Inside President Ruto's plot to fix Raila Odinga

President William Ruto with former Prime Minister Raila Odinga at Nyayo National Stadium

President William Ruto with ODM leader Raila Odinga at Nyayo National Stadium during a past Jamhuri Day celebration.

Photo credit: DPPS

As he spearheads nationwide demonstrations across the country against the Ruto administration, a plot is thickening to neutralise former Prime Minister Raila Odinga politically, Uhuru Kenyatta-style.

Unveiled on March 13 during a breakfast meeting at State House, Nairobi, with over 30 leaders from Nyanza, the plot is aimed at caging Odinga politically based on President Ruto’s apparent belief that members of the so-called dynasties are responsible for most of the problems bedeviling Kenya today.

This is an argument that Ruto has held for long. Even as Deputy President, he attributed to the Kenyattas, Mois and Odingas – rightly or wrongly – the uneven distribution of national resources, inequality in employment opportunities and domination of business contracts in government. The narrative was evidently well-received by voters.

Ruto’s move targeting Odinga is probably buoyed by his successful manoeuvres in the Mt Kenya region in the last five years that enabled him to turn the crowds in his favour and against his then boss, Kenyatta.

And if Monday’s tweet by National Assembly Majority Leader Kimani Ichung’wah is anything to go by, then the same script that ran Kenyatta out of town is being rolled out against Odinga: “As we condemn the anarchists (of Monday’s mass action), we encourage Nyanza people to rescue themselves from this enslavement. We shall offer free lessons from our Mt Kenya rescue experience,” stated the Kikuyu MP.

That this plot has always been on the cards is a fact that politicians allied to Ruto have variously attested to.

Only last week, Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua alluded to this fact, rather abrasively, stating that Odinga and his late father, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, had troubled Kenya for the last 60 years and that this time around they were determined to stop him – “na ataenda akiendanga (he will go for good)”.

During the two consultative meetings at State House – on February 7 and March 13 –Gachagua categorically reminded the Nyanza politicians of the “need to create your space and liberate your community from bad leadership”. This is apparently the core message that is destined to go out to the ground.

According to those who attended the last meeting, the President reported that he and his deputy had over the last four years worked overdrive in Mt Kenya region to erode Uhuru Kenyatta’s political stature. He happily reported that the duo had registered over 90 per cent success and that most of those who are politically associated with the Jubilee party leader were handed defeat at the ballot by local residents.

With the political side of issues sorted, Ruto is reported to have assured his audience that he would “fix” the Kenyattas and the Mois economically, sooner or later.

He reportedly reassured them that it was a “matter of time” before the Odingas followed suit: “Baada ya kuangusha familia za Kenyatta na Moi, alisema hiyo ya Odinga ni kitu kidogo, tumuachie (Having dealt with the two former first families, he told us that the Odingas were a small matter for him to crack),” one of the politicians confided in The Weekly Review.

According to the politicians in attendance polled by this writer, the President views Odinga’s political hold on the larger western Kenya region as some kind of enslavement and stresses the need “to politically and economically emancipate the local residents” from the stranglehold.

One politician at the State House meeting is particularly excited about the plot: “As a people, Jakom (Raila) remains the epitome of our political history and as long as nobody is plotting to eliminate him physically, we shall happily support this latest move by the President. Our brief is only to weaken him politically, while at the same time giving our people a chance to access the national kitty for development of our region.”

With the President having swept the board in last year’s elections in the Mt Kenya region, his predecessor’s political backyard, and having brought political bigwigs Musalia Mudavadi and Moses Wetang’ula under his wing, Odinga’s planned caging makes political sense. Besides Wiper Party leader Kalonzo Musyoka and his Narc-Kenya counterpart, Martha Karua, Raila is presently Ruto’s most potent political rival.

The best approach to caging the ODM leader, according to the President, is not for him to personally lead the charges against Raila as this would expose him to hostility and resistance from Nyanza residents. Instead, Ruto reportedly tasked the local politicians to be on the frontline of whittling down the opposition chief’s political dominance and influence.

To effectively execute this plot, the Ruto-allied politicians – most of whom were rejected by the people at the ballot – have been encouraged to immediately initiate development projects. They will supposedly have state resources at their disposal, as long as they attribute the initiatives to the Ruto administration. The import of this is that the politicians must instantaneously embark on grassroots mobilisation.

