The entry of former Kakamega Senator Boni Khalwale into Jubilee Party has rattled Deputy President William Ruto’s allies in Western Kenya in what could trigger defections in the coming days.
While it is only former Sports Cabinet Secretary Rashid Echesa who has publicly alluded to the simmering tensions through his utterances, the other politicians are silently sulking, unsettled with the Dr Ruto’s dalliance with a man they consider a Johnny-come-lately.
“Khalwale is an activist and a comedian that I do not wish to talk about,” Mr Echesa told the Sunday Nation, barely hiding his contempt for the “bullfighter” from Ikolomani.
Another MP from the region added: “He thinks he can come late and become the main man. We fought so hard against the political tide that was heavily in favour of Raila and delivered some votes to the government side and won seats. We won’t take it.”
Already one of the disgruntled politicians is said to be seeking audience with Opposition leader Raila Odinga for possible reunion.
He has been spotted at Mr Odinga’s Capitol Hill offices on two occasions. Dr Khalwale’s entry has upset the power balance, his abrasive brand of politics rubbing others the wrong way.
Senate Speaker Ken Lusaka, who by the virtue of his position has had to avoid open politicking, National Assembly Majority Whip Ben Washiali, Mr Echesa and now Dr Khalwale each consider themselves as Dr Ruto’s official representative in the vote-rich region.
For the brief period he has been in the ruling party after defecting from Ford Kenya, the former lawmaker has cast himself as a new broom, organising Dr Ruto’s rallies in the region.
On May 19, Dr Khalwale hosted the DP at his Malinya home in Ikolomani constituency, the first time Dr Ruto was setting foot in the residence of any of his allies in the region.
The region is hoping that when he finally assembles his campaign line up, Dr Ruto will pick one of their own as a running mate.
When Mr Echesa appeared to ditch Dr Ruto’s camp for ANC party leader and the region’s political supremo Musalia Mudavadi, Dr Khalwale was quick to dismiss his move as inconsequential.
“Political power, like Cannabis sativa (bhang), is addictive, and when suddenly withdrawn can have severe withdrawal effects. The abrupt firing of former CS Rashid Echesa is the only reason for his so-called ditching of the DP. Classic attention-seeking behaviour!” Dr Khalwale wrote.
Mr Echesa has since “clarified” that he had not quit Dr Ruto’s camp. “We are still friends with DP and are behind him. We will however be happy to engage as partners, not as supporters like has been the case with politicians like Tinga (Mr Odinga),” he said.
Mr Echesa added: “When I shared a podium with Musalia it didn’t mean I have cut links with the DP, if anything, Musalia needs the DP more than the DP needs him, politically.
"At the start of the presidential race and before factoring external support, Musalia has four counties in his basket, remember all this is not guaranteed given Tinga’s influence; yet the DP has 14 from his backyard.”
Dr Khalwale declined to comment on accusations that he had upstaged his colleagues in his new party.
He however does not hide his disdain for Mr Mudavadi, the same man he supported for State House in 2013 General Election on a UDF ticket.
“Musalia came from the ‘Nyayo laboratories’. Musalia and Wetang’ula will run for State House but will not win. Ruto will and that is why I want us to work with him,” he said.
But Mr Echesa opines that the region will benefit more if it went into a negotiating table with him as a team.
“We must rethink our whole approach to national politics. It is not right for our people to be setup against each other. Our leaders have in the past been used and this is something we must avoid if we are to be taken seriously,” he said.
Some observers have argued that by having many “local agents”, the DP is keen on not having one central link man for fear he can shepherd the region to a different direction in the event of a fallout.
The trick then is to have them fighting amongst themselves as long as they all campaign for him.
Dr Godwin Siundu, a scholar at the University of Nairobi, believes that Dr Khalwale’s brief is to keep both Mr Mudavadi and Senator Wetang’ula busy, a task he says the former senator has executed very well so far.
“The intention is to cast a shadow on the two and cause general anxiety. He is a gadfly to be a perpetual irritant to the two,” he thinks.
Dr Siundu is of the view that President Uhuru Kenyatta is quietly backing the DP’s candidature despite his dalliance with Mr Odinga.