Raila now retreats to tighten grip on his Nyanza backyard amid Ruto onslaught

Raila Odinga

Azimio leader Raila Odinga during a media briefing at Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Foundation Centre in Nairobi on March 9, 2023. A number of current and former political leaders from Raila’s Nyanza political backyard have thrown weight behind President Ruto.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Azimio la Umoja One Kenya leader Raila Odinga is set for a rigorous two-day event in his Nyanza backyard to galvanize support amid a heavy onslaught from President William Ruto.

Even though the occasion—Piny Luo Extravaganza—has been styled as a cultural event where a new council of elders’ chairman will be unveiled, it has a lot of political undertones. The event will be hosted in Homa Bay today and tomorrow by Governor Gladys Wanga, with Mr Odinga expected to also preside over the opening of the new Raila Odinga Stadium.

Ms Wanga told the Nation yesterday that the event will bring together the entire Luo nation to “reflect on our heritage, culture, ways and traditions and strategise on our future together”.

“The entire Luo nation and its leadership will attend, from the PM (Mr Odinga), governors, speakers, MCAs, elders, clergy, private sector, among others,” Ms Wanga said, adding that the event is significant for the heritage and unity of the Luo people.

The event comes hot on the heels of a series of political activities by ODM leaders in the region to check-mate perceived party rebels in the region. Last week, ODM top leadership and legislators began touring the backyards of the rebels to popularise the party and whip political sentiment against them. The first two meetings held in Gem and Nyatike constituencies.

ODM Director of Political Affairs and National Assembly Minority Leader Opiyo Wandayi said the event will draw delegates from across the country and East Africa.

“The two-day event is significant as it brings together the leadership of the Luo community, from cultural, political, religious, business, youth, women to professionals under one umbrella to deliberate on matters concerning the Luo nation,” the Ugunja MP said.

He said during the meeting, the leadership will take stock of the gains made by the community over the years and possible losses as it charts the way forward.

Mr Odinga will be the chief guest at the event, the third edition since it was launched in 2016. In the two previous events, Mr Odinga’s speeches mostly focused on national issues and calls for the community to remain steadfast in the fight for liberation.

This is the first time in Mr Odinga’s political history that he is facing concerted hostility in his backyard by a large group of leaders, including some elected through his ODM party.

Some of the elected leaders openly backing President Ruto’s administration against ODM party wishes are Mr Odinga’s rural MP Gideon Ochanda (Bondo), MPs Mark Nyamita (Uriri), Paul Abuor (Rongo), Elisha Odhiambo (Gem), Caroli Omondi (Suba South), David Ochieng’ (Ugenya) and Prof Tom Ojienda (Kisumu Senator).

Some former ODM governors and MPs in Nyanza have also shifted their allegiance to President Ruto. They are former governors Jack Ranguma (Kisumu), Okoth Obado (Migori), Evans Kidero (Nairobi) and former Siaya governor aspirant Nicholas Gumbo. Former MPs include Fred Outa, Rose Nyamunga, Augustine Neto, Silvance Osele, Martin Ogindo, Ochieng Daima and Jared Opiyo.

But Mr Odinga’s allies have rubbished the opposition against his political dominance of the region. While in Gem last week, Mr Wandayi said the political rebellion that is building up in the former Prime Minister's backyard will be crushed. He challenged those opposing the leadership of the ODM party boss to quit and form their own political parties.

“We want to assure you that any such rebellion will be crushed convincingly. If you feel you have the capacity to challenge ODM, please go ahead and form your own party,” Wandayi said.

Siaya Governor James Orengo insisted that the ODM chief must be respected, and asked those seeking favours from the Kenya Kwanza government to do so with respect.

“We shall not accept a few people to undermine Raila Odinga,” he said.