How Atwoli led allies in deflating Raila camp

Central Organization of Trade Unions (Cotu) secretary general Francis Atwoli and President William Ruto

Central Organization of Trade Unions (Cotu) secretary general Francis Atwoli (left) when he met President William Ruto at State House, Nairobi.

Photo credit: Pool

When Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition chief Raila Odinga turned up for his first anti-government rally at Kamkunji grounds in Nairobi last Wednesday, his entourage was much smaller than when he held his last presidential campaign meeting at Kasarani Sports Complex on August 6.

Judging from the Kamkunji meeting, Mr Odinga is still a crowd-puller.

But the reality is that some allies have abandoned him.

He is realising that he was surrounded by political turncoats during the presidential election campaigns.

In the run-up to the August 9 elections, Mr Odinga was surrounded by key political players, senior government functionaries and tycoons.

They financed and campaigned for his bid vigorously. Some individuals rode on his popularity to successfully rally voters for their own bids.

But as he made ultimatums to the Kenya Kwanza administration on Wednesday, some of his allies – who never lost an opportunity to hit out at then Deputy President William Ruto during the campaigns – were queuing at State House.

They have been declaring their loyalty to the government and defecting in quick succession since Mr Odinga’s loss.

Some have publicly declared their intention to work with Dr Ruto, others have quit Mr Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) and Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition, while several have launched political attacks against the veteran politician, demanding that he takes a break.

Some of the vocal leaders who graced most of the charged Azimio campaign rallies have taken tactical retreats, not to be seen, not to be heard in the political arena.

The remaining allies of Mr Odinga have described the defectors as opportunists and self-seekers with no principles.

At the Kamkunji rally, for instance, they said they would be taking rollcall of the opposition coalition’s true friends.

But some of the defectors have defended their actions, saying their decision to work with President Ruto was informed by desire to influence development projects in their regions.

They say it is not unusual for opposing politicians to close ranks, especially when elections are over.

The leaders say even Mr Odinga has switched camps to work with his opponents in the past, citing his rapprochement with President Daniel Moi after the 1997 General Election and the famous March 9, 2018 handshake with President Uhuru Kenyatta after the murky 2017 vote.

Key faces that have switched loyalty include the Central Organisation of Trade Unions (Cotu) Secretary-General Francis Atwoli, East African Legislative Assembly MP-elect Kanini Kega, former Nyeri MP Ngunjiri Wambugu, Kakamega Deputy Governor Ayub Savula, ex-West Pokot Governor John Lonyangapuo and  lawmakers Emmanuel Wangwe (Navakholo) and Titus Khamala (Lurambi).

Former Kisii Governor James Ongwae and former Busia Woman Representative Florence Mutua have resigned from ODM.

Mr Ongwae, who led Mr Odinga’s campaigns in Nyanza, has openly declared his support for President Ruto.

Tiaty MP William Kamket, Mandera Senator Ali Roba and Ugenya MP David Ochieng switched camps immediately Dr Ruto was declared President-elect.

They had campaigned for Mr Odinga’s fifth stab at the presidency.

Others who have ditched Mr Odinga are former MPs Ben Momanyi (Borabu), Jimmy Agwenyi (Kitutu Chache North) former Transport Chief Administrative Secretary Chris Obure and former Kisii Woman Representatives Janet Ongera.

Former Nairobi Governor Evans Kidero, ex-Kisumu Governor Jack Ranguma, former Kisumu Senator Fred Outa, former Lake Basin Development Authority chairman Odoyo Owidi and ex-Nyatike MP Edick Anyanga are already leading anti-Odinga campaigns in Nyanza.

Although some of them contested as independents after losing in the ODM ticket nominations, they rallied behind Mr Odinga’s presidential bid as they sought to ride on his popularity in the region that has always backed the veteran opposition leader to a man.

Kakamega Governor Fernandes Barasa and his Kisii colleague Simba Arati have visited State House in Nairobi and committed to work with the President.

Some vocal figures during the Azimio la Umoja One Coalition campaigns have taken a backseat.

Former Mombasa Governor Ali Hassan Joho, who doubles as ODM Deputy Leader, politicians Peter Kenneth, Maina Kamanda and Kanu chairman Gideon Moi have taken a low profile.

A host of Mr Odinga’s allies told the Sunday Nation that they are not surprised at the turn of events.

They say some of their colleagues in the campaigns joined the coalition for selfish gains. They claim that since Mr Odinga lost and has no jobs on offer, they are trooping to the government and President Ruto for business and other interests.

“Some of those people who crossed over have no principles. Those of us who said (President) Ruto is bad for this country still hold that view. You have to stand for something that you believe in. People with no principles are free to leave,” said Jubilee Party chairman David Murathe.

ODM Deputy Party leader and former Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya, National Assembly Minority Leader Opiyo Wandayi (Ugunja) and Vihiga Senator Godfrey Osotsi say they will not be distracted by political opportunists.

