As political tension gripped the country a couple of days after the Supreme Court made a historic ruling on September 1, 2017, voiding President Uhuru Kenyatta’s re-election, Deputy President William Ruto made a creepy call to his harshest critic, Dr Boni Khalwale of the rival National Super Alliance (Nasa), inviting him to a meeting.
With the Chief Justice David Maraga-led team having ordered a fresh poll in 60 days, the idea behind Dr Ruto’s overture was to pluck one of Nasa’s trusted and indefatigable lieutenants from the rival camp, as Jubilee plotted its electoral onslaught in the fresh poll against the Raila Odinga’s team.
Then an insider in the Odinga presidential campaign and a member of the National Coordinating Committee top organ, Dr Khalwale, who had just lost in the Kakamega County gubernatorial race to Wycliffe Ambetsa Oparanya, agreed to secretly meet the DP at an undisclosed location.
“He began by forgiving me for the verbal attacks and allegations I had unleashed on him during campaigns, noting that as a fellow politician, he understood better that I was only searching for votes. After exchanging niceties and discussing the campaigns, he then came to the main subject of our meeting — an offer of Cabinet position in the Jubilee administration,” the former Kakamega senator narrated to this writer in October last year.
Pleading that the Cabinet offer story be kept a secret “until I advise on the right time to open up on it, or until I finally and officially cross over to Ruto side”, Dr Khalwale said he flatly rejected the Cabinet offer on grounds of “wrong timing”.
“I told the ‘hustler’ (DP) that having actively campaigned for Nasa, and in particular hit him hard with all manner of corruption allegations, I was not going to be useful to the Jubilee campaign at the moment as many in my western Kenya backyard would equally find it hard to believe me,” recalled Khalwale.
Dr Ruto reportedly responded in affirmation: “Ni sawa, Daktari. Tutatembea barabara moja tu hivi karibuni kabla ya 2022,” (I understand, Dr Khalwale. No doubt we shall team up soon ahead of 2022).
That moment finally came on Friday when Dr Khalwale ditched the Ford-Kenya party, where he has been deputy party leader, to join Jubilee.
The politician made the announcement at his Malinya home in Kakamega County where he was hosting Ruto.
Reached for comment moments after the defection, Dr Khalwale confirmed to the Sunday Nation that time was “finally ripe” for him to move.
“This time around we are doing it early so that we can have enough time to campaign for our man. My move is just part of a bigger political strategy for the DP’s 2022 presidential bid.”
Dr Khalwale separately explains he was never the proverbial “enemy within” even after the secret meeting with the DP in September 2017.
He says he remained loyal to Mr Odinga and Nasa and campaigned spiritedly for the ODM leader and his running mate Kalonzo Musyoka to the last minute when the duo boycotted the October 26 repeat poll exercise citing a pre-rigging plot.
Nonetheless, pointing out that the popularity of Dr Khalwale, one of the prominent 2017 poll casualties, has been dwindling, political scientist Dr George Katete considers the politician’s defection “to Ruto” as one driven by selfish interests aimed at enabling him stay afloat — politically and probably financially.
“Over the years, Khalwale has built his career as a critic and not a praise singer of the establishment, and this change in the dance tune is therefore a hard sell for many of his admirers,” opines Dr Katete, who teaches at the University of Nairobi.
The situation, observes the political analyst, is exacerbated by the fact that Dr Khalwale is out of Parliament — a pointer to his losing influence.
Dr Katete posits, it is unlikely the Khalwale defection will make an impact on the politics of western Kenya.
However, Dr Edward Kisiang’ani, a commentator on political affairs, thinks differently.
Dr Khalwale, says the History and International Relations lecturer at Kenyatta University, has positioned himself at a vantage point.
“If he plays his cards well, he stands a chance of being identified as Ruto’s running mate in the presidential race and even if he fails to win that slot, he could get appointed to a plum government position if Ruto emerges the victor in 2022. Politics is about risks and gambles, and this one is a good gamble.”
Stating that the political leadership of the populous Luhya community, comprising mainly Amani National Congress (ANC) leader Musalia Mudavadi and Ford-Kenya’s Moses Wetangula, has failed to present a united and solid presidential bid, Dr Kisiang’ani says Khalwale “is only exploiting an existing big political lacuna”.
According to Dr Kisiang’ani, Dr Khalwale’s actions are a reflection of the political frustrations of the Luhya community.
“With Raila, who has enjoyed a huge following over the years, perceived to be planning his exit from active politics, one would have expected Mudavadi or Wetangula to firmly and emphatically fill this space.”
But Dr Katete believes the path now taken by Dr Khalwale is self-destructive.
“His doublespeak will be his Achilles’ heels. Already he has lost trust and believability in his political constituency, and soon there will be a narrative out there that he has dumped his kinsmen (Mudavadi and Wetangula) to embrace an “outsider”, and he may never recover from the betrayal tag.”
Dr Katete views the Khalwale defection as more beneficial to the DP than the Kakamega politician.
Dr Khalwale, he opines, is just a pawn in a wider political game of the DP, who is assembling his charges, who include Malindi MP Aisha Jumwa and Narok governor Josphat Nanok, ahead of 2022.
Dr Khalwale, a medical doctor by profession, whose name means “the sick one” in Luhya, says he has opted to back Ruto, because the community “has no realistic chance of winning the presidency”.