Battle for Nyanza: Inside President Ruto’s plan to checkmate Raila Odinga

President William Ruto (left) and Azimio leader Raila Odinga. 

President William Ruto (left) and Azimio leader Raila Odinga.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

President William Ruto is on an overdrive to make inroads into Azimio leader Raila Odinga’s Nyanza backyard and was set to visit the region this Saturday, barely a week after the former premier hosted a two-day mega event to secure his turf.

President Ruto was supposed to visit Homa Bay on July 8 for the thanksgiving ceremony of Interior Principal Secretary Dr Raymond Omollo, but the meeting was postponed to July 15 due to other engagements.

He will then return for another meeting in Gem, Siaya County, on August 5.

On Sunday, Dr Omollo confirmed that his ceremony “will take place on July 15”.

The President has tapped key government officials from the region to do his bidding, with a series of development programmes and fund-raisers planned in a bid to water down Mr Odinga’s influence.

The President’s men leading the onslaught are Dr Omollo and ICT Cabinet Secretary Eliud Owalo.

Mr Odinga last Friday and Saturday presided over the Piny Luo Extravaganza (Luo Nation Extravaganza) in Homa Bay County, a ceremony that brought together members of the community with a clarion call for unity.

Coming at a time when President Ruto is keen to win over his bastion, several speakers at the event including Luo Nyanza governors James Orengo (Siaya), Gladys Wanga (Homa Bay) and Ochillo Ayacko (Migori) called for unity and support for Mr Odinga.

But despite the calls for unity, President Ruto’s allies have vowed to push the community to work with the government, promising more goodies for the area.

Dr Omollo said the government is committed to implementing several development projects in the region. “We joined the Mbita High School community... for a fundraising drive and ground-breaking ceremony for an ultra-modern computer laboratory. The drive, as part of many other development projects planned for the region, raised Sh20 million for the proposed project,” said Dr Omollo during the Friday event.

Dr Omollo was accompanied by ODM rebel MPs Gideon Ochanda (Bondo), Elisha Odhiambo (Gem), Caroli Omondi (Suba South), Felix Odiwuor (Lang'ata) and Prof Tom Ojienda (Kisumu senator) at the event which ran parallel to Mr Odinga’s function at Homa Bay High School.

Mr Odhiambo told Daily Nation that the President is always welcome in the region.

“We have told our people that it’s time for development and that is why we are working with the government to ensure Nyanza’s economic revival,” Mr Odhiambo said.

He said the President has expressed his willingness to work with local leaders and residents to achieve meaningful development.

This is the first time in Mr Odinga’s political history that he has faced open hostility from many leaders — including those elected on his ODM party ticket — in his backyard.

Other elected leaders who are openly supporting President Ruto’s administration are MPs Mark Nyamita (Uriri), Paul Abuor (Rongo) and David Ochieng' (Ugenya).

Some former ODM governors and MPs in Nyanza have also switched allegiance to President Ruto. They include former governors Jack Ranguma (Kisumu), Okoth Obado (Migori), Evans Kidero (Nairobi) and former Siaya governorship aspirant Nicholas Gumbo. Former MPs include Fred Outa (Kisumu senator), Rose Nyamunga (Kisumu Woman Rep) and former MPs Edick Anyanga (Nyatike) and Augustine Neto (Ndhiwa).

Others are former MPs Silvance Osele (Kabondo Kasipul), Martin Ogindo (Rangwe), Ochieng Daima (Nyakach), Jared Opiyo (Awendo) and former chairman of the Lake Basin Development Authority Odoyo Owidi.

Mr Ogindo said the community has lagged behind in terms of development owing to opposition politics. “We are used to being in the opposition, a post that doesn't exist in our Constitution, and it is high time we reconsider our stance on the government and start working closely with President Ruto,” he said.

The President’s United Democratic Alliance (UDA) has stepped up its membership recruitment drive, targeting at least 300,000 members in Nyanza.

UDA officials from the Luo Nyanza counties have been on an intensive member listing over the past two months, with UDA Secretary-General Cleophas Malala presiding over the opening of party offices. Dr Omollo and Mr Owalo have also been hosting various delegations in Nyanza to persuade locals to work with the government.

UDA Kisumu County chairman Clive Natome said: “We want Nyanza to be the support base of President Ruto by ensuring that we recruit as many members as possible ahead of the 2027 elections.” 

In Homa Bay, UDA has conducted recruitment drives and opened branches in most of the eight sub-counties. 

However, ODM Political Affairs director Opiyo Wandayi says the political rebellion in the former PM’s backyard will be crushed.

Mr Odinga’s lieutenants have vowed to continue their rallies across the region in a bid to overturn any gains made by President Ruto’s allies. 

Mr Odinga last week suffered a setback after Kenya Kwanza senators outnumbered his lieutenants to save Siaya Deputy Governor William Oduol from impeachment during a vote in the House.

 Today, the ODM leader is expected to meet Siaya MCAs at the assembly chambers in what is seen as a move to reassure them of his support amid rebellion against them from the public over wrangles in the county.