According to the four leaders, turncoats have betrayed their constituents.

“There are opportunists looking for jobs in every political situation. These people have realised that there are no job opportunities on our side,” the former Kakamega governor told the Sunday Nation.

Mr Wandayi links the betrayal to patronage politics in Kenya, where political players feel safe being with the government.

He says some of the defectors are likely to regret their decisions as they have not moved with the voters.

“What is unfolding is not totally unexpected. In a mass movement like Azimio la Umoja One Kenya, you expect people with conflicted interests. Once elections are done, those with no principles will want to troop to the President’s side,” the National Assembly Minority Leader said.

“It does not worry us because in the fullness of time, other people will start to troop back. What matters to those who have remained is commitment to the course for a better country.”

Mr Osotsi says some of the politicians rushing to the government side are engaging in shameless preservation of interests.

“Some even claim to be representing a community unity agenda. They are liars, traitors and spineless persons who think for themselves alone. This phase of politics will expose the true leaders on one side and pretenders on the other,” the Vihiga senator said.

But some of those who switched sides have defended their decision.

Mr Atwoli – who was a vocal campaigner of Mr Odinga – says he has to work with the government of the day in championing the welfare of workers.

The Cotu secretary general, who was so sure of a Mr Odinga presidential victory, surprised many when he turned up for a meeting with the President.

He was one of Dr Ruto’s fiercest critics during the campaigns, saying the then-DP “was bad for the country”.

“As a leader sitting on the board of many international labour agencies, I am obliged to brief the President on whatever is discussed and their outcome,” Mr Atwoli said at a rally in Kakamega.

Atwoli: We must accept for the coming 5 years, the young man [Ruto] will be in the chair

“This can only happen when I am working closely with the President.”

He added that he informed Mr Odinga of his State House visit.

Mr Murathe came to the defence of the Cotu boss, saying there was no way Mr Atwoli could represent workers without working with the government of the day.

“What Atwoli said is that he is the Cotu secretary general and he has to work with the government. It is not that he has moved to the other side,” Mr Murathe said.

“He is just being practical. When you want the interest of workers to be attended to by the government, you have to work closely with those in power.”

Mr Kidero says though there could be some element of selfishness, some leaders have taken the decision to work with President Ruto for development and economic growth of their regions and the country as a whole.

He says elected leaders, including governors allied to Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition, have to work with the government for their counties to realise meaningful development.

“People get in for different reasons. Some are there for business opportunities while others are for personal interests. There are obviously political turncoats but there are those who are out to change the lives of the ordinary person,” the former city governor said.

“Some of us don’t belong to the class of self-seekers. We have made a deliberate decision to support the government so that we can make a difference in the lives of many Kenyans.”

Mr Wambugu says they should not be vilified for their decision “since politics is about interests”.

He says it is ironic for anyone to point the finger at those switching sides when Mr Odinga has also been accused of betraying his political friends.

“The fact is that for Mr Odinga and all genuine politicians like him, once an election is over you accept the new reality and move on to the next agenda,” Mr Wambugu told the Sunday Nation.

He said politicians should focus on meeting the socio-economic interests of their regions now that the General Election is over.

Mr Wambugu says he joined Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua’s camp because “he is  the most senior politician in the Kenya Kwanza government from Mt Kenya.

Prof Lonyangapuo recently said his Kenya Union Party has severed links with Azimio la Umoja One Kenya.

The party has since declared support for President Ruto.

The former governor accused Azimio of making unilateral decisions that do not represent the views of all partner parties while describing the coalition as the greatest threat to democracy, the rule of law and national cohesion.

“Kenya Union Party lauds President Ruto for steering the country along a path of transformation,” he said in a statement.

Mr Savula says he cannot be party to anti-government demonstrations when he expects the same administration to finance projects in Kakamega.

“My governor met the President and I have done the same. I cannot participate in the demonstrations because I am in the Executive just like President Ruto,” he said.

“Campaigns are over and we have to work with the government of the day for development. As Western Kenya leaders, we will soon convene a meeting on how we can unite and work with the government.”

The pro-establishment defections coming barely four months after the elections are not new as they started way back after the first multi-party elections in 1992.

In 1993, barely a month after the December 1992 General Elections, Bonchari MP Protus Momanyi defected from Mwai Kibaki’s Democratic Party to Kanu. Mr Momanyi had been a Kanu stalwart who jumped to DP after losing on Kanu ticket.

Kanu under President Daniel Moi would later target Ford Asili, occasioning defections of MPs Nicodemus Khaniri (Hamisi), Apili Wawire (Lugari), Japheth Shamalla (Shinyalu), Benjamin Magwaga (Ikolomani) and Javan Onami (Lurambi).

In Nyanza, MPs Charles Owino Likowa (Migori), Tom Obondo (Ndhiwa) and Ochola Ogur (Nyatike) ditched Ford Kenya for the then ruling Kanu.