Like the proverbial phoenix, Mr Raphael Tuju has risen from the ashes to become an influencer in Nyanza politics. Gone are the days when he was heckled at rallies, or when Rarieda constituents gave his development projects a wide berth. He is now a darling — the comeback kid.
Once a fierce critic of ODM leader Raila Odinga, the Jubilee secretary-general is now one of his close associates, courtesy of the March 2018 handshake between the Mr Odinga and President Uhuru Kenyatta.
To his supporters, the handshake has given him a lifeline, an opportunity to reinvent himself, which has seen him become a bosom friend of the ODM leader and one of his key generals in ensuring that the ideals of the handshake remain intact.
But this has also come at a cost, because the CS has made new enemies and is facing a tough balancing act to serve his party and further his ambitions without hiccups.
Already, his association with the Opposition has ruffled feathers in the Orange party and attracted harsh criticism from Jubilee leaders associated with Deputy President William Ruto.
Political analyst Herman Manyora says those uncomfortable with Mr Tuju in ODM were expressing their fears that he could be eyeing a position in Nyanza but those in Jubilee feel he has been too hard on the DP, who has expressed an interest in the presidency in 2022.
However, he notes that Mr Tuju has the blessings of both Mr Odinga and the President, and is simply a “spanner boy of the handshake”.
“Tuju is doing what the President would want to do but can’t do openly. His position on matters of national interest as the Jubilee secretary-general cannot be wished away,” said Prof Manyora.
He went on: “Tuju is not speaking as his own person. He is simply a spanner boy for the handshake. A grade one spanner boy with the toolbox to ensure the handshake vehicle moves undeterred.”
Mr Tuju, who has continued to receive a barrage of criticism from DP Ruto’s Tangatanga camp, is also facing a fresh onslaught by some ODM leaders, who feel his involvement in the inner circles of the party is detrimental to their survival.
His comeback appears to have unsettled all parties across the political divide.
But the focus is how he will further the handshake goals without antagonising “his brothers and sisters” over the years and at the same time steer the Jubilee Party steadily without facing rebellion from within.
Already, ODM leaders have come out strongly to set the record straight on their association with Mr Tuju, maintaining that he is not playing an advisory role to their party leader, Mr Odinga.
Party chairman John Mbadi and Secretary-General Edwin Sifuna have vehemently rejected such claims.
Mr Tuju yesterday said his association, meetings and discussions with the ODM leadership were simply based on the handshake.
“I work for the President and Jubilee Party, but my association with ODM is as a result of the handshake between the President and Mr Odinga, because in this arrangement, ODM is the interlocutor,” said Mr Tuju.
“For that reason, even Sifuna (Edwin) himself, we talk so I have no problems with him. We call each other on issues of mutual interest and agree,” he added.
He has also denied eyeing the Siaya gubernatorial seat.
Speaking at a fundraiser at Oruba Catholic Church in Suna West, Migori County, Mr Sifuna insisted that Mr Odinga is not short of advisers in his own party to require Mr Tuju’s services. But some ODM members, notably, Senate Minority Leader James Orengo and Rarieda MP Otiende Amollo, have come to Mr Tuju’s defence, saying he is in Mr Odinga’s inner circle.
Speaking to the Nation, Mr Orengo said he had shared many platforms, both private and developmental, with Mr Tuju. The Siaya senator said that though they are in different political parities, their relationship has been cordial, so there should be no suspicion about their closeness, especially after the handshake.
During a recent tour of various development projects in Rarieda, Mr Tuju was accompanied by Mr Amollo, the host MP, and Mr Orengo.
President Kenyatta, in a speech read on his behalf by Mr Tuju, who represented him at the function, maintained that the partnership between the government and the area’s MPs has helped propel development projects in Siaya.
Notably, Mr Tuju already has friends ready to defend him, as evidenced by the statements by Mr Orengo, Mr Amollo and MPs Elisha Odhiambo (Gem) and Samuel Atandi (Alego Usonga).
“There are some people in the Tangatanga movement — if you attack or touch Tuju now or in future, you will have touched all of us. He will not vacate any of the positions he is holding. We will defend him with everything we have,” Mr Orengo said.