Kenya: Top Guns in By-Election Plan to Lock Ruto Out of Western Kenya

President Uhuru Kenyatta (left) and his deputy William Ruto leave Harambee House Annex (file photo).
8 January 2021

Rattled by inroads made by Deputy President William Ruto into the 2.2 million western Kenya vote bloc, Raila Odinga's Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), Musalia Mudavadi's Amani National Congress (ANC) and Bungoma Senator Moses Wetang'ula's Ford-Kenya parties have devised a multi-thronged plan to lock the DP out of the region.

The strategy hinges on the upcoming Matungu and Kabuchai by-elections in Kakamega and Bungoma counties, respectively.

While ODM has settled on former MP David Were as its candidate for the Matungu mini-poll, ANC and Ford-Kenya have agreed to rally behind Mr Peter Nabulindo - who ran on a Ford-Kenya ticket in the 2017 General Election but lost narrowly to the late Justus Murunga, who was ANC's flag bearer.

No candidate

In Kabuchai, the ANC will not field any candidate and is expected to support Majimbo Simiyu Kalasinga, who won the Ford-Kenya party ticket on Tuesday.

Mr Mudavadi has described the Ford-Kenya-ANC cooperation as the beginning of efforts to cement Luhya unity, which is further threatened by ODM.

The Orange party has refused to back away from the two mini-polls, and so has Dr Ruto, who sees Western as a soft target in his 2022 State House vote hunt.

"They keep talking of the evasive Luhya unity. The time has come to demonstrate it. The people of Matungu, you have to salvage our image. Let us walk together on this journey. It is a long journey. We are not divided, as many people seem to believe. We want you to shock this country on March 4 by voting in Peter Oscar Nabulindo in Matungu," Mr Mudavadi said on December 22 when he unveiled Mr Nabulindo as the ANC candidate.

But even with ODM promising a bruising battle in the Kabuchai and Matungu mini-polls, which were won by Ford-Kenya and ANC respectively in 2017, the three camps are united in ensuring the DP commands no influence in the region that voted overwhelmingly for Mr Odinga in 2017.

Charm offensive

Dr Ruto has been on a charm offensive, often conducting as many as five rallies in a single day in Western.

Keen to secure a seat at the high table ahead of the 2022 polls, the Western bigwigs now believe the March 4 by-election will give them an opportunity to work as a block.

To beat the DP and Raila Odinga's candidates, Mr Mudavadi is banking on his party's deputy leader and Lugari MP Ayub Savula, Kakamega Senator Cleophas Malala, MPs Ernest Ogesi (Vihiga), Alfred Agoi (Sabatia), Beatrice Adagala (Vihiga), John Bunyasi (Nambale) and allies of Bungoma Senator Wetang'ula.

"In the spirit of uniting the Luhya nation behind Mudavadi's presidential bid, we have decided to support Ford-Kenya in Kabuchai, under the leadership of Senator Wetang'ula and in Matungu, we'll back the Ford-Kenya candidate in the 2017 election, Mr Peter Nabulindo. He has joined the ANC and will deliver the seat. Ford-Kenya is supporting us in Matungu," Mr Savula told the Nation.

Door-to-door campaign

Already, the former Prime Minister's party has tasked Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya to embark on a door-to-door campaign to ensure they win the seat.

ODM Director of Elections Junet Mohammed on Wednesday said the campaigns in Matungu will be under the supervision and command of Mr Oparanya, the Kakamega governor.

"He will be in charge of the campaigns and we will work under his command," Mr Mohammed said.

"Due to the stringent measures put in place and the ban on political gatherings by the President because of Covid-19, we shall go down to the villages and campaign for our candidates, and we are confident we shall win."

Friendly parties

In the meantime, the Tangatanga wing of Jubilee intends to use parties that are friendly to the Deputy President to capture the vacant seats ahead of the 2022 General Election.

In the coming months, which are expected to be politically charged - what with BBI referendum campaigns and by-elections for Nairobi governor, Machakos senator, Matungu and Kabuchai MPs and ward reps across the country - the "Ruto parties" are keen to show their mettle as they wrestle against Jubilee, ODM, ANC, Wiper and Ford Kenya.

So far, 20 aspirants have been gazetted by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission to run as independent candidates.

Difficult time

The DP may have a difficult time settling on a candidate, given that his Kakamega allies - Boni Khalwale, Benjamin Washiali and Rashid Echesa - have each fronted a candidate of their choice.

