Ruto raids Azimio strongholds as he dangles development projects

President William Ruto with Cotu boss Francis Atwoli

President William Ruto with Cotu boss Francis Atwoli (left), Sports Cabinet Secretary Ababu  Namwamba (second left) and Prime Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi during a meeting with Western Kenya leaders at Kakamega State Lodge.

Photo credit: Courtesy | PCS

President William Ruto yesterday started a two-day tour of the 2.2 million vote-rich Western region in a continued bid to win over Azimio la Umoja One Kenya boss Raila Odinga’s political strongholds.

In the past two weeks, Dr Ruto has met the region’s leaders, including Kakamega Governor Fernandes Barasa and his harshest critic-turned-ally Central Organisation of Trade Unions boss (Cotu) Francis Atwoli, in what political observers say is a strategy to snatch the region from Mr Odinga. Azimio won governor races in Kakamega, Busia, Vihiga and Trans Nzoia, only losing in Bungoma to Mr Ken Lusaka of Ford Kenya.

Yesterday, President Ruto promised a raft of development projects and officially commissioned the Kakamega Airstrip.

“I have commissioned the Sh170 million airstrip whose inaugural flight will be launched next week by Prime Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi,” he said, directing that landing fees be suspended for a while. He said more money will be allocated by the national government for expansion of the airstrip.

The President further committed to complete all the stalled road projects in the region.

The Head of State said the sugar industry has been a big headache to the government and assured the leaders that his administration will solve the problem.

“Mumias Sugar, for example, has consumed a lot of money from the National Treasury yet nothing is improving. It is not benefiting the locals who donated over 15,000 acres of their land nor the county government. I will meet with leaders from this region to come up with a lasting solution,” he said.

He explained part of the plan to revitalise the miller includes bringing in a strategic investor after clearing its debt.

The President will today grace the 18th graduation ceremony of the Masinde Muliro University.

UDA chairman Johnson Muthama said President Ruto meeting politicians from Azimio should not be seen as a scheme to weaken the opposition or a 2027 plan arguing that the Head of State is the symbol of national unity.

“If he would be meeting his Kenya Kwanza leaders only, he would be accused of discrimination,” said Mr Muthama.

He added: “Ruto is the President of every Kenyan and he will serve everyone therefore, he cannot afford not to meet leaders from across the political divide. Politics is over and it is time for development.”

After the meeting with a section of Western leaders, former Mumias East MP Benjamin Washiali told the Nation that they are determined to see the region united behind President Ruto.

“We want everyone to be brought on board in this unity cause to see how the region can benefit from this government,” said Mr Washiali.

The President has also been meeting leaders from other Azimio strongholds. Last week, Kisii Governor Simba Arati and Education Cabinet Secretary Ezekiel Machogu led leaders from the community to a State House meeting. Gusii overwhelmingly voted for Mr Odinga in the August election.

President Ruto first met Mr Arati last week on Saturday and promised to work with the community to foster development.

The high-profile meeting with the Gusii leaders comes on the backdrop of loud protests from the community accusing the President of leaving out professionals from the region in the allocation of Principal Secretary positions.

Mr Arati, who has publicly declared that he will work with President Ruto, said he is keen to see Kisii County develop.

“Politics is over and our President is Ruto. Dr Ruto heads the national government and we are working together for the sake of development,” said Mr Arati after the meeting.

Among the developments Mr Arati is keen on is a Lake Region Economic Bloc project in which the British government will help fund an ultra-modern health facility in Kisii.

University of Nairobi don XN Iraki argued that President Ruto is meeting various leaders to consolidate his grip on power just as former President Daniel Moi did.

“He is also trying to diversify his political investment, ensuring all the political eggs are not in one basket, with an eye on 2027. He has realised that the presidency is won by small margins and starting early could change that,” said Prof Iraki.

Political risk analyst Dismas Mokua said meetings are a strategy to manage the expectations of the regions.

“Meeting regional leaders gives President Ruto the opportunity to socialise with voters’ interests and development priorities across Kenya. He also has the fiduciary constitutional obligation to serve all Kenyans irrespective of their political choices,” Mr Mokua explained.

Reporting by Shaban Makokha, Onyango K’Onyango and Ruth Mbula