Deputy President William Ruto and ODM leader Raila Odinga will hold separate campaign meetings in Ukambani as political realignments in the region take shape.
This will be Mr Ruto’s fifth such trip to the region in the past two weeks, while Mr Odinga will meet Kamba leaders under his Azimio la Umoja initiative.
With an estimated 1.7 million votes, Ukambani, which voted overwhelmingly for Mr Odinga and his running mate Kalonzo Musyoka in the past two General Elections, is emerging as a political battleground with candidates leaving nothing to chance in their quest for a piece of the voting bloc.
The DP is expected to address five campaign rallies across three constituencies in Kitui County as the former Prime Minister holds meetings in Emali and Wote in Makueni County.
Mr Odinga has been traversing the country promoting unity, while hitting out at DP Ruto’s ‘hustler’ politics.
“I am consulting Kenyans on what they want before I decide whether I should contest the presidency. We should move this country together,” he said.
Mr Ruto’s rallies today’s come hot on the heels of a series of meetings he has held in the region.
The DP accused the ODM leader of short-changing Ukambani when he reconciled with President Uhuru Kenyatta three years ago. In the 2012 and 2017 polls, the region voted overwhelmingly for Mr Odinga, who ran on a joint ticket with Mr Musyoka, the Wiper party leader.
The DP will first land at Zombe market in Kitui East in the morning before proceeding to Mutomo and Ikutha markets in Kitui South, said former Kitui Rural MP Charles Nyamai, one of his trusted allies in Ukambani.
He will later stop at Kamutei market before his final major rally at Kanyangi market in Kitui Rural in the afternoon.
“We’re ready to host the DP once again, and we’re happy and encouraged that the political ground has slowly shifted beneath those who have been taking voters for granted,” Mr Nyamai said after chairing a meeting of UDA aspirants in Kitui.
Mr Ruto’s tour of Kitui County comes just a week after he made a similar tour of Kitui Central and Kitui West last weekend.
Meanwhile, Mr Odinga will be hosted by the three Ukambani governors and other leaders in his two meetings, amid grumbling by Wiper party leaders, who claim the visit is designed to undermine their party leader, Mr Musyoka.
Mr Odinga met governors Charity Ngilu (Kitui), Alfred Mutua (Machakos) and Kivutha Kibwana (Makueni) and several other politicians, including Kibwezi West parliamentary aspirant Mwengi Mutuse, to plan today’s meeting.
Governor Ngilu has repeatedly warned Mr Musyoka against going it alone, arguing he doesn’t stand a chance of winning the presidential election as a third force.
Mr Musyoka’s camp has protested that Mr Odinga is working with three governors to undermine him, an accusation dismissed by the ODM leader’s handlers.
ODM spokesman Philip Etale dismissed the Wiper leaders’ claims as unfounded, saying the Ukambani edition of Mr Odinga’s Azimio la Umoja isn’t the first and that he has visited several other regions of the country.
“Mr Odinga has been to Coast, Garissa, Kakamega, Eldoret, Kisumu and Meru, but we haven’t heard any group of leaders, including those in the One Kenya Alliance (OKA) coalition, complaining about the tours,” Mr Etale said.
In July, President Kenyatta cancelled a planned trip to Kitui County after Mr Musyoka and his allies accused Mr Odinga of gate-crashing the President’s tour.
They argued that they felt demeaned as Kamba leaders when Mr Odinga showed up uninvited at the Thwake dam, accusing him of trying to steal the show and take the political limelight away from Mr Musyoka.
‘Bilateral talks ‘
“We were surprised to see Mr Odinga at the meeting yet it was our moment as a community to have ‘bilateral talks’ with the President to discuss serious socio-economic issues affecting the region,” Kitui Senator Enoch Wambua said then.
At the Thwake meeting, Mr Musyoka’s anger was manifested clearly in his body language, openly showing his disapproval of Mr Odinga’s presence and falling short of describing him as an unwelcome guest.
“Thank you for coming. We did not expect you here but God has enabled you to come to Ukambani,” Mr Musyoka told Mr Odinga, whose chopper touched down shortly after the President had landed.
Wiper MPs have tried to thwart any efforts to strike a working arrangement between Mr Musyoka and Mr Odinga as the 2022 campaigns to succeed President Kenyatta gather momentum.
Last month, Senator Wambua issued a hard-hitting statement, warning that the Kamba community will ‘never’ forgive Mr Musyoka if he chooses to deputise or work with Mr Odinga a third time.
But in Ukambani, the clamour to have Mr Musyoka on the presidential ballot is seen as a desperate ploy by some Wiper MPs to hang onto his coat-tails so as to secure re-election in their constituencies.