deputy president, are said to oppose the push.
On the back of these divisions, the ODM leader has intensified meetings with Nyanza leaders with a planned convention of all elected leaders viewed as an attempt by ODM to consolidate its grip on the region’s politics.
Nyamira Governor Amos Nyaribo (ANC) is the latest to hold talks with Mr Odinga ahead of the planned leaders’ meeting once the Covid-19 containment measures are eased.
There is a proposal for Nyamira to host the convention that will involve governors, senators, members of National Assembly, ward representatives and other leaders.
A recent reconciliation meeting involving Mr Odinga, Dr Matiang’i and Kisii Governor James Ongwae is seen as part of the efforts to smoothen the path for the major meeting.
A fortnight ago, Dr Matiang’i and Mr Ongwae, who clashed during the recent Bonchari by-election in which the ODM candidate beat Jubilee and the DP’s United Democratic Alliance (UDA) rivals, hosted Mr Odinga to a luncheon at Serena Hotel.
Dr Matiang’i was attacked by Mr Odinga and other ODM leaders following the Bonchari by-election on accusations that police were used to advance a partisan political agenda.
“What we have witnessed in the by-elections in Bonchari and Juja is an abuse of police powers and an arrogant display of impunity by a few overzealous and bellicose government functionaries,” Mr Odinga said in May after the by-elections, in his first bare-knuckle attack on the Jubilee government since his truce with President Kenyatta in 2018.
“An election process is an opportunity for the voters to express their will at the ballot and not an avenue to pursue imaginary and short-legged political interests,” Mr Odinga added.
But after the luncheon with Mr Ongwae and Dr Matiang’i, the ODM leader said they had “discussed matters of national interest and the development of the Nyanza region”.
It is after this luncheon that he met the Nyamria governor who took over leadership following the death of his predecessor John Nyagarama last December.
“Mr Odinga met Matiang’i and Ongwae two weeks ago and later called on Mr Nyaribo for a number of things. He wanted to know how he is coping and generally how Nyamira County government is faring. But the main reason for the meeting was getting all Nyanza leaders together,” said a source privy to discussions at the meeting.
Fight off Ruto’s competition
But the Nation has established that the meeting with the Nyamira governor is part of Mr Odinga’s plan to consolidate his support in Nyanza to fight off the competition from the DP.
“The former premier has realised that if Nyanza is not consolidated, political outsiders are getting room to penetrate, fight him and his handshake with President Kenyatta. He wants Nyanza to be one block to avoid people coming and dividing them,” said the source.
The ODM leader has already met other governors from Nyanza counties and he does not want anyone to be left outside, the source added.
“That is why he took a personal initiative to bring Matiang’i and Ongwae together. He is moving forward to make sure Nyanza is together and there is no room for anyone to bring divisions,” explained the official.
The Serena luncheon was also attended by Kisii Senator Sam Ongeri, Woman Rep Janet Ongera, Transport Chief Administrative Secretary Chris Obure, ODM National Treasurer Timothy Bosire and Kitutu Chache North MP Jimmy Angwenyi. Suna East MP Junet Mohamed was also present.
But as the ODM leader moved to unite warring factions, rival groups in the DP’s camp were intensifying their feud.
Nyamoko, Mose and Kemosi said their support for Dr Ruto is undivided and distanced themselves from Maangi’s statement that the DP may not get backing from the Gusii should the region produce a strong presidential candidate.
The MPs were among a delegation from Nyamira that met Dr Ruto in Nairobi on Tuesday.
But Mr Maangi has said the continued squabbling in Ruto's team will hurt their cause.
“I urge my fellow leaders in the Ruto team to stop being selfish, stop fighting each other and focus on delivering for Dr Ruto. My only problem is always telling the truth, which many people do not like,” said Mr Maangi.
Last week, the deputy governor said all politics is local and it is also about winning.
“Politics is local. In 2002, when the late Simeon Nyanchae vied for president, if you were from Gusii and you went against Mr Nyachae, you lost. Politics is about winning,” said Mr Maangi.
“Let us take the unlikely scenario that President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga endorse Dr Matiang’i for president, if you run to team up with Ruto from Gusii, you will fail,” Mr Maangi said.
But Mr Kemosi countered: “We have our own structure of operation. We are serious stakeholders in Ruto's camp and in the UDA.”
He said even though he is a Ford Kenya MP, he will join UDA at the right time.
But Mr Maangi has often had his way in politics. Sources indicate that his choice of Mr Omwando is being embraced by top UDA’s leadership.
Mr Omwando is believed to have grassroots support given that he was the ODM chairman in Kisii County and his presence in UDA signifies a “big catch”.
Lawyer Cliff Ombeta, a Ruto supporter and aspirant for the Bonchari parliamentary seat on an UDA ticket, last month revealed that the infighting in the DP’s camp forced him to independently open a party office in his constituency.
“Following the infighting in Gusii, I chose to just open an office in my Bonchari Constituency and run the affairs of UDA from there,” Mr Ombeta said.
Bomachoge Chache MP Alpha Miruka has also distanced himself from the fights in Ruto’s camp.