To best achieve their goals and project the face of government in their undertakings, they are expected to invite Cabinet and Principal Secretaries and other top government officials to launch the projects in question. “The whole idea is to ensure that the government’s presence is seen on the ground, and that each week we must have one activity or another,” observes one of the politicians who attended the March 13 meeting at State House.

Former governors Evans Kidero (Nairobi), Okoth Obado (Migori) and Jack Ranguma (Kisumu) as well as Kisumu Senator Tom Ojienda and a host of former MPs were among those in attendance. Going by the operational plan, whose inner details our sources could not divulge, the plot is strategic and covers all the four counties of Luo Nyanza – Homa Bay, Kisumu, Siaya and Migori – with focal leadership structures.

Nominees to the positions of Chief Administrative Secretary are carefully selected, for instance, to cover each county; they include Kidero from Homa Bay, former Rarieda MP Nicholas Gumbo of Siaya and former Kisumu Senator Fred Outa. Only Migori, where the president already enjoys sizeable support from the Kuria community, is not covered.

Instructively, the Kidero-Gumbo-Outa trio, who unsuccessfully vied for gubernatorial seats, have been allocated responsibilities in the lucrative ministries of Trade and Industry, Roads and Transport as well as Mining, Blue Economy and Maritime Affairs.

According to our sources, the three will steer the anti-Odinga project with Information and ICT Cabinet Secretary, Eliud Owalo, serving as the linkman between the local leadership and government. Owalo, who has since emerged as the President’s right hand man in the region, coordinated and attended the two meetings at State House.

The CS did not respond to our calls or text messages when reached for comment. Undeniably, though, the plot to politically uproot Odinga from his Nyanza backyard is a tall order, one that even politicians allied to the President confess will not be easy to realise in the next five years – the timeframe within which the said goal has to be achieved.

Unlike other regions, including Mt Kenya, where several politicians such as Kenya’s first President, Jomo Kenyatta, founding Ford-Asili party leader Kenneth Matiba and former presidents Mwai Kibaki and Uhuru Kenyatta have held sway, the situation in Luo Nyanza over the decades has been different.

Except for a brief period at Independence, when Jaramogi, the country’s first Vice-President, and Justice and Constitutional Affairs minister Tom Mboya, enjoyed a huge following from the region, political support has since 1970 coalesced around the Odingas. The family has not only dominated Luo Nyanza but Kenyan politics as well since Independence.

Jaramogi, for instance, served in the seventh Parliament at the same time as his second son, Raila. Thereafter, the Odinga brothers, Oburu Odinga and Raila, represented Bondo and Lang’ata constituencies respectively in the eighth to 10th parliaments.

Today, the Odingas are represented in all parliaments: Oburu in the Senate, his younger sister, Ruth, in the National Assembly and Raila’s daughter, Winnie, at the Arusha-based East African Legislative Assembly.

Interestingly, Ruto also has a stranglehold on the Rift Valley, having inherited former President Daniel arap Moi’s support base in 2007, and by elbowing out Moi’s sons, Gideon and Raymond, as Baringo Senator and Rongai MP respectively in last August’s elections. Gideon’s political outfit, Kanu, still has a presence, though, in the Rift Valley and other parts of the country, including northern Kenya.

The President and former Prime Minister have come a long way, having first teamed up politically in 2005 ahead of the constitutional plebiscite that year.

Two years later, Ruto was a steadfast lieutenant of Odinga’s and a member of the Pentagon, an elite club of ODM’s key political leaders, whose attempt to unseat President Mwai Kibaki in 2007 turned chaotic.

Owing to the poll impasse, the then Eldoret North MP was one of the four members who represented the ODM side in reconciliation talks with Kibaki’s Party of National Unity, under the stewardship of former United Nations Secretary-General, the late Dr Kofi Annan.

In the resultant creation of a Grand Coalition Government and installation of Odinga as Prime Minister, the ODM leader appointed Ruto as Cabinet minister to the plum docket of agriculture.

Their relationship turned toxic, however, when the two started pulling apart owing to conflicting political interests. Ruto bolted out of the orange party and the two have engaged from opposing sides of the political ring ever since.

Dr Henry Wabwire, a commentator on political affairs, observes that the hostilities between Ruto and Odinga have little to do with the so-called “political enslavement” but everything to do with political economy. The two, according to Wabwire, are hunters from opposing sides locked in a vicious competition.