What you need to know:
- Some leaders have openly embraced camps that are bitter rivals with the political parties that sponsored them to their current offices.
- With only two years to the 2022 polls, presidential contenders are only too eager to parade defectors to their camps for optics.
- It is, however, in West Pokot where political realignments have kicked up a storm.
The season of defections is here.
Politicians, especially those who lost out in the 2017 polls, are openly switching camps to position themselves for better luck in the 2022 General Election.
Some elected leaders, like Governors John Lonyangapuo (West Pokot) and Josphat Nanok (Turkana), as well as Malindi MP Aisha Jumwa, have openly embraced camps that are bitter rivals with the political parties that sponsored them to their current offices.
And with only two years to the 2022 polls, presidential contenders are only too eager to parade defectors to their camps for optics, as Deputy President William Ruto did this week as he welcomed Raila Odinga’s former campaign manager Eliud Owalo to his camp.
Mr Lonyangapuo, who was elected on a Kanu ticket, has fallen out with the independence party led by Baringo Senator Gideon Moi and switched loyalty to Dr Ruto’s faction within the ruling Jubilee Party.
Mr Nanok has since been kicked out of his post as vice-chairman of the Orange Democratic Movement for campaigning for Dr Ruto, who is ODM leader Raila Odinga’s political arch-rival.
Laikipia Woman Rep Cate Waruguru has also decamped from Dr Ruto’s Tangatanga camp and is now a vocal defender of President Uhuru Kenyatta and Mr Odinga’s ‘Handshake’.
ODM has threatened Ms Jumwa with expulsion for backing Dr Ruto’s presidential bid but the lawmaker is unapologetic.
Politicians Johnstone Muthama, Boni Khalwale, Hassan Omar, Zedekiah Bundotich alias Buzeki, Jonathan Mueke, Musa Sirma, Ferdinard Waititu and Mr Owalo have also abandoned their parties for new political outfits.
Mr Owalo first defected from ODM to Musalia Mudavadi’s Amani National Congress (ANC), on whose ticket he unsuccessfully vied for the Kibra parliamentary seat in last year’s by-election.
This week, Mr Owalo fled ANC to join Dr Ruto, who gleefully paraded the latest supporter of his presidential bid at his Karen residence in Nairobi.
Mr Owalo joins former senators Muthama, Khalwale and Omar, who are strong supporters of the Ruto-for-president campaign.
Mr Muthama was Kalonzo Musyoka’s long-time ally and his Wiper party financier.
Mr Omar also quit his post as Wiper Secretary-General. Dr Khalwale, who was Mudavadi’s deputy in ANC, has since been welcomed into Dr Ruto’s wing of Jubilee.
Mr Buzeki, who lost Uasin Gishu’s governorship in 2017, has now ditched Jubilee Party and joined Chama Cha Mashinani (CCM), an outfit headed by former Bomet Governor Isaac Ruto.
Now the CCM Secretary-General, Mr Buzeki has accused politicians allied to Dr Ruto of insulting other leaders.
“There are individuals who are gravely intolerant and thrive on retrogressive politics, that only if you follow their ideals then you have their blessings. But I am not that kind of politician. I have my ideas on how to better the lives of my people,” Mr Buzeki said.
Mr Waititu was removed from office as Kiambu governor earlier this year after the Senate upheld his impeachment by the county.
Initially a vocal proponent of Dr Ruto’s Tanga Tanga faction, Mr Waititu became the high-profile casualty of the Jubilee party power struggle between President Kenyatta and his deputy.
Beaten and out of power, Mr Waititu, popularly known as Babayao, later surfaced in Kabarak among a delegation of Mt Kenya leaders who expressed support for Mr Moi. Mr Waititu said he had finally gone back home to Kanu.
Last year, Mr Sirma also decamped to Kanu. He had earlier ditched ODM to join Dr Ruto’s political camp as he hoped to wrest the Eldama Ravine constituency seat from MP Moses Lessonet.
Kicked up storm
It is, however, in West Pokot where political realignments have kicked up a storm.
Prof Lonyangapuo, who served as a Kanu senator between 2013 and 2017, has angered the Kanu leadership for switching to Dr Ruto’s camp.
