Amani National Congress (ANC) leader Musalia Mudavadi’s shift to deputy president William Ruto’s political camp complicates ODM leader Raila Odinga’s vote hunt in Western Kenya, making the region a hot battleground in the August General Election.
Mr Mudavadi as well as Ford Kenya leader Moses Wetang’ula’s rapprochement with DP Ruto’s United Democratic Alliance (UDA) puts a significant chunk of the 2.2 million Western Kenya vote up for grabs.
Mr Odinga has been the main beneficiary of the Western Kenya votes in his 2007, 2013 and 2017 presidential bids, profiting from the backing of Mr Mudavadi and other political heavyweights in the region.
“We shall no longer countenance the company of those who cannot be trusted. No, never again. For the avoidance of doubt, the ANC stand, which I am privileged to pronounce is that the specter called Azimio is not an option (for us) in terms of partnerships,” Mr Mudavadi announced yesterday, accusing Mr Odinga of betrayal.
DP Ruto immediately announced planned joint rallies with Mr Mudavadi and Mr Wetang’ula as well as the Tujibebe party boss William Kabogo starting in Nakuru on Wednesday, Western on Friday and in President Uhuru Kenyatta’s restive Mt Kenya backyard on Saturday.
The move by Mr Mudavadi and Mr Wetang’ula, until yesterday of the One Kenya Alliance (OKA), complicates what was an otherwise easy arithmetic in terms of his Nyanza, Western political calculation in Mr Odinga’s Azimio la Umoja political coalition plan for the State House race.
The 2.2 million Western Kenya votes are spread across its four counties, with Kakamega having the largest share at 743,736, Bungoma 559,850, Busia 351,048 and Vihiga 272,409. Trans Nzoia, located in the Rift Valley but with a high Luhya population, has 339,622 votes.
The region is a particularly important battleground for DP Ruto, judging from the 2017 elections results and his increased number of visits to the region.
The ruling Jubilee party snatched 12 MP seats in the 2017 polls from the Western region largely controlled by Mr Odinga and with Mr Mudavadi and Mr Wetang’ula fully behind him.
While President Uhuru Kenyatta had garnered a paltry 66,000 votes from the four Western counties in 2013, in 2017 this figure increased eightfold, raking in 242,000 votes.
For Mr Odinga, any votes that Mr Mudavadi will pull to Dr Ruto’s side will be at the ODM leader’s disadvantage.
The ODM leader, however, is still the candidate to beat in the region, and has of late received defectors from Mr Mudavadi’s ANC, led by deputy party leader Ayub Savula.
Oku Kalunya (Teso North), Matungu’s Oscar Nabulindo, Chris Aseka of Khwisero and Emuhaya’s Omboko Milemba also appear to be drifting away from their boss.
Mr Odinga also prides in having four of the five Western governors—Kakamega, Vihiga, Busia and Bungoma—under his political wing, with former Rift Valley regional commissioner George Natembeya, a frontrunner in Trans Nzoia, also casting his lot with the ODM boss.
Other key leaders backing Mr Odinga from the region include trade unionist Francis Atwoli, Defence Cabinet Secretary Eugene Wamalwa as well as his newly formed party Democratic Action Party-Kenya (DAP-K), led by Kanduyi MP Wafula Wamunyinyi and Tongaren’s Eseli Simiyu, both having defected from Mr Wetang’ula’s Ford Kenya.
DP Ruto’s allies say intense campaigning in the Western Kenya might bring in even more votes to the deputy president’s camp in 2022.
“The coming in of Wetang’ula and Mudavadi solves a big problem for Dr Ruto: Ensuring that a huge chunk of the Western votes go to one basket, and that is his and not Raila’s. So far, we have made good inroads in Bungoma and Trans Nzoia. Kakamega is still a problem, as well as Busia, with Mudavadi seen to have the backing of Vihiga. If the team can now rain on Busia and increase presence in Kakamega, the Ruto-Musalia-Wetang’ula partnership can get as much up to 60 per cent of the votes,” said political scientist Prof Edward Kisiang’ani. He sits in DP Ruto’s political think-tank.
ODM deputy party leader, Wycliffe Oparanya, yesterday laughed off the decision by ANC and Ford Kenya to join forces with UDA.
"ANC party leaders had moved on longtime ago from OKA. They were just waiting for the day. We understood from their body language by some of their leaders that they were moving to UDA. I want to state that we are firmly in Azimio la Umoja,” said the governor during a meeting with party grassroots leaders from Kakamega and Trans Nzoia Counties.
Mr Oparanya said that the Western region was firmly behind the Azimio la Umoja spearheaded by Mr Odinga.
“The people of western region will not be hoodwinked to support UDA through a purported earthquake that is meant to propel UDA at the expense of our people. We shall be behind as directed by elders and affirmed by majority on December 31,” he added.
Saboti MP Caleb Amisi also accused the ANC leader of betraying the community for his own self-fish interests by working with the UDA.
“We advise our supporters not to fall prey to the rhetoric of UDA through purported agreement with ANC party leader whom all along we knew that he was not in the running for presidency but using the community for his personal gain,” said Mr Amisi.
- Additional reporting by Stanley Kimuge