Split widens in ODM as Ruto raids Raila’s party

President William Ruto with Nyanza ODM leaders at State House on February 7, 2023.

President William Ruto has rattled the opposition by hosting lawmakers allied to Mr Raila Odinga, as simmering disquiet with the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) leader’s anti-government protests snowballed into an open internal revolt.

Sources within ODM confided to Nation that there is a big split within the party over the anti-Ruto rallies, which some MPs have snubbed while accusing Mr Odinga of sending conflicting signals about having initially embraced the president.

“Just the other day, he [Raila] told us to welcome President Ruto in our backyard but now he is telling us not to recognise the same person. How is that possible?” posed an MP. Last evening, ODM chairman John Mbadi added a fresh twist in the saga, saying he was ready to quit his position. Mr Mbadi lashed out at critics accusing him of not attending Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition Party rallies.

“Where did I say that I will be attending the rallies? Have all the officials been attending the rallies? They are Azimio rallies, not ODM’s,” said the nominated MP.

Nine years

He added: “I don’t have to be the ODM chair. The nine years I have been the chair is enough. If elections are done and someone else is chosen, no problem. If any ODM member feels the need for another chairperson, I have no problem with that.”

Mr Odinga yesterday hosted Suna East MP Junet Mohamed, former Mombasa governor Hassan Joho and former Kitui governor Charity Ngilu, and former Kakamega governor Wycliffe Oparanya for lunch as the President’s meeting with some of his allies ignited a bitter war of words in his camp.

The nine MPs met President William Ruto and his deputy Rigathi Gachagua as it emerged that this was preliminary contact in a long-haul strategy he hopes will get him a foothold in Mr Odinga’s Nyanza backyard in the fullness of time. The lawmakers, who were carefully selected, were called by State House on Monday evening to attend the meeting with the President.

“I was actually in the village when I received the call. I came to Nairobi specifically for the meeting,” said a second term lawmaker who was in attendance. Kisumu Senator Tom Ojienda led the team, which comprised MPs Gideon Ochanda (Bondo), Caroli Omondi (Suba-South), Elisha Odhiambo (Gem) Shakeel Shabir (Kisumu East), Paul Abuor (Rongo), Mark Nyamita (Uriri), Walter Owino (Awendo) and Felix Odiwuor alias Jalang’o (Langata). Information Cabinet Secretary Eliud Owalo was also present. Mr Shabir won on an Independent ticket while the rest were elected through ODM.

Raila Odinga

ODM leader Raila Odinga (left) yesterday met with his deputies Hassan Joho (right), Wycliffe Oparanya (second right) and National Assembly Minority Whip Junet Mohamed at a Nairobi Hotel to discuss party matters and the people’s consultative forums. 

Photo credit: Pool

A press release by State House after the meeting indicated that Dr Ruto said he will work with leaders from across the political divide.

Polarised country

“Elections are over; we don’t want a polarised country. We will work for all Kenyans,” President Ruto said.

But it appears that most of the leaders who went to State House have never forgiven ODM for the tribulations they went through to retain their seats. Some almost got short-changed at the party primaries even after winning while their counterparts in good books with the party were given direct tickets. After a series of private consultations that began long before he visited Homa Bay and Siaya counties last month, yesterday’s meeting was the culmination of the push by the Head of State to rally Mr Odinga’s bastion to his side through “a group of progressive” politicians.

The strategy is to make an early entry into the region in the event Mr Odinga does not run in 2027 and, at the same time, hope to flip the region to his camp to make up for any political losses he may incur ahead of the next General Election.

Disguised as development meeting, the President is said to have used the chance to inform his guests that his is an open door and that he was keen to working with the team between now and the next polls.

Coming at a time Mr Odinga is mobilising his supporters to discredit the Kenya Kwanza government, the President, by courting Nyanza leaders, is seen to be working to frustrate attendance to the protest rallies.

