By STAR TEAM
ODM leader Raila Odinga has stepped up his efforts to build new alliances in Rift Valley and Mt Kenya regions as the race to succeed President Uhuru Kenyatta in 2022 hots up.
The former Prime Minister wants to exploit his handshake with Uhuru to turn the tables against Deputy President William Ruto in Mt Kenya and at the same time eat into the DP’s support base in the Rift Valley.
Just this week, National Assembly Majority Leader Aden Duale, an ally of the DP, said the contest in 2022 will be between Raila and Ruto.
Politician Micah Kigen, a long time ally and defender of Raila in Rift Valley, said he (Raila) is free to build alliances and friendship with the people of Rift Valley and Central.
He said the Opposition chief is the only hope the country has after Uhuru’s second and last term in 2022, saying Raila is “a progressive and development oriented” leader.
“Raila is building bridges with all Kenyans. The leaders he has met are the people who can explain to Kenyans what is in this handshake,” he told the Star on phone.
He added: “There is no problem in what he is doing. Kenyans are appreciating. It is all about politics. This country is looking for a leader who can take this country forward and not those chest-thumping. A leader who can deal with corruption and reduce taxes that have burdened Kenyans and that person is none other than Raila.”
Raila has been visiting Central Kenya, Uhuru’s backyard, to shore up his fortunes and just this week held talks with the President’s sister Kristina Pratt at his Capitol Hill office.
There are clear indications Raila’s supporters are pushing him into a new alliance with Mt Kenya in what is seen as an attempt to vanquish the DP in 2022.
In an abvious indication of the changing political dynamics in Uhuru’s backyard, Kirinyaga Governor Anne Waiguru, a former fierce critic of Raila, on Wednesday said the region was ready to warm up to an alliance with the ex-PM.
“Raila Odinga is my friend, he is my political ally. We discuss serious talks. We had a history but we settled that,” she said.
Former ODM East Africa Legislative Assembly MP Agnes Ng’aru said “the ground was shifting in favour of Raila” and called on the residents of Central to seize the moment.
“I have always pleaded with our people in my region to embrace Ralia Odinga’s presidency. I have not changed my position on my party leader’s support even when it was extremely difficult to be associated with him and ODM,” she told the Star.
The Star has established that amid the simmering Mau evictions storm in Rift Valley, Raila is working on a political game plan to give Ruto a taste of his own medicine in what would evoke memories of their post-2007 poll fallout.
The government has declared it will kick out over 6,000 households from the emotive Mau complex but a section of the leaders from the region seen as critical of Ruto have held talks with Raila to forestall the evictions.
“We discussed politics and the interest of the Kalenjin community politically in the wake of the handshake. We want to be part of the process and build a cohesive country,” said former Buret MP Paul Sang who was part of the Rift Valley team who met Raila recently at his Capitol Hill office.
Analysts and politicians say should Raila manage to successfully navigate the thorny Mau issue, then that would sink Ruto’s fortunes in the region ahead of 2022.
“It is a complex issue for the DP who is already under siege from Kanu chairman Gideon Moi who is also angling for the spoils,” said political analyst Martin Andati.
Gideon, Ruto’s main political opponent within Rift Valley, has been warming up to Raila in what could complicate the DP’s matrix in his own backyard.
While the former Prime Minister has kept his competitors guessing whether he will offer his candidature in a contest billed to be between the “hustlers nation” and the “dynasties”, his series of meetings with leaders from the two regions regarded as Jubilee strongholds give the signals that Raila will be on the presidential ballot.
In what is seen as a strategy to regain support in the vote-rich Rift Valley, the backyard of his former friend turned foe Ruto, Raila has held several consultative meetings with a section of political leaders both from South and North Rift.
In Mt Kenya, Raila is leveraging on his handshake with President Uhuru Kenyatta to make inroads in Central.
Raila has in the past claimed that his handshake with Uhuru is meant to unite the country and not give him a political lifeline as claimed by his rivals but anti-Ruto’s movements – Kieleweke and Embrace – are not only supporting Raila’s calls to amend the Constitution to expand the Executive but are also scheming for Raila to succeed Uhuru.
Apart from Waiguru, other leaders from Mt Kenya claiming to be popularising the handshake include lawmakers Maoka Maore(Igembe North), Ngunjiri Wambugu (Nyeri Town), Muturi Kigano (Kangema) and Wangari Mwaniki (Kigumo)
Others are Peter Mwathi (Limuru), Paul Koinange (Kiambaa), Maina Kamanda (nominated) and Mercy Gakuya (Kasarani) under Kileweke.
The outspoken Ngunjiri was an ODM strategist before joining Jubilee in the run-up to the 2017 elections.
Under the women only Embrace movement are Sabina Chege (Murang’a Woman Representative), Priscilla Nyokabi (former Nyeri Woman Rep) and former Nairobi Woman Rep Rachel Shebesh.
Recently, team Kieleweke were forced to denounce their links to Raila saying their support for the handshake is based on the fact that it was initiated by the President who is the Jubilee Party leader.
A week ago, Raila – once referred to as Arap Mibei in Kalenjin land – met former Bomet Governor and Chama Cha Mashinani party leader Isaac Rutto, former Kuresoi South Zakayo Cheruiyot, former Buret MP Franklin Bett and former Konoin MP Paul Sang.
Rutto had warmed up to Deputy President William Ruto after the 2017 election but they fell out.
Raila, who is keen to make in-roads in Rift Valley ahead of the 2022 presidential race, has in recent months escalated his talks with key leaders from both North and South Rift as well as gracing various functions in the vote-rich region.
Early July, Raila hosted Cherangany MP Joshua Kutuny and his Moiben counterpart Silas Tiren and within two months the opposition chief has been to Elgeiyo Marakwet twice.
Raila was first in the county under the leadership of Governor Alex Tolgos who has fallen out with Ruto to celebrate Kuttuny’s mother-in-law Ruth Kiptoo who was retiring from teaching. Two weeks ago he was back in the county in Chesongoch for the funeral of ODM official Johnstone Kasenge.
During the event, Tolgos declared his support for Raila for president in 2022 claiming that he has blessings from President Uhuru Kenyatta to work closely with him ahead of the poll.
“Before Mr Odinga toured Chebara recently, I asked the President if I could attend the meeting. The President told me that I should have already made plans to welcome him (Odinga) at the venue by the time we are talking,” the county boss said.
Tolgos, who has fallen out with the DP, said his decision to work with the ODM leader was due to the fact that he was now part of the government and was well placed to address the challenges facing the people of Elgeyo Marakwet.
“I want to tell the people of Elgeyo Marakwet that I told Kipchumba Murkomen (Senator) and the rest that there is no need to engage in political contests. If they have decided they are on the other side (Deputy President William Ruto’s camp), and now I am on this side of Raila Odinga, we should all work for the benefit of the people and respect each other,” Tolgos said.
The governor asked residents to work with Raila, saying he was well placed to solve the problems facing the area.
“I am sure you have all realised that when Raila tours a given place, top security teams and leaders welcome him. This should tell you that he is now part of the government and we should work with him to solve our problems,” Tolgos said.