Food politics in President Ruto's plot to win over Raila turf

Eliud Owalo

ICT Cabinet Secretary Eliud Owalo distributes food at Odienya Primary School in Nyando, Kisumu County, on November 12, 2022.

Photo credit: Tonny Omondi | Nation Media Group

A bag of relief food here, and a political pitch there for President William Ruto’s administration, is the new trick to win over opposition leader Raila Odinga’s supporters in his Nyanza stronghold.

Leading the charge to push the pro-Ruto agenda in Nyanza is Information and Communication Cabinet Secretary Eliud Owalo.

Yesterday, Mr Owalo pitched camp in Uriri, Ndhiwa and Rangwe constituencies in Homa Bay County, distributing relief food.

Today, the CS is scheduled to visit Diemo Primary School in Seme Constituency and Roya Chief’s camp in the neighbouring Kisumu East Constituency.

“This is to invite you to provide media coverage of relief food distribution to be presided over by Mr Eliud Owalo, Cabinet Secretary on December 17–18,” a media invite dispatched yesterday from his office read.

Since Independence, the politics of Luo Nyanza (Migori, Homa Bay, Kisumu and Siaya), currently having 2,161,262 votes, have been dominated by the Odinga family.

With Mr Odinga’s fifth unsuccessful State House bid and with age catching up with the ODM boss, a new crop of leaders, more so those in Dr Ruto’s camp, are attempting to change the political narrative in the region.

Some of those who have started positioning themselves to take over Nyanza’s political mantle were rejected by the electorate in the August 9 General Election.

They now seek to win over the region through various platforms, including the church, with a series of events planned to endear Dr Ruto to residents.

The team also hopes to sell the message of fair allocation of the national budget and distribution of development projects, to banish the thinking that Dr Ruto is out to punish them for voting for the Azimio La Umoja One Kenya coalition in the August polls.

Some of the politicians who have jumped ship and are now dancing to Dr Ruto’s tune include former Kisumu Governor Jack Ranguma and his Migori counterpart Okoth Obado, Ugenya MP David Ochieng, former Kisumu Senator Fred Outa, former MPs Nicholas Gumbo (Rarieda), Martin Ogindo (Rangwe), Omondi Anyanga (Nyatike) and Sylvanus Osele (Kabondo Kasipul), as well as professionals Odoyo Owidi and Kennedy Obuya. Mr Owidi said they are conducting civic education so that they can work with the Ruto administration.

Mr Odinga, 77, the son of first Vice President Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, could be headed for the end of his active political career, creating a big gap for key Ruto men seeking to catch his eye.

The Owalo-led team has already held meetings, with messaging packaged to portray the Ruto administration as a friend of the region. They are emphasising that Kenya Kwanza will work with all Kenyans and has a tangible development agenda for the region—agriculture (cotton and rice); fishing and the blue economy; the lake region tourist circuit; mining; financial support to micro and small enterprises; the lake region ring road; water and electricity. The leaders want the region to discard what they are describing as

“perpetual politics” and focus on “development politics”.

“After his visit to Homa Bay, we want the boss (Dr Ruto) to be visiting the region. From next year, the plan is to have the President attend church services in each of the four counties every month. This will help us penetrate the region as we work with local leaders who have already embraced the current government,” said a senior member of the Head of State’s inner-circle.

Yesterday, Mr Outa said they would not rally the region behind Dr Ruto by antagonising Mr Odinga but by using his economic agenda to persuade residents. “Old politics is gone...As a region, we are looking for development and the President has started well, 2,000 housing units to be launched in Homa Bay soon. Sh1 billion Kabonyo Fisheries Training Centre in Kisumu County, that is the development we want,” he said.

But Bondo MP Gideon Ochanda said every region has a right to get development projects.

Suba South MP Caroli Omondi disclosed a few days ago that he is ready to work with Dr Ruto “for the sake of development”.

“I don’t need anybody’s permission to work with the government. My intention is to work with people who can help me transform the lives of Suba South residents,” Mr Omondi said.