A warm welcome by Rarieda locals and a statement by Mr Raphael Tuju on Thursday summed up the sudden change in the fortunes for a man once referred to as the rebel of Nyanza politics.
From a person once regarded as a ‘persona non-grata’ and one who had “betrayed” the community, Mr Tuju has transformed himself into one of the main confidantes of the region’s political kingpin and Orange Democratic Movement leader Raila Odinga in just under a year.
Today, he is a key adviser to the former Prime Minister, a point man in coordinating development projects in the Nyanza region on behalf of President Uhuru Kenyatta and Mr Odinga, a protector of the handshake and an important figure in 2022 succession politics — especially against Deputy President William Ruto.
The former Rarieda MP previously had it rough trying to sell the Jubilee Party in Nyanza or even attempting to resurrect his political career by joining other less toxic political formations in the region.
On February 3, 2018 for instance, Mr Tuju was forced to cut short his speech after he was heckled in Siaya County for ridiculing the mock swearing-in ceremony of Mr Odinga which had taken place at Nairobi’s Uhuru Park days earlier.
Conscious of the hostility he was likely to meet while popularising his Party of Action (POA) outfit in Kisumu in 2012, Mr Tuju came wearing a helmet in readiness for any consequences.
While he managed to open an office in the restive Nyalenda slums under heavy police protection, the same would be defaced that same night by unknown people.
It is against this backdrop that the political scene has watched in surprise the new found rapport between Mr Odinga and Mr Tuju.
In an interview with the Nation on Saturday, Mr Tuju spoke passionately about the latest developments which have placed him right within Mr Odinga’s inner circles, a move he attributes to the former ODM leader’s change of political style.
“Any mobilisation against a tribe is not welcome in my scheme of thought. Right now the President is talking about the Big Four agenda plus fighting corruption and uniting the country and Raila is the interlocutor with the president as far as this is concerned,” said Mr Tuju.
He says his entry into Mr Odinga’s “kitchen cabinet” is based on the quest by the handshake to unify the country, “that is goal which is in tandem with my own beliefs”.
Mr Tuju noted that his working with Mr Odinga should not be misconstrued as aimed at gaining political leadership in the region.
“I have no interest whatsoever of becoming the governor of Siaya for example or MP for Rarieda. I have stated it before and I state it again. From the time I left active politics, I went back to private endeavours which kind of confine me to Nairobi.”
The Jubilee Secretary General adds: “People, especially people of the Nyanza region think that if I am seen to be working with Mr Odinga then it means I am interested in a certain political office. The truth of the matter is that I am not.”
He said the handshake which the President and Mr Odinga have been spearheading is geared at uniting all Kenyans regardless of their ethnic orientation.
“Inclusion does not mean exclusion of some people. There is enough space for all of us in this country. And anybody trying to say that because there is inclusion of Luos, Kalenjins are going to be marginalised is fear mongering. It is our collective responsibility to fix the problem we have caused,” he said.
Mr Tuju appeared to acknowledge the tribulations he had suffered for appearing to challenge Mr Odinga’s leadership in the region during the launch of the construction of Mahaya Technical Training Institute in Rarieda on Thursday when he said: “At least now my mother can go shopping in the market in Ndori without fear. I can also walk freely without wearing a helmet in Siaya and Kisumu.”
This new found rapport with Mr Odinga has also endeared him to other senior politicians in the region led by Siaya Senator James Orengo.
During the commemoration of 25 years since the death of Kenya’s first Vice President Jaramogi Oginga Odinga on January 20, it was not only the presence of Mr Muhoho Kenyatta, the President's younger brother that raised eyebrows but also Mr Tuju’s closeness to Mr Odinga.
His utterances spoke volumes: “Thanks to the handshake, for the first time I am here at Nyamira ACK Church in Bondo with Mr Odinga in the silver anniversary of Jaramogi.”
Mr Tuju added that his friendship with Mr Odinga was reflected in their children too.
“I am Raila’s neighbour in Nairobi’s Karen estate. His children and mine are fond of each other and exchange visits frequently. So you people should never fight among yourselves,” he said.
Mr Odinga later took Mr Muhoho and Mr Tuju for a tour of the mausoleum after which they jointly laid a wreath on the graves of Jaramogi, Fidel Odinga and Jaramogi’s wife Mary Ajuma.
A day before this, Mr Odinga and Mr Tuju had shared a platform during the funeral of former National Youth Fund boss Bruce Odhiambo.
During the burial of his younger brother the late Kefa Oduor Tuju at their Ralingo home in Rarieda on January 5, Mr Tuju told leaders and mourners who were present that his relationship with Mr Odinga was much deeper that many knew.
In the recent past, Mr Tuju has spent most of his time coordinating key projects started by the Jubilee government in the region following the handshake and has been accompanying Mr Odinga as he inspects the projects.
“As it stands today, Mr Tuju is a very critical player in the governance of this country,” said Mr Orengo, who was speaking in Rarieda last week during the commissioning of some development projects in the area.
Mr Tuju who was present told the gathering that he was in the region to represent President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga who were away.
Mr Orengo and other local MPs including Samuel Atandi (Alego Usonga), Elisha Odhiambo (Gem) and Otiende Amollo (Rarieda) maintained they will rally behind the handshake and defend Mr Tuju against any attack by close allies of Deputy President William Ruto.
“There are some people in the Tanga Tanga movement, if you attack or touch Mr Tuju, you have touched all of us,” said Mr Orengo.
Mr Amollo told locals: “You must now start viewing Tuju as more than your former MP. He is now the representative of the President and closest in his inner circle because he is a Cabinet Minister and Secretary General of the ruling party.”
Mr Tuju is increasingly being used to push the region’s political agenda in public meetings and press conferences, key among them the handshake, the referendum, the war against corruption and the 2022 debate, especially when attacking perceived opponents such as Mr Ruto.