Ruto goes for regional kingpins in strategy to weaken Azimio
President-elect William Ruto has aggressively reached out and co-opted into his camp regional kingpins who backed Azimio leader Raila Odinga’s August 9 presidential bid, in a strategy intended to weaken his opponent.
The President-elect has repeatedly ruled out any possibility of a political ‘handshake’ with his rivals citing the need for ‘a strong opposition’ to keep his administration in check, but has in the past three weeks admitted to his fold his rival’s key supporters .
The multiple handshakes captured on the stairs of his official residence in Karen have put paid to the assertion that he would not share power with his rivals, instead sending a signal that Mr Ruto’s main aversion is to a handshake with Mr Odinga.
A political rapprochement between Mr Odinga and outgoing President Uhuru Kenyatta marked the beginning of an acrimonious falling-out in the Jubilee administration, which Mr Ruto blamed on the co-option of Raila and his supporters in government business.
The grand scheme has been to identify influential political leaders in Mr Odinga’s traditional bastions and hand them government appointments, with the intention of loosening his grip on the regions.
Key leaders who have joined Mr Ruto’s camp since announcement of results of the August 9 presidential poll include former Kisii, Meru and Makueni governors James Ongwae, Kiraitu Murungi and Kivutha Kibwana respectively, Tiaty MP William Kamket and Ugenya MP David Ochieng.
In North Eastern, United Democratic Movement (UDM) party leader and Mandera senator Ali Roba was the first to lead Azimio elected leaders from the region in joining Mr Ruto’s Kenya Kwanza.
Mr Ongwae, former Transport CAS and Jubilee gubernatorial candidate Chris Obure, former Kisii Woman rep Janet Ong’era, ex-MPs Jimmy Angwenyi (Kitutu Chache North), Richard Tong'i (Nyaribari Chache), Ben Momanyi (Borabu), Manson Nyamweya (South Mugirango) and Zadock Ogutu (Bomachoge Borabu) have all abandoned Mr Odinga and joined the Kenya Kwanza camp.
Neutralise Odinga support
The political handshakes have revealed Mr Ruto’s intention to neutralise Mr Odinga’s political support in Western, Coast, Ukambani, Gusii and North Eastern and Nyanza regions.
Wiper party leader Kalonzo Musyoka – who is the Ukambani political kingpin – yesterday ruled out any plans to join Ruto’s Kenya Kwanza Alliance. Mr Musyoka, who this week pulled out of the race for Senate Speaker, yesterday stated he would remain an opposition leader for the next five years.
The plot to chip away at Mr Odinga’s political support started in the run up to the August 9 polls, when Ruto went for his co-principals in the defunct National Super Alliance (Nasa).
Amani National Congress (ANC) leader Musalia Mudavadi and Ford Kenya’s Moses Wetang’ula abandoned Mr Odinga for Mr Ruto months ahead of the just concluded polls.
Some lawmakers elected on Mr Odinga’s ODM party backed Kenya Kwanza candidates during elections of the two Speakers of the National Assembly and the Senate, further signalling the strategy to politically weaken the Azimio camp.
In the Senate, Amason Kingi won the Speaker’s seat after he was backed by some Azimio lawmakers among them Johnes Mwashushe Mwaruma (Taita Taveta), Joseph Githuku (Lamu), Mohamed Faki (Mombasa), Stewart Madzayo (Kilifi), Issa Boy (Kwale), Abdulkadir Haji (Garissa), Dullo Fatuma Adan (Isiolo), Okiyah Omtatah (Busia) and James Ekomwa and Margaret Kamar, who are nominated.
A similar pattern played out in the National Assembly, where Moses Wetang’ula won the Speaker’s race after garnering substantial votes from Azimio MPs.
By handing Coast and Western the two Speakers’ slots, Mr Ruto is seeking to flip the two regions to back him by portraying himself as a leader who does not renege on promises.
Mr Mudavadi is also set to take up the promised Prime Cabinet Secretary position, further handing him influence in the Western region that traditionally backed Mr Odinga in 2007, 2013, 2017 and 2022 elections.
“The game has always been to isolate him. It is the same thing that the late President Moi did,” political analyst Herman Manyora said in an interview.
“It cannot work if it's done in a vindictive manner because people will notice that the reason is not genuine. It can only succeed if people get services promised by the government,” he added.
The Nation established that Kenya Kwanza influenced specific lawmakers from the targeted regions while lobbying MPs to back their two candidates during the Thursday vote for House Speakers.
“I’m not surprised with what is going on. I think what he is trying to do are old Kanu-era tactics. We’re likely to have a State House where elected leaders are auctioned,” ODM chairman John Mbadi said.
“Ruto should start delivering to Kenyans what he promised instead of this primitive and desperate attempt at buying leaders. Kenyans are not interested in these shenanigans of buying people, including buying MPs in the election of Speakers,” added Mr Mbadi. Jubilee secretary-general Jeremiah Kioni said President-elect Ruto was doing everything in the book to weaken Mr Odinga and the opposition at large.
Mr Kioni said that by poaching individual members, Kenya Kwanza had achieved quick political patches without holding any serious negotiations on how to unite the country.
“We’re now back to a one-man syndrome. If you can just be called and bought then your views will basically be of no value. Certainly he is doing everything to weaken the opposing side. For those of us who believed in what we were selling with Raila, we will remain steadfast,” said Mr Kioni.
He added, “The endgame is a one man syndrome and one party state. We’re basically back to the old game. Democracy is basically being stifled by this desperate move to buy MPs from the other side. It seems we’re going back to the Moi era.”
Former Borabu MP Mr Momanyi yesterday said that the Kisii leaders ‘have a right’ to choose which leader they want to work with. He described some of the Azimio leaders complaining over their move as crybabies, adding that the region was ready to work with the incoming President ‘to bring development’ to both Kisii and Nyamira counties. Uriri MP Mark Nyamita said that it will be difficult for Mr Ruto to lead the country with such an attitude towards Azimio.
Nandi Senator Samson Cherargei in an interview said that Azimio should first put its house in order before it starts crying over leaders’ defections.