President William Ruto is already crafting his 2027 fall-back plan by galvanising regions which have voted overwhelmingly for Azimio La Umoja One Kenya’s Raila Odinga for years.
Surrounded by an ambitious deputy and having learnt from his political relationship with former President Uhuru Kenyatta, President Ruto seems not to be taking chances on his 2027 re-election bid, and is now wooing Nyanza and Western regions.
As soon as he assumed office, the Head of State visited Homa Bay County, despite the area having voted for Mr Odinga, and promised a lot of goodies including the 5,000 housing units he launched last month.
Dr Ruto also unveiled plans to revive stalled projects, construct major roads and construct low-cost housing, among others, to rekindle the glory of the lakeside town.
Consequently, his meeting with the nine Luo Nyanza legislators recently and another meeting chaired by Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua on Friday all indicate that President Ruto is out to bring the region into his fold.
For Western region, President Ruto has promised to release funds towards the completion of a number of multi-billion-shilling development projects in the area. This is after having a similar meeting with its leaders led by National Assembly Speaker Moses Wetang'ula and Prime Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi in January.
Political pundits view this as working on a scheme to have an alternative in case the Mount Kenya region will not back his presidential bid again.
There have been murmurs in the Kenya Kwanza team that Mr Gachagua is busy building his political base, and his recent proclamation that he had rallied his Mt Kenya region support base in Parliament behind the successful East African Legislative Assembly bid of former Kieni MP Kanini Kega and others got the attention of his boss.
Action by DP Gachagua to mobilise the Mt Kenya bloc within the governing Kenya Kwanza Alliance (KKA) to defy the President and back a candidate fronted by Mr Odinga did not augur well with the President’s henchmen.
In what seemed to be a warning message to Central Kenya leaders, Rift Valley lawmakers during the EALA voting at State House, Nairobi, which came up with the KKA line-up, reached out to Western leaders to vote out a candidate who had been fronted by Mount Kenya region.
Even though Kiharu MP Ndindi Nyoro has dismissed last week's endorsement to topple Mr Gachagua, those in the know claim that he remains President Ruto's favourite and the Head of State had promised on March 20, 2022 to mentor him.
Although both President Ruto and DP Gachagua have since dismissed rumours of a split and insisted that Kenya Kwanza remains united, that seeming rebellion over the EALA vote cannot be ignored with some the insiders of the Head of State claiming that there is need of Western part of Kenya (Rift Valley, Nyanza and Western) to protect this presidency.
There has also been simmering tension between Rift Valley and Mount Kenya over appointments of Cabinet Secretaries, Principal Secretaries, Cabinet Administrative Secretaries (CAS), diplomatic postings, and heads of state corporations, independent and constitutional bodies, with DP Gachagua insisting that the region gave the current administration many votes hence appointments have to be commensurate to votes.
According to Prof Masibo Lumala of Moi University, President Ruto is playing Uhuru's politics by wooing Nyanza and Western regions for “political survival”.
“It is not a fall-back plan for 2027 but it is for any time between now and 2027. UDA has many MPs from Rift Valley and Mount Kenyatta hence he is bringing Raila’s region closer for his political survival,” he said.
Prof Lumala said that President Ruto might have decided to form an alliance for developing Rift Valley, Nyanza and Western, as these areas did not benefit as much as Central did.
“Expectations are so high from his deputy and Central, while he has to serve the entire country,” said the University don.
Prof Lumala said that President Ruto does not want anyone to rock his government from inside, departing from the previous administration’s undoing.
“What the President is doing is a political strategy Uhuru deployed perfectly against him between 2018 and 2022. The President is quite aware that Rigathi Gachagua might want more than what he brought on the table,” he said.
Former United Democratic Alliance (UDA) chairperson Johnson Muthama said that President Ruto took an oath to serve all Kenyans regardless of their political affiliations and that is he is doing.
“The President is a President for the whole country and not for his supporters alone. As a politician, he won’t commit any crime as he looks for more supporters,” he added.