Prof Lonyangapuo has accused Mr Moi and party Secretary-General Nick Salat of fighting him politically.
Kanu MCAs have told the governor to resign from the party, accusing him of going against its ideologies.
Four Kanu MCAs Grace Reng’ei, Jackline Ripoo, Nancy Chombir and Josephine Chepurum were last week expelled from the independent party on accusations of misconduct and failure to adhere to the party’s code of ethics.
This prompted Kanu members allied to Prof Lonyangapuo to hold peaceful demonstrations in Makutano, Sigor, Chepareria and Kabichbich, accusing the Kanu top brass of interfering with West Pokot affairs.
The governor condemned the expulsion of the MCAs, saying the party leadership was out to sabotage the executive through the County Assembly.
Nanok's split support
Mr Nanok, who is serving his second term as governor, has been vacillating between supporting his party boss, Mr Odinga, and Dr Ruto.
ODM last year replaced Mr Nanok with Loima MP Jeremiah Lomorukai as party vice-chairman, after the governor declared publicly that he had joined the Tangatanga faction.
Mr Nanok this year challenged his ouster, arguing that ODM flouted its constitution “in a panicked hurry to gain political relevance in Turkana”.
“ODM can do what it wants, including using the old Kanu tactics of the 70s to 90s, but it must not breach its constitution,” Mr Nanok said.
“To be a democratic party, it must strictly follow the process of removal of an official and election of a replacement. The officer being removed should be summoned and given the opportunity to explain himself,” he said.
Last month, Mr Nanok visited the Dr Ruto at his Sugoi home in Uasin Gishu and used the opportunity to reaffirm his support for his State House bid.
"For the past two years, we were not with you and we made it very difficult for Jubilee but this time round, we will stand with you," said Mr Nanok.
The ODM governor this month, in an interview with the Nation, defended his association with Dr Ruto.
“My collaboration with President Uhuru Kenyatta and DP Ruto is meant for development purposes and politics should not be read in it,” said Mr Nanok.
"This time round, we are not going to follow people who only make noise, we will follow a person who can deliver development," he added.
Mr Lomorukai said the county chief has been leading delegations to the DP’s Sugoi home to undermine Mr Odinga.
“The county chief is misleading the community. He needs to resign from the party because he has come out to push an agenda that is not in line with our party and he should know that Turkana is an ODM stronghold and that is why he won in 2013 and 2017 but he has decided to push for his selfish agenda by recruiting people for DP Ruto," Mr Lomorukai said.
He went on: “Early this year he took around 50 people to Sugoi, where he said DP Ruto will be the President come 2022. Those who were there gave us details of the meeting because some of the elders believe in ODM’s ideologies. We are aware he is planning another one.”
The lawmaker, an ardent supporter of Mr Odinga, said the governor thought associating with the Tangatanga brigade would make the Orange party’s influence in the county wane.
“He thought that if he associates with the DP’s team, ODM is going to die. He is in for a rude shock because the party is stronger than before. We have even opened a party office in Lodwar, which is fully functional,” said Mr Lomorukai.
Plot to recapture seats
According to Javas Bigambo, a political analyst, the country is going to witness a number of defections as 2022 approaches, particularly involving leaders who are not in office as they plot to recapture seats.
“So such decamping is likely to be more among non-elected members before the 2022 General Election, purely for purposes of trying to look for good ground through which they can be elected, depending on where they want to run.
Prominent parties tend to benefit from such party switching. But it also demonstrates loose party membership and factionalism, pork-barrel politics and lack steadfastness,” explained Mr Bigambo.
He added: "So Owalo's case, among others that have taken place can be seen as a pursuit of his protected political rights and such an example helps in keeping our democracy healthy, and speaks to the legitimacy of our democracy."
Mr Bigambo opines that frequent ditching of political parties weakens them.
“Frequent switching of political parties also weakens parties because they have less reliable members. Members too seem not to be drawn to parties on grounds of ideological inclination. Interestingly, this complete party switching is frequent among non-elected persons as compared to elected politicians, who risk losing their seats when they switch parties,” he said.