While Mr Khalwale has picked Mohammed Seif Omoro, Washiali has gone for Khamis Athman Wangara (former CDF chairman) and Rashid Echesa has presented Alex Lanya.

It is not clear who the DP will support, though there are reports that he may opt to support Ms Christabel Amunga, the widow of the late Murunga.

The Nation has also established that the DP's camp is likely to use the newly unveiled United Democratic Alliance (UDA), associated with former Machakos senator Johnstone Muthama, in both the Matungu and Kabuchai by-elections.

Two people

UDA has settled on Mr Alex Lanya for Matungu and Mr Evans Kaikai for Kabuchai.

"We are using the wheelbarrow party to participate in these by-elections and so far Lanya and Kaikai are our preferred candidates for Matungu and Kabuchai respectively. We are going to unveil Kaikai tomorrow (Friday) with the DP in Nairobi," said Kimilili MP Didmus Barasa, an ally of the DP.

Dr Ruto is banking on MPs Benjamin Washiali (Mumias East), Mr Barasa (Kimilili), Dan Wanyama (Webuye West), John Waluke (Sirisia), Janet Nangabo (Trans-Nzoia), Malulu Injendi (Malava), Mwambu Mabongah (Bumula), Robert Pukose (Endebes), Fred Kapondi (Mt Elgon), Charles Gemose (Hamisi), former Sports Cabinet Secretary Echesa and former Kakamega senator, Dr Khalwale.

Mr Washiali, a former Majority Whip, is confident their candidates for the two mini-polls resonate very well with people on the ground, adding that ODM, ANC and Ford-Kenya erred in their choice of candidates.

"We are not going to make the mistake our political foes made in Matungu and Kabuchai. We have been holding thorough consultations on this matter," he said.

Three tours

Dr Ruto has toured Kakamega County three times since Murunga's demise.

On December 5, 2020, the DP, Raila, Mudavadi and other leaders attended Murunga's burial in Makunda village.

Mr Washiali, Dr Khalwale and Mr Barasa asked the DP not to campaign in Matungu but hand them 'firearms' and wait for results.

"You don't need to step into Matungu to campaign. Just give us enough firearms and we will do a good job as we did in Msambweni," said Dr Khalwale.

Sabatia MP Alfred Agoi, an ally of Mr Mudavadi, has asked the DP not to support a candidate in the Matungu and Kabuchai by-elections 'in the spirit of the handshake'.

According to the legislator, the DP would be going against his boss - President Uhuru Kenyatta - and Jubilee Party, which has not fielded a candidate.

"The DP has been in government for the past eight years. What new ideas will he bring into this country? He is the principal assistant to the President and it would be a bad show if he goes against the party position by supporting a candidate," said Mr Agoi.

Wetang'ula's turf

According to ODM Secretary-General Edwin Sifuna, the Raila-led party is not going to field a candidate in Kabuchai and will not back any candidate fielded by either Ford-Kenya or UDA.

"We have no candidate in Kabuchai and we are not supporting anyone," said Mr Sifuna.

Kabuchai is the home turf of Senator Wetang'ula, Bungoma Woman Representative Catherine Wambilianga and Governor Wycliffe Wangamati.

The Kabuchai poll presents the biggest test for Ford-Kenya and Senator Wetang'ula, for whom victory would send a strong message that he is still in charge of the party.

The recent by-election victories of candidates backed by the DP in the ODM stronghold of Msambweni and various wards have sent signals that Tangatanga is cobbling together a well-oiled machine for the 2022 General Election.

Their plans, which are being tested in various by-elections, including in the upcoming Matungu, Kabuchai, Machakos, London and Huruma wards, are centred around the personality of Dr Ruto, who has been making well-targeted tours of vote-rich regions since 2013.

His campaign strategy, woven around his "Hustler Nation" brand, religious leaders, trusted loyalists, a strong online presence and claims of dishing out money, has begun paying dividends.

Point men

The campaign machinery is intended to be so well-oiled that Dr Ruto does not have to be physically present to support his preferred candidates but is briefed constantly by key point men and women in each region, with back-up from seasoned colleagues from elsewhere. The DP's campaigns also focus on grassroots mobilisation.

As the DP faces resistance in his attempts to control the Jubilee Party, insiders in his camp say supporting "friendly" contestants and independent candidates is their strategy not only for by-elections but also the 2022 General Election. The idea is to have Dr Ruto win both the presidential vote and parliamentary loyalty.

Additional reporting by Shaban Makokha

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