A meeting between Deputy President William Ruto and Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya — an ally of Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) leader Raila Odinga — has stirred the political scene, as jostling for alliances ahead of the 2022 General Election intensifies. The meeting took place on Wednesday.
According to the governor, the DP proposed an alliance between the two though the significance of the proposal was not immediately clear as the parties insisted the meeting had not been planned.
DP Ruto, who was accompanied by former Cabinet Secretaries Mwangi Kiunjuri and Rashid Echesa, met Mr Oparanya at Mahali Mzuri, a camp owned by Sir Richard Branson in Olare Motorogi Conservancy, in the Maasai Mara.
“The two sides flew to the hotel on Wednesday afternoon, held a meeting in the evening and another around 11am yesterday before they all flew out,” a source at the hotel told the Nation yesterday.
Contacted, Mr Oparanya confirmed attending the meeting.
While the governor downplayed its significance, he admitted that the DP suggested ODM and the Ruto-linked United Democratic Alliance (UDA) could work together.
“It was a chance meeting. Being a politician, the DP asked if we can work together. I told him such a decision has to be made by the party (ODM),” Mr Oparanya told the Nation.
In recent days, the governor has taken an unusual stand on Mr Odinga’s pet project — the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI). He told a meeting weeks ago that a referendum in the middle of a pandemic should not be a priority, a narrative popular with the Ruto camp.
In an uncharacteristic departure from the ODM script, the Kakamega county boss asked the government to shelve plans for the plebiscite and instead spend the money on buying Covid-19 vaccines.
The second term governor alongside the other ODM deputy party leader, Ali Hassan Joho, have also sought the party’s ticket to contest the presidency.
While Mr Oparanya’s apparent conflict with ODM could suggest he could be pursuing his own interests, Wednesday’s meeting also rekindled talk of an Odinga-Ruto coalition.
The debate has dominated political circles following a radio interview two weeks ago in which the DP heaped praise on Mr Odinga’s “resolve to build a national party unlike others”.
He also welcomed the possibility of the two working together.
The comments came a month after Mr Odinga’s elder brother, Oburu Oginga said a Ruto-ODM alliance was not off the table.
In a rare show of unity last week, the DP did not rule out the possibility of working with Mr Odinga in 2022, with the two separately attacking the One Kenya Alliance of Musalia Mudavadi’s Amani National Congress (ANC), Kalonzo Musyoka’s Wiper party, Mr Gideon Moi’s Kanu and Ford Kenya of Moses Wetang’ula.
President Kenyatta is said to favour the new alliance, thus leading to the dalliance between the DP and Mr Odinga’s allies.
Mr Echesa dismissed reports that the meeting was planned or that concrete decisions were made.
“These is social media propaganda. We were meeting as UDA when Oparanya showed up,” the former Sports CS said.
Narok West MP Gabriel Tongoyo, in whose constituency the meeting took place, also downplayed its significance.
“Just let the story go. We all have matters to attend to. It was a chance meeting,” Mr Tongoyo said.
The DP’s communication director Emmanuel Talam refused to confirm or deny reports of the meeting, only saying that his boss didn’t schedule an appointment.
Murang’a Senator Irungu Kang’ata said the Ruto team “is on a growth path”.
“The season of defection is about to start. The wheelbarrow movement can only expand. It can never go on some contraction. We welcome everyone to join the winning team,” said Mr Kang’ata, who recently joined the DP after his removal as Senate majority whip.
Belgut MP Nelson Koech said the development signals a beginning of “a formidable team to push the DP’s State House bid”.
“Expect mass defections to the hustler’s camp in the coming weeks and months. They employed fear and intimidation, but the lifespan of that tool is coming to an end,” Mr Koech said.
Migori Senator Ochillo Ayacko, MPs Paul Abuor (Rongo), Walter Owino (Awendo), Mathias Robi (Kuria West), Kitayama Maisori (Kuria East), Martin Owino (Ndhiwa) and Lilian Gogo (Rangwe) welcomed the possibility of the two leaders working together to form the next government.
“There is intense lobbying. Whatever is being deliberated is secret and confidential. It’s not just about Odinga and Ruto, but all those clamouring for the top seat,” Mr Ayacko told the Nation.
Mr Abuor said there are no permanent friends and enemies in politics.
“Anything is possible, now that our other brothers have coined their political path,” he said.
Analysts, however, say the DP and the Orange leader must overcome many hurdles before forming a coalition.
The first is who will fly the presidential flag. Having served as a deputy president for the constitutional two-term limit, the DP has little room to wriggle during the negotiations.
Play second fiddle
It would imply Mr Odinga would walk into such an alliance having agreed to play second fiddle as the DP has only the presidency to go for, unless the BBI changes are implemented.
It is also possible the alliance may drive Mt Kenya voters away.
“Such a coalition will see the two beaten by the One Kenya Alliance because of the phobias Mr Odinga and Dr Ruto generate,” Mr Dismas Mokua argued.
Additional reporting by George Sayagie, Ibrahim Oruko, Rushdie Oudia, Ian Byron and George Odiwuor