Prime Minister Raila Odinga went on the offensive to reclaim lost ground in Western Province following the departure of his deputy Musalia Mudavadi.
Mr Odinga, who returned to the country on Thursday morning, will pitch tent in the region this weekend, attending a funeral in Mr Mudavadi’s Sabatia constituency before addressing a rally in Mumias town.
The two will come face to face in public (they both attended a Cabinet meeting on Thursday) at the burial of Mzee Jason Omwera, the father of Nairobi mayor George Aladwa, on Saturday at Isitzi Village, Izava location in Sabatia.
Mr Odinga is working closely with MPs from the region who have decided to stick with him including assistant minister Alfred Khang’ati of Kanduyi, Mr Ababu Namwamba (Budalang’i) and Mr Benjamin Washiali (Mumias).
From the burial in Sabatia, the PM will proceed to Mumias town to address an ODM youth rally which has been organised by Mr Washiali and Mr Namwamba.
The rally will be a culmination of the two-day ODM Youth Caravan which starts on Friday in Kitale and will tour all counties in the region and end up in Mumias.
“The Orange Youth Caravan will tour all counties in the region before ending up in Mumias since it is a central place. We want to allow the young people to take charge because ODM is a party for the present and the future,” said Mr Namwamba.
Sources in Mr Odinga’s office disclosed that the PM is under pressure to appoint the Budalang’i MP to the vacant post of Local Government which Mr Mudavadi relinquished on joining UDF.
“The thinking among his advisers is that Namwamba is equal to the task. We want to present a more youthful outlook by appointing young people to some of these positions,” said a close adviser.
Speaking at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) on the departure of his deputy, the PM challenged Mr Mudavadi and other MPs who have ditched ODM to resign from Parliament and seek fresh mandate on their new parties.
“When I disagreed with Ford Kenya, I quit my Lang’ata parliamentary seat and sought fresh mandate. I have told them to be bold enough and quit all positions. They are breaking the law,” he stated.
But in a rejoinder, Mr Mudavadi through his aide, Mr Kibisu Kabatesi, said: “The Sabatia parliamentary seat belongs to the people of Sabatia. In any case, Kenya’s political history is replete with cases of people who left parties without resigning from Parliament, including those holding the highest positions in ODM.”
He was referring to the events of late 2002 when Mr Odinga led several Cabinet ministers in ditching Kanu for Narc but did not resign from Parliament.
Mr Mudavadi and other MPs who have quit ODM will possibly keep their seats since the requirement to resign on defection is contained in Chapter 8 of the Constitution which is suspended until after the next elections.
Mr Odinga read a carefully worded statement on Mr Mudavadi’s departure in which he described him as a “very good student.”
“Mr Mudavadi and I have had a very productive and fruitful relationship. I wish him the very best in this new endeavour,” he said.
However, he took off the gloves when he addressed a small group of party supporters who turned up at the airport to welcome him.
Speaking in Kiswahili, he described his former deputy as a “traitor” whose departure will not affect ODM’s popularity. “ODM iko imara. Yote yawezekana bila wasaliti. Mudavadi amesalimu amri kwa sababu yeye hataki kushindana. Ameogopa kushindana. Amekuwa muoga. (ODM is intact. All is possible without traitors. Mudavadi has surrendered because he doesn’t want to compete. He fears losing. He is a coward),” he said.
Asked whether he was concerned at the rate of defections from the party, Mr Odinga put on a brave face, saying opinion polls had shown that ODM’s popularity was growing.
“What would worry me is if ODM was losing popularity. Three months ago, opinion polls put ODM at 35 per cent, today, it is at 54 per cent,” he said.
“Those who want to join us are free to join us, those who want to leave can leave,” he said.
He denied claims by Mr Mudavadi that there had been a plot to deny him the ODM presidential ticket.
“We agreed to change our nomination rules and we are waiting for the Registrar of Political Parties to initiate the process of changing our presidential nomination rules,” he explained.
He also said he was unaware of any insults directed at Mr Mudavadi by his supporters.
“I have ears but I have not heard any insults. I have not seen any insults. It is like a hyena accusing a goat of insulting him,” the PM said.
He expressed confidence that ODM would win the next election because it was “the only party that champions reforms and the ideals of the second liberation”.
“I remain very confident that in the coming election, Kenyans will choose reform and change over status quo. They will choose hope and unity over fear and more divisions. I am very confident ODM will win the election,” he stated.
Those with the PM included Cabinet ministers James Orengo, Dalmas Otieno, Anyang’ Nyong’o, William ole Ntimama, Assistant ministers Ayiecho Olweny, Margaret Wanjiru, Manson Nyamweya, Elizabeth Ongoro, and MPs Olago Aluoch, Millie Odhiambo and the head of his campaign secretariat, Mr James Ong’wae.