Deputy President William Ruto on Monday traversed South Nyanza — the heartland of his political nemesis Raila Odinga — with a basket of development goodies.
However, the hopes of his lieutenants that Mr Odinga would throw his weight behind the Deputy President’s presidential quest, especially after the much-publicised lunch at Mr Ruto’s home over the weekend, proved to be, at best, premature.
Speaking in Nyeri at the weekend, Senate Majority Leader Kipchumba Murkomen said that, after attending the lunch at the DP’s Karen home on Saturday, he was now convinced that Mr Odinga could be useful in helping Mr Ruto clinch the presidency.
He went on to ask Jubilee MPs not to give Mr Odinga a hard time, saying: “I have asked Jubilee leaders to stop fighting Mr Odinga because President Kenyatta has brought him close. I went to lunch with Uhuru, Raila and Ruto, and from what I saw, Raila may help Uhuru push for Ruto’s presidency,” said Mr Murkomen.
In Nyanza, local political leaders pointedly boycotted the DP’s Nyanza visit yesterday, and Mr Ruto took a dig at unnamed people whom he described as not having a development agenda.
“You are bright people, let no one come here at the last minute without any development record to tell you ‘tibim’ for you to vote for him. Ask them what they did to deserve your vote,” said the DP in Kanyadhiany in Homa Bay. "Tibim" was a Nasa rallying call at the last election.
At the same time, Mr Odinga was sending mixed signals about his political plans. Just a day after he said in Siaya County that he will continue to participate in local politics, on Monday he issued a statement saying that he will not engage in the country’s succession politics, but will instead focus on his new assignment as the African Union’s High Representative for Infrastructure Development in Africa.
The ODM party leader also pointed out that he will be focused on uniting Kenyans through the Building Bridges Initiative, created after his handshake with President Kenyatta on March 9.
To add to the drama, Suna West MP Junet Mohammed sought to clarify Mr Odinga’s statement, saying the ODM leader had not changed his position about staying in politics, but was asking people not to engage in succession politicking for an election that is still four years away.
Leader of Minority in the National Assembly John Mbadi on Sunday evening dismissed the DP’s visit as “political posturing for 2022”, a pointer that Mr Odinga’s allies would not welcome Mr Ruto with open arms.
In Migori, Mr Ruto’s tour was boycotted by local ODM leaders, including Members of Parliament and Senator Ochillo Ayacko. Only Migori Governor Okoth Obado, former Nyatike MP Edick Anyanga, and two MPs from Kuria West and Kuria East — Mr Mathias Robi and Mr Maisori Kitayama, respectively, accompanied Mr Ruto. The two MPs did not address the meetings.
In Homa Bay, Deputy Governor Hamilton Orata and Karachuonyo MP Adipo Okuome were there to receive Mr Ruto. The other seven MPs did not show up.
The visit came barely three days after the lunch meeting at the DP’s Karen home in Nairobi, attended by President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga.
The DP visited Nyanza a week after Baringo Senator and Kanu chairman Gideon Moi’s charm offensive. Mr Moi was welcomed by local leaders, including some from neighbouring counties and Nairobi.
Yesterday, Mr Ruto told off leaders warning him not to set foot in Luo Nyanza. “I’m paid a salary as the Deputy President of Kenya and my job entails visiting all areas, including Migori,” he said. “If Agwambo (Mr Odinga) is already working with us, who are you to tell me not to come to Migori?”
The DP said the government will build at least 4,000 new houses in Migori under the Big Four agenda, and “through this youth will get jobs during the construction process”.
He indicated that the same number of houses will be constructed in Homa bay County, where 25,000 youth are expected to be involved.
“We must break barriers of ethnicity and hate. We have decided as leaders to unite the country through development,” Mr Ruto said. Going forward, the Jubilee leader said, he will be making frequent “development tours” in Luoland.
He spent Sunday night at Rusinga Lodge in Homa Bay county after touring Western region, where he presided over public functions and also met many leaders from the region, including MCAs.
Previously, the DP had only visited Kisii, Nyamira, Kuria West and Kuria East areas of Nyanza, which are Jubilee-leaning.
At one point yesterday, Mr Ruto asked Suna West MP Peter Masara, who was absent, “to look for me because I have Sh100 million for a technical college in your constituency.”
Mr Ruto announced that Sh1.2 billion has been allocated for connecting 25,000 residents to the national grid in phase two and three programmes of the Last Mile project. Four new technical colleges, added Mr Ruto, will be constructed in Suna West, Suna East, Kuria West and Kuria East at a cost of Sh100 million each.
Another four will be constructed in four constituencies in Homa Bay, where he commissioned a road at Kanyadhiang’.
Mr Ruto commissioned the Masara-Kehancha road, which has been upgraded to bitumen standard, and launched construction of the Muhuru-Masara road. The Masara-Sori-Karungu road, said Mr Ruto, will be tarmacked by New Year “because we have identified a contractor and allocated money for it”.
Governor Obado pleaded for prayers, saying “I still have a long way to go”.
He was recently released from the Industrial Area prison in Nairobi after being charged with the murder of his pregnant lover, Rongo University student Sharon Otieno.
Speaking during a fundraiser at Gikumbo Catholic Parish in Nyeri at the weekend, Mr Murkomen expressed hope that, that if approached well, Mr Odinga could be instrumental in helping get the DP elected president in 2022.
Reports by Irene Mugo, Grace Gitau, Samwel Owino, Rushdie Oudia and Elisha Otieno