Confusion surrounds Deputy President William Ruto's planned tour to ODM leader Raila Odinga's Nyanza backyard amid contradictory information from his surrogates.
The DP's point men in Nyanza maintain that his trip in mid-July will proceed even with enhanced measures imposed in the lake region to contain Covid-19 infections.
But Emmanuel Talam, the director of communications in the office of the deputy President, told the Nation that no such trip has been planned.
He also rejected the view that the partial lockdown targeted Dr Ruto in order to stop him from going to Nyanza.
"I'm not aware of any planned Ruto visit to Nyanza. I don't think anyone is playing politics with Covid-19. The pandemic is real," he said.
He spoke after Eliud Owalo, the DP's point man in the region, maintained that the tour will happen.
"The trip is on. We have not seen any reason to make us think to the contrary. Any shenanigans are an irritating irrelevance," he told the Nation.
Agreed on the trip
He and the DP had agreed on the trip, he said, adding that he had not been advised otherwise.
"The trip is on based on my agreement with Ruto himself. He has not advised on the contrary. As we speak, intensive arrangements for his visit are ongoing in the four Luo Nyanza counties."
This contradictory communication has thrown United Democratic Alliance (UDA) supporters in the region into confusion, amid the partial lockdown of four Luo Nyanza counties due to Covid-19.
Homa Bay, Migori, Kisumu and Siaya, which the DP intends to visit, fall under the lake region Covid-19 hotspot zone, which also includes Kisii, Nyamira, Kakamega, Vihiga, Busia, Kericho, Bomet, Bungoma and Trans Nzoia counties.
In the new containment measures announced on Thursday last week by Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe, the government has discouraged movement into and out of the region while the night curfew was adjusted to start at 7pm and end at 4 am.
The measures were taken amid rising infections in the region and followed a recommendation by leaders of the Lake Region Economic Bloc.
Churches that the DP planned to visit were closed for 30 days from June 18.
Besides churches, he was also to meet different groups such as traders, youth and women. The new MoH directives warn against public gatherings.
But even as Mr Owalo insisted that the visit will take place, Magu Mutindika, the Nyanza regional coordinator, maintained that there will be no public rallies or any other gatherings until further notice.
"We are aware politicians have been hiding behind funerals and church services to hold meetings. This will not be allowed and we shall ensure this is enforced," he said.
The Ruto team in Nyanza has been burning the midnight oil to prepare for his visit.
From day and night meetings to member recruitment and opening offices, the DP's team has been laying the ground for the tour aimed at neutralising Mr Odinga's popularity in the region.
The DP's visit is being planned after President Uhuru Kenyatta and Mr Odinga recently spent five days in Kisumu on a development tour, which they used to reassure their supporters of their commitment to their unity.
The partial lockdown in the lake region could affect the DP's itinerary, amid suspicion among some of his allies that apart from enhancing Covid-19 management measures, the national government is keen to stop the DP from holding meetings in Mr Odinga's political backyard, given that the directives were announced by Mr Kagwe a week after his planned visit was announced.
The DP, Mr Owalo said, will bring a message of hope that all is not lost despite the current economic challenges.
Dr Ruto will assure his Nyanza supporters that his government, should he become President, will facilitate a transformative and responsive agenda that addresses the challenges facing ordinary people.
"The DP will be selling to the people of Nyanza his empowerment plan which is pegged on the bottom-up economic model," he said
The visit will also emphasise the need for unity and inclusivity for everyone in the country, he said.
"Dr Ruto's message will be stressing the need to have a departure from the politics built around tribes to politics built around issues that are universally applicable to Kenyans irrespective of their backgrounds," said Mr Owalo, who was once a strategist for both Mr Odinga and Amani National Congress leader Musalia Mudavadi.
Apart from using the opportunity to meet directly with the 'Hustler' masses in Luo Nyanza, Dr Ruto will also attend church services and spearhead economic empowerment programmes for youth and women groups.
Mr Owalo revealed that in the past two months, UDA, which is closely associated with the DP, has recruited about 18,000 members in the region, saying it was a remarkable achievement.
This, he said, surpasses the less than 10,000 votes that President Kenyatta received from the four Luo Nyanza counties in the 2013 and 2017 elections.
"We target to realise 100,000 UDA party members by August and 300,000 by December, culminating in a mass exodus to the party in the new year, both in membership and by way of prospective aspirants for all elective positions for purposes of the 2022 election," Mr Owalo said.
His sentiments were shared by former Rangwe MP Martin Ogindo, the leader of the Green Congress Party and one of the DP's point men in the region.
Mr Ogindo told the Nation that they plan to rope in as many politicians as they can to jump into the 'Hustler train' ahead of the next General Election.
"There are plans to bring everybody on board as we embrace alternative political paths. It is important that our strategy ensures that we are not left entirely out of the new government that is going to be formed in 2022, which we believe the DP will be heading once he clinches presidency," he said.
UDA Kisumu County chairman John Odenyo said the 'Hustler nation' narrative has infiltrated the Nyanza region.
"We expect next year's election to have sparks and the presence of UDA here is a confirmation that Nyanza is not an island," he said.
The party's coordinator in Homa Bay, Everest Okambo, said they expect to have more than 50,000 registered UDA members who will boost DP Ruto's support all the way to the ballot.
"We have registered at least 20,000 people. We expect an additional 10,000 by the time the deputy President visits us next month," he said.