While in Homa Bay last month, President Ruto assured the residents of Nyanza that even if they did not vote for him in the 2022 General Election, he aims to fulfil the promises he made to all Kenyans without discrimination.
“I told you to remember me but you are very funny people. Agwambo (Mr Odinga) got 20 percent from my backyard and where Rigathi comes from, he got 25 percent, but here I only got one percent. I had warned you that I will accuse you before God,” said the President amid laughter.
Mr Odinga’s allies on Sunday said President Ruto is determined in ensuring that Nyanza and Western rally behind him with the assumption that the former premier will not be on the ballot in 2027.
Saboti MP Caleb Amisi said President Ruto will succeed in having a formidable alternative plan for 2027 and could bring all leaders on board, including Mr Odinga, arguing that the Ruto-Gachagua partnership is likely not to last just like the Uhuruto partnership.
“Our politics is fluid and volatile; it can change even a year to the next election. Ask yourself what happened to [the] ever flourishing blossom bromance between Dr Ruto and former President Kenyatta, which was the longest ever political relationship in modern history,” Mr Amisi said.
“Strength of the Ruto-Gachagua relationship is a drop in the ocean. But Ruto can never take away Nyanza and Western without their leaders. That one is a wild goose chase. He will eventually have to make deals with the leaders of those regions.”
Azimio leaders across the country have since decided to work with the Kenya Kwanza administration for the sake of developing a relationship which might turn out to be a double-edged sword to suffocate KKA.
Vihiga Senator Godfrey Osotsi, another ally of Mr Odinga, said it is true President Ruto wants to bag the two regions which have been Mr Odinga’s support base for many years.
“The strategy he applied in Mt Kenya of tagging along elected leaders cannot work in these regions,” he said.
“In Azimio, we have decided to attend all his developmental meetings where we will give our development demands and avoid politics. I am not sure the government, with all unfulfilled promises, debt burden, cost of living challenges and looming recession, will actualise all these regional developmental needs.”
For Matungu MP Peter Nabulindo, the region is ready to work with President Ruto and even vote for him in 2027, arguing that the opposition was not created for Nyanza and Western.
“Yes, the President will succeed in pocketing both Nyanza and Western. Most of the MPs are willing to work closely with him. In Matungu, wananchi are saying they don't want to remain in the opposition at all,” said Mr Nabulindo.
Political risk analyst Dismas Mokua said President Ruto’s recent trips to Nyanza and Western are part of a strategy to initiate development projects aligned to county expectations as captured in the President’s plan.
“And, the presidency is a symbol of national unity. President Ruto has a constitutional, legal and moral obligation to serve all Kenyans irrespective of voting patterns. President Ruto has a high appetite for grassroots engagements. The Nyanza trip is therefore consistent with his political DNA,” he said.
Mr Mokua argued that the Head of State is likely to use development as his political capital for his re-election in 2027.
“President Ruto, while on the campaign trails, used county economic forums as a special purpose vehicle to generate content for Kenya Kwanza manifesto – the Plan. County opinion, thought and grassroots leaders presented their county strategic priorities and interests. This is what crystalised the Plan,” he explained.
Nyaribari Chache MP Zaheer Jhanda, a Ruto ally, said that there is no way Mount Kenya will walk away from President Ruto.
“The mountain will never drift away because they have faith in his leadership. They voted for the last man. We are mobilising new alliances with the perceived strongholds of Azimio. I can assure you, 2027, the boss (President Ruto) will have a landslide of 85 percent,” he said.
University of Nairobi don X N Iraki argues that President Ruto is out to meet various leaders to consolidate his grip on power just as former President Daniel Moi used to do.
“He is also trying to diversify his political investment, ensuring all the political eggs are not in one basket and with an eye on 2027. He has realised that the Presidency is won by small margins and starting early could change that. Ruto is unlikely to turn away from the mountain; he will need it in 2027,” he said.