Violet Nyaga
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UDA polls: Ruto party rocked by factional wars as political giants battle it out

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Violet Nyaga (left), a returning officer, confers with polling clerk Lucy Wangare at Kayole One Primary School in Nairobi during the UDA ward elections on May 18.

Photo credit: Wilfred Nyangaresi | Nation Media Group

President William Ruto’s party is faced with factional wars heightened by the highly contested grassroots elections as the opposing camps test each other’s mettle.

The first round of the United Democratic Alliance (UDA) polls kicked off on April 26 in Nairobi, Narok, West-Pokot, Busia, Homa Bay, Isiolo and Garissa counties, where numerous complaints have emerged over alleged interference by powerful forces.

Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua — who was recently handed a lifeline after the party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) approved an amendment of its constitution to create only one office of the deputy party leader — last Saturday confirmed a raging feud in the party.

Speaking in President Ruto’s Uasin Gishu backyard, the DP sensationally claimed some politicians from the Rift Valley region who are close to the Head of State were meddling in Mt Kenya politics to undermine him.

Kiharu MP Ndindi Nyoro, a thorn in Mr Gachagua’s flesh, is said to be keen on taking over the UDA secretary-general post in the expected December polls from Mr Cleophas Malala and has the backing of a section of Rift Valley leaders.

Mt Kenya politics

“Some few politicians who are around the President want to meddle with Mt Kenya politics to fight me. We in Mt Kenya have never interfered with Rift Valley politics and we deserve respect,” said the DP. Kirinyaga Governor Anne Waiguru has waded into the feud between Mr Gachagua and Mr Nyoro, telling off the country’s second in command.

“While we respect the office of the Deputy President, and any other office of leadership, a progressive democracy does not allow us as occupiers of public leadership offices to personalise them. We hold these offices in trust, not as owners. Let us recognise the right of all, especially our women and our youth, to aspire to [running for] high office,” the Council of Governors chair said.

The infighting in the Kenya Kwanza administration has also reared its ugly head in Nyanza region, where President Ruto has been trying to make a footing.

The region is the backyard of opposition chief Raila Odinga and his Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) party. The battle here pits Information Cabinet Secretary Eliud Owalo against Interior Principal Secretary Raymond Omollo. While the two are not eyeing any political position in the party, they are said to back opposing camps.

Dr Omollo is said to be backing political activist and long-time Ruto ally George Ayugi alias Mbuta for the Kisumu County UDA chairman. Dressing journalists in Kisumu last Week, 2022 Kisumu County UDA gubernatorial candidate Erick Osenya accused Dr Omollo of interfering with the party elections. But Mr Ayugi defended Dr Omollo, instead accusing Mr Owalo of using Mr Osenya to rock the party from within.

In Homa Bay County where elections have already kicked off, Dr Omollo was accused of having a preferred line-up, with Suba North Constituency UDA chairman aspirant Hesbon Ouma criticising election officials of being influenced to favour particular candidates.

“In Kasgunga Ward, we were shocked when we were told that elections would take place at Mbita Police Station. We want the police to remain neutral and do their work of protecting people and their property,” he said.

Dr Omollo and Mr Owalo did not respond to the allegations.

In Nairobi, Mr Gachagua is jostling with Governor Johnson Sakaja, who is eyeing the county chairmanship, with the DP said to back Embakasi MP James Gakuya for the position.

Mr Sakaja has held meetings with some of the delegates elected at the polling centre level in a bid to influence them to back him. But Mr Gakuya has to first win at the constituency level before he can face off with Mr Sakaja at the county level.

In West Pokot, Governor Simon Kachapin and Senator Julius Murgor are squaring it out for the chairmanship position.

In Narok, the contest for the county chairmanship is a two- horse race between Governor Patrick Ntutu and Narok West MP Gabriel Tongoyo. At the coast, UDA vice-chairman Hassan Omar and Nyali MP Mohamed Ali have also locked horns as both prepare to make a stab at the gubernatorial seat in 2027. Both are said to be scheming to have their lieutenants elected to key party posts in an effort to boost their chances.

Grassroots elections

Mr Omar is also a member of the UDA Internal Dispute Resolution Committee, a position that has unsettled Mr Ali’s camp which think he might use it to influence the outcome of the grassroots elections in June.

Mr Ali, a former journalist of the “Jicho Pevu” fame, had accused Mr Omar of bungling the party’s gubernatorial campaigns in the 2022 elections.

Mr Omar lost the seat to Mr Abdulswamad Nassir of ODM, garnering 98,105 votes against the winner’s 119,083.

In Western, Mr Malala and Senator Boni Khalwale do not see eye to eye, with Dr Khalwale alleging that Mr Malala is using his senior post to his advantage at the expense of other UDA members.

He has accused Mr Malala of usurping the power of the party's National Elections Board chaired by Mr Anthony Mwaura by hiring regional and county managers to conduct grassroots polls in the area.

In Lower Eastern (Ukambani), UDA organising secretary Vincent Musyoka alias Kawaya is seeking to have his way in the polls despite opposition from former Machakos Town MP Victor Munyaka, who is out to find a new bearing in the region’s politics after losing MP post in 2022.

In Upper Eastern (Meru region), Governor Kawira Mwangaza, who joined UDA last month, is not yet through with her political battles with Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mithika Linturi, whom she trounced in the 2022 gubernatorial election.