Kenya: Raila, Mudavadi Allies Join Ruto Camp With Top Secrets

20 September 2020

Deputy President William Ruto has quietly conscripted into his camp the former ANC secretary-general Barrack Muluka, the latest high-profile technocrat to crossover to his side as he assembles a diverse team with the hope of becoming the country's fifth president.

While an event to make this public could be held any time this month, the DP has not been making public most of the changes in his team. For example, he recently put Dr Korir Sing'oei in-charge of overall strategy but there was no official announcement.

The Sunday Nation has established that Mr Muluka will now head the presidential campaign communications team as the DP looks to revamp it in readiness for the big fight.

Mr Muluka recently resigned from the ANC and together with the former aide of ODM leader Raila Odinga, Mr Eliud Owalo, have excited DP's camp as they are believed to have moved with every trick in the book from Mr Musalia Mudavadi's ANC and Mr Odinga on how to clinch the highest office in the land. Mr Muluka downplayed the reports of joining the 'hustler nation'.

We understand that Mr Muluka could be waiting for the official announcement by the DP before he can issue a comprehensive statement about the move.

Switching camps

"As you are aware, I am a public communications professional and a teacher. If the DP talks to me and we agree on professional communications consultancy role with him, I will go public on this. We have not discussed anything like this with him, or with anybody else in his team, or any other team," Mr Muluka said.

The reduced number of Covid-19 cases in the country has seen all leading politicians embark on public engagements, a sign that soon, it will be back to the campaign trail with two years left to the next polls. Already, leading presidential hopefuls such as the DP, Mr Odinga and Mr Mudavadi are engaging the masses in town hall meetings across the country.

Just last Monday, the DP paraded Mr Owalo, a former head of Mr Odinga's presidential campaign and his chief campaign manager in 2013, among others in his latest series of high-profile catches, welcoming those defecting from his opponents to his fold as the race to succeed President Uhuru Kenyatta gains momentum. Mr Owalo unsuccessfully sought the Kibra parliamentary seat in last year's by-election on ANC ticket.

Most of those at technical level who are switching camps are moving with secrets of their former parties or allies. This could either mean duplication of campaign strategies or potentially, give the receiving camps added advantage over their opponents.

Possible alliance formation

The defecting individuals are also thought to have information on possible alliance formation scenarios and simulations. The information could be used against opponents in cases where their new political homes and leadership runs and strikes a deal ahead of competition.

Both Mr Muluka and Mr Owalo have been at the centre of the ANC renaissance journey and are certainly privy to plans by Mr Mudavadi to position himself as the country's next chief executive.

Mr Mudavadi's ANC is keen to galvanise the western vote as the base for his State House ambition, the same constituency Dr Ruto has his eyes trained on especially in the event central Kenya he had initially banked his presidential hopes on shortchanges him -- especially by fronting a candidate from the region.

If that were the case, a running-mate from western would be a viable alternative. Allies of the DP say the camp will benefit from Mr Owalo's wide local political networks drawn from his days as a founder member of Fora (Friends of Raila) and the experience he obtained as the head of the Raila Odinga Presidential Campaign Secretariat and chief campaign manager in 2013.

Even within ODM, they admit that the son of the late Nomiya Church Archbishop Gideon Charles Owalo, who taught Mr Odinga at Maranda School, possesses political mobilisation skills, something the DP will especially be banking on to make forays in Nyanza.

DP's camp will equally benefit from the wherewithal of the former Machakos Senator Johnson Muthama, a man known to have been bankrolling Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka's campaigns over the years. Through him, the second in command hopes to make inroads in Ukambani.

Together with the former Kakamega Senator Boni Khalwale, Mr Muthama and Mr Hassan Omar, who also represented Mombasa in the Senate, they form part of a team of advisors the DP is banking on to sail to the shores.

Digital platforms

Former State House digital director Denis Itumbi, who has since left the President for his deputy, is among those behind the drive to reach out to the masses, especially the youth through social media.

