Kenya: Can Ruto win over Raila’s allies in the post-election battle?

By Jeff Otieno
Posted on Wednesday, 21 September 2022 09:26

William Ruto and Raila Odinga on 16 August 2022

After beating the odds to become Kenya’s fifth head of state, President William Ruto has set his sights on sending his fierce rival Raila Odinga into political retirement. Will Ruto succeed in scoring a double win over Raila who has been active in politics for more than three decades?

On 15 August, after being declared the winner of the fiercely contested presidential election in Kenya, William Ruto warned his rival Raila Odinga, still smarting from defeat, that their political battle was not yet over.

“There will be no handshake. The handshake created a mongrel that made it difficult for the government to deliver services to its people. We will not repeat that mistake,” said Ruto referring to an agreement between then-President Uhuru Kenyatta and then-opposition leader Raila Odinga, a decision Ruto vehemently opposed and has constantly blamed for government failures.

However, the multiple handshakes with Raila’s allies after his win left little doubt in many people’s minds that President Ruto was on a mission to weaken the former prime minister politically.

“The handshakes which were characterised by the exchange of memorandum of understanding documents revealed that he was indeed ready to share power with his rivals but not Raila, who he accuses of driving a wedge between him and his predecessor, Uhuru Kenyatta,” says political analyst John Charo.

In fact, a few days after he received his winner’s certificate, the president started poaching Raila’s foot soldiers in various regions.

UDM MPs abandon Azimio

Ruto started with the former prime minister’s point man in northern Kenya Ali Roba — the party leader of the United Democratic Movement (UDM) and Mandera senator — who played a key role in getting leaders to join the Azimio La Umoja Coalition party.

Roba moved with other leaders elected on the UDM party ticket, among them Marsabit governor Mohamud Ali, Mandera governor Mohamed Khalif, Mandera deputy governor Ali Maalim and Wajir senator Abbas Sheikh.

Others were MPs Umulkheir Kassim (Mandera), Bashir Abdullahi (Mandera North), Kullow Hassan (Banisa), Joseph Lekuton (Laisamis), Mangale Munga Chiforomodo (Lunga Lunga), AbdulEnrahim Haro (Mandera South) and Adan Haji (Mandera West).

“Today UDM has joined and, like any other member before you, UDM will become an equal member like all others in the alliance,” Roba said.

Ruto was the founder of the party in the late 1990s after he fell out with officials of then-ruling party Kenya African National Union.

We welcome independent MPs to the growing Kenya Kwanza family. We thank them for believing in us.

On his part, Roba thanked Ruto for admitting him and his party into the Kenya Kwanza Alliance, while accusing Azimio bigwigs of undermining small parties in the coalition.

“The opaqueness with which Azimio has operated is what will lead to everybody leaving. I am honoured to be accepted back in Kenya Kwanza,” said the UDM party leader.

The president was not done yet and wooed seven of the nine independent MPs to his corner, including those allied to Raila, adding the much-needed numbers to Kenya Kwanza in readiness for the anticipated supremacy battles in parliament.

“We welcome independent MPs to the growing Kenya Kwanza family. We thank them for believing in us,” said Ruto after receiving the legislators at his Karen residence.

Luo Nyanza politicians defect to Kenya Kwanza

To further isolate Raila, the new president went for the former prime minister’s allies in his Nyanza region stronghold.

Ruto first wooed David Ochieng, the Ugenya MP and party leader of the Movement for Democracy and Growth (MDG) who had vigorously campaigned for Raila in the 9 August general election.

“I wish to welcome MDG to Kenya Kwanza. We have already signed an agreement. It is historic because this is a party formally from the Nyanza region and we are looking forward to forging necessary partnerships,” said Ruto.

The president described the defection as critical adding that “we can now be able to mainstream the people of Nyanza in working with the rest of Kenya to build politics devoid of ethnicity and unnecessary conflict”.

Ochieng, who shifted with a group of politicians belonging to Raila’s Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) party, described MDG as part of the jigsaw puzzle that was missing in Ruto’s matrix to govern the country “and it is going to be smooth now going forward”.

In the run-up to the election, some politicians in Nyanza had expressed their dissatisfaction with the way ODM party affairs were being run. This was after they lost the party nominations, blaming top party officials for rigging them out. It is these disgruntled politicians that the president pursued in a bid to weaken Raila in his native region.

ODM’s top officials in Kisii join Ruto’s camp

In the neighbouring Kisii region, the head of state netted Raila’s campaign coordinator for Nyanza and former Kisii county governor James Ongwae as well as Janet Ongera, ODM’s executive director.

“We had an opportunity to sit with the fifth President William Ruto and pass our congratulatory message and goodwill of Omogusi (Kisii community) as he takes the mantle of the highest office in our country,” said Ongwae after a closed-door meeting with the president.

Ongwae and Ongera’s defection took many by surprise as they were considered Raila’s trusted allies in the larger Kisii region and members of the ODM party’s ‘inner circle’.

In fact, some ODM party leaders termed Ongwae’s defection as a major betrayal to Raila.

“My brother Ongwae and his group have gone to Karen (Ruto’s residence) to eat. We are surprised since he used to move around with Raila during the campaign period. Instead of going to Raila to express his sympathies, he’s gone to eat somewhere,” said angry Nyamira senator, Okongo Omogeni.

Narok senator Ledama Ole Kina noted that Ongwae should have retired with honour after serving as Kisii governor for two terms instead of seeking ‘cheap favours’.

“You [Ongwae] have been a governor for 10 years. During the campaigns you supported Azimio but today your greed is taking you to Kenya Kwanza. Retire honourably,” Ole Kina said.

The fall of dynasties

According to Charo, by poaching Raila’s allies in his Nyanza backyard, President Ruto is not taking any chances with the veteran politician who still commands huge support countrywide.

“[Ruto] knows that if he weakens Raila he will have an easier time ruling the country since the former prime minister is the only politician who can match him word for word,” Charo said.

Political analyst Ochieng Onyango concurs, adding that President Ruto knows he will have a less stressful five-year term if he succeeds in pushing Raila into political retirement.

“Raila is the only politician at the moment who can give President Ruto trouble especially if he fails to deliver on his promises and that is why he is very keen on pushing out the veteran politician,” says Onyango.

According to a legislator allied to Kenya Kwanza Alliance who did not want to be named due to the sensitivity of the matter, Ruto has set his sights on weakening the Odinga family’s grip in Nyanza politics after succeeding in destabilising the Kenyatta family in the Mt Kenya region.

“[Ruto] also managed to ensure that the two sons of former President Daniel Moi who were active in politics were sent packing by the electorate, hence wiping out the Moi family’s political influence in Rift Valley,” the politician added.

Gideon Moi lost his Baringo senator seat to William Cheptumo, while his brother Raymond lost his Rongai parliamentary seat to Paul Chebor. Both victors were fronted by Ruto’s United Democratic Alliance (UDA) which is now the dominant political party in the Mt Kenya and Rift Valley regions. 

“The president has vowed to see to it that the three families (Moi, Kenyatta and Odinga) will no longer determine who becomes president in this country. We are sure he will succeed.”

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