Orange Juice

Kenya: Is President Ruto squeezing the Orange?

By Victor Abuso

Posted on February 9, 2023 16:36

 © Kenya’s opposition leader Raila Odinga of the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) addressing a rally on  January 29, 2023. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya –
Kenya’s opposition leader Raila Odinga of the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) addressing a rally on January 29, 2023. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya –

Internal discord is threatening to break up Raila Odinga’s opposition party, the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), after some of its MPs met President William Ruto for talks at State House in Nairobi.

The president’s Tuesday meeting with nine MPs from Nyanza region angered stalwarts in the ODM party, who said that they were not given permission to meet Ruto. They characterised the encounter as an act of betrayal and disrespect to Odinga, who has announced that he does not recognise Ruto as the legitimately elected president of Kenya.

“We call on Kenyans to ignore such selfish leaders who only care about their stomachs and not the well-being of the millions of poor Kenyans,” Philip Etale, ODM’s communication director, said after the meeting.

Odinga’s party accuses Ruto of trying to destabilise the opposition by trying to stop the ongoing countywide political rallies against him and by bribing its members.

Just a development discussion

Lang’ata constituency MP Phelix Odiwuor, who attended the meeting with Ruto, says he had received a call directly from the president inviting him to State House to discuss matters affecting his constituents.

“We only discussed development, the meeting was not about politics,” says Odiwuor.

ODM spokesman Etale says the meeting was not a surprise because they had suspected some of its members were secretly in cahoots with the regime, pursuing their own interests.

“It would also be interesting to get a list of the ‘development’ [projects] discussed from each member who went to State House so that their electorate can follow up on implementation,” ODM’s Secretary General Edwin Sifuna said in a tweet.

You cannot question my loyalty to Raila Amollo Odinga

Odiwuor has refuted allegations of betraying the opposition party, and vows that he will continue to attend anti-Ruto rallies.

“You cannot question my loyalty to Raila Amollo Odinga,” he says.

Other MPs who met Ruto include Shakeel Shabir (Kisumu East, Independent), Paul Abuor (Rongo), John Owino (Awendo), Kisumu Senator Tom Ojienda, Gideon Ochanda (Bondo), Elisha Odhiambo (Gem), Mark Nyamita (Uriri) and Caroli Omondi (Suba South).

Ruto also met a section of opposition Jubilee Party MPs on Wednesday as part of his efforts to unite the country.

“Leaders must join hands, foster coexistence and work together in confronting the challenges facing our country,” Ruto said.

Political posturing

It is clear that Ruto is on a mission to persuade Odinga’s MPs to abandon their party leader and his rallies, political analyst Brian Wanyama, tells The Africa Report.

“Ruto will use all means to ensure that Raila is weak politically. He wants to govern peacefully,” Wanyama says.

The Orange MPs who met Ruto will have a hard time convincing their constituents that the meeting was in their best interest, he says, citing the current political situation.

“Supporters believe Raila more than those MPs who met Ruto,” he says.

However, the splits in the party over the Ruto meeting are cleaving deeper than previously thought. ODM Chairman John Mbadi is also expected to step down in the coming days after he reportedly said he had been disrespected within the party.

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