Mr Itumbi has been co-opted in the DP's media and communication advisory team that also has press secretaries David Mugonyi and Emmanuel Talam, both journalists. Dr Ruto is setting up an online TV station that will target voters on various digital platforms, according to an insider in his camp.

The fact that Mr Itumbi still enjoys immense networks 'within the system' gives the DP an advantage of knowing what his opponents there could be plotting -- complementing the Dr Ruto's well-established intelligence network.

The former director is also seen as adept at propaganda that comes in handy during elections campaigns or to deflect attention during a crisis.

Another former Presidential Strategic Communications Unit director, Eric Ngeno, also joined the Ruto camp after he was kicked out of State House. Mr Ng'eno, who was the President's speech-writer, is seen as a repository of information who will come in handy for the man from Sugoi.

Mr Odinga's camp is poorer with the departure of Dr David Ndii, a brilliant and visionary mind that was behind Nasa's stratagem in the last polls.

Dr Ndii parted ways with the ODM chief following his handshake with Mr Kenyatta. The beef was that Mr Odinga embraced his nemesis without consulting his advisers, Dr Ndii being among them.

"Kenyatta had been banking on resolving the election impasse privately with Odinga, kinyumbani (domestically) as we say in Swahili; the handshake was the actualisation of Kenyatta's desire, as we say in Swahili, tumewachwa kwa mataa (we had been abandoned at the traffic lights).

But by having chosen to personalise a political crisis, Uhuru and Raila would seem to have overestimated their personal power and underestimated their adversaries," Dr Ndii told the Sunday Nation.

He has, together with other four activists, since filed a petition in court challenging the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) sponsored by Mr Kenyatta and Mr Odinga that seeks to amend the constitution. They want the courts to declare that Chapter Nine of the constitution (Executive) cannot be amended either by Parliament or through popular initiative (referendum).

Reign of dynasties

By opposing the BBI, some critics have claimed that the economist could be indirectly doing the DP's bidding. Dr Ndii has, however, not indicated such an affiliation.

Having been Mr Odinga's chief of staff when he was the prime minister, that Mr Caroli Omondi is hobnobbing with the DP could also worry the Orange party. Mr Omondi not only understands the former premier's vision but also his thinking, an asset that can be deployed to Mr Odinga's disadvantage.

Another big catch for Dr Ruto is Mr Omar, who has the gift of gab and civil society connections as the DP hopes to leverage on these to win over support at the Coast.

"We want to end the reign of dynasties and usher in a hustler nation for all," Mr Omar said yesterday.

Nyali MP Mohamed Ali, a journalist, was also key in Mr Odinga's communications team until he bolted out after losing out on the party's primaries to the broth of Mombasa Governor Ali Hassan Joho. He was later elected as an independent candidate..

Mr Odinga's ODM, however, dismisses as inconsequential the exit of these former members.

Secretary-general Edwin Sifuna said ,"The fact that Owalo who left ODM around 2013 still refers to himself as 'former Raila aide' almost 10 years later tells you who needs the other. Mr Omar is poorer than he was in 2013 because he left Mzee (Mr Odinga)".

He added: "Raila has lost more serious people than these jokers but he has never lost the people. Even some of the founders of this party, who cannot be compared to these characters in terms of political weight, left the party but we are still going strong. They suffer from serious delusions of grandeur. ODM is a mass movement, a grassroots party that cannot be threatened by people like moha (Mr Ali)."

The strategy of using the enemy's own hand to hit at him appears to be the DP's favourite in getting an upper hand over opponents.

He quite remarkably applied it in 2014 when Foreign Affairs CAS Ababu Namwamba, then ODM secretary-general led a botched takeover of the party. That time, Mr Namwamba was among the officials of Mr Odinga's party secretly working with Dr Ruto ahead of the 2017 polls to destabilise the former PM.

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