Accepting handouts

By meeting the President without Mr Odinga’s blessings, the politicians are alive to what they have set themselves up against at the local and party level. The tag of rebels and sell-outs will expose them to hostile reception from Mr Odinga’s supporters, reason enough to dissuade them from attending the subsequent rallies. ODM yesterday released a statement condemning the nine MPs for meeting President Ruto, warning that history will judge harshly leaders who the party accused of betrayal by accepting handouts to sabotage the protest movement.

Kisumu Governor Anyang’ Nyong’o also dismissed the MPs, saying ODM was better off without them.

“I am not surprised that an amalgam of self-seeking MPs went to State House without the blessing of ODM. In a revolutionary situation such as the one we are currently facing in Kenya, in the words of Lenin, better fewer, but better,” said Prof Nyong’o. 

His Siaya counterpart James Orengo said:“We dissociate ourselves with a visit to State House, Nairobi by a group of ODM MPs. The visit by the MPs was personal and not sanctioned by any of our official ODM party organs.”

Bondo MP Dr Ochanda, who is serving his third term and is Mr Odinga’s legislator at his rural home, maintained that his actions were for the good of his constituents.

“I am well aware that, with the bold step we took, things are going to change but we will remain alert,” said Dr Ochanda.

“Dr Ruto assured us that he doesn’t care about the political rallies being held across the country and that they will not affect the planned development projects in our constituencies,” said Dr Ochanda.

The President told the MPs that Cabinet secretaries will be on the ground next week to assess the budgetary requirements for the completion of the projects to be factored in the 2023/2024 financial year.

“I am not affiliated to any party and I have no regrets going to State House because my loyalty is to Kisumu East constituents who voted for me, and not ODM or Azimio. I am loyal to Raila as a father and elder brother to me but not politically,” said Mr Shabbir.

Sources who attended the meeting told Nation the President urged the MPs to support his agenda in Parliament for the sake of development.

“He also promised to work with us closely on matters of development and not politics,” said an MP who attended the meeting.

Dr Ochanda said Dr Ruto told them he is not interested in interfering with the ongoing rallies by Azimio as they will amount to nothing.

“He emphasised that he is the President,” Dr Ochanda said. Mr Mbadi told Nation he didn’t know what took the MPs to State House but called for order in the party.

“We need to have a meeting and agree on the best way on how we are going to conduct ourselves. We can’t send mixed signals to our supporters,” Mr Mbadi said.

The fallout in ODM also stems from disgruntlement in sharing of parliamentary positions. Some MPs are still bitter that they were placed in nondescript committees and, when they complained to the leadership, they were ignored. In a statement, ODM accused the MPs of trying to undermine their party leader.

“Since the victory of our party leader Raila Odinga was stolen and the will of the people subverted after the August 9, 2022 General Election, some leaders have elected to undermine the leadership of the party and chosen to go against the will of the people who elected them to positions they hold,” read the statement signed by ODM Director of Communication Philip Etale.

“We know that, in the quest for legitimate leadership, there are those who will fall by the wayside and some will be compromised, but the movement remains unstoppable. This is a people’s movement aimed at defending the Constitution of the land. History will judge harshly leaders who want to betray Kenyans by accepting handouts to scuttle the activities of the movement,” added the party statement.

Top party leaders such as Mr Mohamed, Mr Joho and Ms Ngilu are yet to attend any of the protest rallies.

The trio yesterday did not respond to Nation’s queries as to why they no longer attend Mr Odinga’s rallies.

Mr Junet’s aides said the lawmaker has decided to take a back seat following the blame games that have continued to rock the opposition camp since their loss in the presidential vote.

“The boss [Mr Junet] is around and he continues to work closely with Jakom [Mr Odinga] from the background. He has deliberately decided to take a back seat so as not to be blamed for anything,” said the aide.

Mr Joho recently had lunch with the East African Legislative Assembly parliamentarian Suleiman Shahbal, Tanzanian artist Ommy Dimpoz and other friends in Dubai. Mr Joho’s former chief of staff, Job Tumbo, yesterday maintained that his former boss had gone to Dubai to pursue his “other personal interests”. “But he will be back in Kenya soon. There is life after politics,” he said.

Reporting by Justus Wanga, Rushdie Oudia, Onyango K’onyango and Samwel Owino