Deputy President William Ruto has hinted that he is ready to work with splinter parties in Nyanza to break the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM’s) dominance in the region ahead of next year’s General Election.
Dr Ruto, while on a tour of Migori County on Saturday, pledged to work with Governor Okoth Obado’s People’s Democratic Party (PDP), arguing it would help the United Democratic Alliance (UDA) to win the presidential vote.
The pledge marks a departure from Dr Ruto’s stance in other regions, where he has taken a firm stand requiring his allies who include Moses Kuria of Chama Cha Kazi, Mwangi Kiunjuri of The Service Party of Kenya in central Kenya and Governor Amason Kingi of Pamoja African Alliance at the Coast to fold up their parties and join UDA.
The Deputy President held lengthy discussions with Mr Obado and several other leaders in the region at the county chief’s Rapogi home, after presiding over a fundraiser at the Awendo Central SDA church.
“All those who have been isolated are welcome on board. We cannot form the government if we keep isolating these small parties. I am ready to work with them,” said Dr Ruto after the meeting.
The decision to work with small parties in the Nyanza marks a new strategy for the DP to gain a foothold in Mr Odinga’s stronghold ahead of the 2022 presidential polls.
Already, the Green Congress of Kenya (GCK), which has its roots in Homa Bay, has declared that it is working with Dr Ruto.
“My party (PDP) will be working with Deputy President William Ruto to form the next government,” said Mr Obado, who parted ways with ODM leader Raila Odinga.
“This idea of being zoned into a political cocoon has been the order of the day in the region and it should come to an end.”
The strategy is intended to weaken the solid support enjoyed by Mr Odinga and his ODM party in Nyanza.
The Migori governor said he would popularise PDP and work with Dr Ruto to lock out other leaders from the region.
In Homa Bay, GCK coordinator Erick Osoro said there was initially a proposal to have affiliate parties dissolved to form one outfit, but that has changed.
"We stood our ground that we have to maintain our parties and support UDA. We’re working with the DP," he said.
The GCK officials revealed they were planning to welcome the DP on a tour of Homa Bay.
Mr Matiko Bohoko and Mr Joseph Nyambori, who are commentators on political issues in the Nyanza, said persistent onslaught on Mr Obado by ODM leaders had ended up earning him sympathy from supporters who feel he is being mistreated.
“The continued attack on Governor Obado by ODM leaders has pushed him to join hands with Ruto and amplified his influence in the region. ODM will therefore have to fight hard to retain the support the party has been enjoying in the region," said Mr Bohoko.
Of the eight Migori constituencies, Nyatike has 61,477 registered voters, Uriri has 51,676, Kuria West 51,057, Rongo 48,412, Awendo 48,293, Suna East 46,534, Suna West 46,030 and Kuria East 35,154.
Mr Obado hails from Uriri constituency, where he enjoys massive support.
In the neighbouring Kisii County, Mr Obado is working closely with former PDP leader Omingo Magara to popularise the DP.
“We’re working to ensure that Ruto becomes popular in Nyanza. We’re already achieving this. We have a number of elected leaders on our side supporting this agenda. We are waiting for the right time to roll out our campaigns across the region,” said Mr Magara.
He also enjoys support from sugarcane farmers across the county. He made strong links with farmers when he was Kenya Sugar Board chairman before venturing into politics.
“The Nyatike-Uriri combination may play out in the succession battle owing to the huge number of registered voters,” Mr Nyambori said.
In the past, Dr Ruto has severally visited Migori County but only toured Kuria East and Kuria West constituencies, leaving out the majority Luo community in the other six constituencies.
He has lately shifted focus to Mr Odinga’s backyard, pushing his hustler narrative and the bottom-up economic agenda in the larger Luo Nyanza while drumming support for his UDA party.
Mr Obado has teamed up with former Awendo MP Jared Kopiyo and a group of ODM MCAs from his county to popularise Dr Ruto and UDA in the region.
In 2017, Mr Obado retained his seat in a hotly contested election by flooring his arch rival Mr Ochillo Ayacko by a double margin, garnering 110,142 votes against Mr Ayacko who got 59,449 votes.
In the last senatorial by-election, ODM’s candidate Ochillo Ayacko emerged the winner after garnering 85,234 votes beating his opponent Eddy Oketch who got 60,555 votes.
The hotly contested seat saw ODM leader Raila Odinga and other bigwigs camping in Migori for several days to popularise Mr Ayacko.
Mr Oketch, who is said to have received Dr Ruto’s and Mr Obado’s support; gave the ODM party leaders a scare in the contest.
The relatively small margin by which Mr Ayacko won was seen as a poor show for the ODM party, given that Migori is perceived to be its stronghold.
In 2013, Mr Obado won the governorship seat on a PDP ticket against a strong ODM wave in the Nyanza region.
In the neighbouring Kisii County, Mr Obado is working closely with former PDP party leader Omingo Magara to popularise the DP.
"We’re working to ensure that Ruto becomes popular in Nyanza. We’re already achieving this. We have a number of elected leaders on our side supporting this agenda. We are waiting for the right time to roll out our campaigns across the region," said Mr Magara.
Reported by Ruth Mbula, George Odiwuor and Ian Byron