As the clock ticks towards 2022 elections, politicians have started marshalling support for their presidential bids.
Most leaders have their eyes set on Western, where Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) leader Raila Odinga has enjoyed massive support in the last three elections.
Dubbed the ‘scramble for Western’ by political analysts, leaders like Deputy President William Ruto are keen to get the region’s votes.
Other leaders keen on getting a share of the region’s votes are Amani National Congress leader Musalia Mudavadi, Ford-Kenya boss Moses Wetang’ula and Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya, who has also declared interest in the presidency.
Maendeleo Chap Chap leader and Machakos Governor Alfred Mutua also visited the region last week.
Mr Ruto, who has visited the region more than three times this year, was in Kakamega County last Saturday to attend the home coming party for Education Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed, an event where 2022 politics featured prominently.
Western has four counties namely — Kakamega (746,877 voters), Bungoma (559,897), Busia (347,911) and Vihiga (267,481).
Trans-Nzoia County, located in the Rift Valley, but with a majority population of the Luhya community, has a total of 339,832 registered voters — making a total of 2,261,998 Luhya votes.
Mr Mudavadi and Mr Wetang’ula have vowed to merge ANC and Ford-Kenya.
Mr Oparanya, the ODM co-deputy party leader, is also banking on the rivalry between Mr Odinga and Mr Mudavadi to propel him to national politics in 2022.
In an interview with the Nation, Mr Oparanya said he was keen on consolidating the region’s support before selling his agenda in other regions.
He disclosed that he had set up a team of strategists and pointmen to push for his bid.
On April 29, Mr Oparanya will address a series of rallies in Lwanda Constituency, Vihiga County, before touring Bungoma County on May 5.
The 62-year-old governor from Butere, Kakamega, is determined to ascend to the highest office in the land.
But there are challenges.
First is the elusive Luhya unity, which has seen votes shared between popular parties every election year.
Recently, Mr Oparanya met all elected leaders from the region but it could be difficult for him to spread his tentacles outside Kakamega.
The Kakamega Governor is not at ease with Mr Mudavadi and Mr Wetang’ula’s quest to form a united Luhya party to counter Mr Odinga’s influence in the region.
The governor, who says he had already sought the blessings of Mr Odinga and local leaders, is keen on using Nasa principals’ fallout to expand his base.
“Mr Mudavadi and Mr Wetang’ula were my bosses by virtue of being Nasa principals but all that is now water under the bridge. At the moment, I am making inroads in Western before I set out for full-blown campaigns,” Mr Oparanya said.
“I am not in competition with my brothers (Mr) Mudavadi and (Mr) Wetang’ula. They have hinted at vying for the same position in 2022 but I want to say fighting them is like fighting over a squirrel when the Elephant is out there.”
He revealed his plans to face off with his co-deputy ODM leader, Mombasa Governor Ali Hassan Joho, who has also declared interest in the presidency.
“ODM is a democratic party with elaborate structures. The party provides for chance for nomination of a flag-bearer and I don’t fear taking part in the process,” he said.
Mr Oparanya said he was keen on entering into coalitions with "other likeminded individuals" for the sake of the 2022 elections.
Shinyalu MP Justus Kizito (ODM) and former nominated MCA Ben Ombima said the Luhya community needs fresh blood in its top leadership.
“We recently chose Mr Oparanya as community spokesperson because we trust him. We need fresh blood in our leadership and someone who is development-conscious,” Mr Kizito told Nation.
"Mr Oparanya’s record as Kakamega Governor and minister for planning and vision 2030 speaks for itself."
Mr Mudavadi and Mr Wetang’ula had accused Mr Odinga of betrayal after the Bungoma senator was ousted as Senate Minority leader.
Mr Oparanya, however, exonerated Mr Odinga from blame and asked Mr Wetang’ula to sort out his differences with the senators.
“Mr Odinga is not a senator to be blamed for Wetang’ula’s removal (as minority leader). In fact, they should not even blame ODM senators because all Nasa members voted against Mr Wetang’ula,” said Mr Oparanya.
Ikolomani MP Bernard Shinali also faulted Mr Mudavadi and Mr Wetang’ula against claims that Mr Odinga "used and dumped them.”
“You can’t be crying all the time, we want a leader who can lead the community to the government,” Mr Shinali said.
On Mr Oparanya’s candidature, the MP said that “just as other Kenyans, he has a right to vie for the presidency. However, we want him to team up with other leaders to get the community to the government.”
“The Deputy President William Ruto is a front-runner for the presidency and we want our leaders to consider working with him among other leaders. We should even settle for a running mate position just like in 2002 when retired President Mwai Kibaki had Kijana Wamalwa as his running mate,” Mr Shinali said.
For Mr Ruto to make inroads in Western region however, political analysts say he must pick a running mate from the region.
But the DP must be cautious as such a move might make him lose support from Mount Kenya counties.
Political scientist and strategist Edward Kisiangani noted that Mr Ruto’s choice of running mate will also make or break him if at all he were to win the region.
“If he (Mr Ruto) chooses his running mate from Western where he enjoys the support of many leaders, this would be an added advantage to him. He is, however, facing pressure from the Mount Kenya to pick a running mate from there, having supported President Kenyatta,” said Prof Kisiangani.
“If that happens, then it is likely to alienate Western and this is a very delicate balancing act,” he added.
Political analyst Herman Manyora argued that the political situation in 2022 will “entirely depend on what Uhuru (President Kenyatta) and Raila (Mr Odinga) have in mind.”
“Ruto (William) can move around the whole country, meet MPs from Western, Coast and even Mount Kenya but if the two leaders (Uhuru and Raila) have something else in mind, he will go nowhere,” Prof Manyora told Nation in an interview.
Prof Manyora, however, admitted that the DP “is a shrewd politician with the will, determination and resources to put up a spirited campaign to secure a huge chunk of votes.”
“But everything depends on what President Kenyatta and Raila Odinga want to do. If they decide otherwise on the 2022 presidency, then it is gone and any other person with a different thinking is going nowhere,” Prof Manyora said.
Prof Kisiangani said given the “the DP could use the crisis in Nasa to make inroads in Western region.”
However, he said that would depend on whether Mr Wetang’ula and Mr Mudavadi make a formidable team to be used by the entire Western group.
“If the two leaders form a formidable force then the DP will have to win them for support but if they have ambitions, then it will be a tall order on Mr Ruto to get support from the region,” Prof Kisiangani said.
He also hinted that the DPs political star will depend on the Uhuru-Raila deal.
“The two leaders have not made it public the contents of their deal. If they agreed to support a different candidate other that the DP then the deal is as good as done and Mr Ruto may have an uphill task to rise to the presidency,” he concluded.