Deputy President William Ruto’s planned tour to ODM leader Raila Odinga’s Nyanza backyard, which was set to begin next week, hangs in limbo after his key allies developed cold feet.
As part of campaigns for his presidential bid, Dr Ruto, who views the former Prime Minister as his main challenger in the 2022 polls, was set to begin his tour of the region in Migori and Kisumu in the third week of July, and later Homa Bay and Siaya in the last week, according to itinerary his Nyanza point man Eliud Owalo released.
Next week’s intensive grassroots tour of Mr Odinga’s political bedrock aimed at drumming support for Dr Ruto’s presidential bid after he received a heroic welcome in Kisumu during the Madaraka Day celebrations but now the visit seemed cancelled under unclear circumstances.
Despite confirming to the Sunday Nation earlier that Dr Ruto’s trip to the region will proceed even with enhanced measures imposed in the lake region to contain Covid-19 infections, Mr Owalo now says he has excused himself from Hustler politics for some time.
When the Sunday Nation yesterday asked Mr Odinga’s former aide to state whether the tour was on or not, he said he was busy with his PhD studies.
“I am concentrating on or busy with my University of Nairobi PhD coursework exams. I will resume politics after the exams,” he said in a brief text to the Sunday Nation.
Mr Owalo, who is a management consultant and strategist, is also the convener of the Luo-Nyanza Economic Caucus.
According to Deputy President’s director of communication Emmanuel Talam, there has never been a plan for Dr Ruto to tour Nyanza as announced by Mr Owalo earlier.
“The information pertaining to DP’s tour to Nyanza was not from us, meaning there was no such trip planned,” he told the Sunday Nation.
In the new containment measures Health Cabinet secretary Mutahi Kagwe announced recently, the government discouraged movement into and out of the region while it adjusted the night curfew to between 7pm-4 am. The measures followed a recommendation by Lake Region Economic Bloc leaders.
Churches that the DP planned to visit were closed for 30 days from June 18. Besides churches, he was also expected to meet different groups such as traders, youth and women. The new Ministry of Health directives warn against public gatherings.
After ditching ODM and coming up with United Republican Party, which later merged with President Uhuru Kenyatta’s The National Alliance to form government in 2013, Dr Ruto who has made his intentions clear to succeed his boss, has never visited Luo Nyanza alone.
Despite visiting Nyamira, Kisii and Migori counties countless times, the Deputy President visited Homa Bay in May 2018 where he commissioned the 45km Kanyadhiang-Kadel ring road and electricity connectivity.
Homa Bay tour
Then Kenya Electricity Transmission Company chairman and former Karachuonyo MP James Rege accompanied Dr Ruto during the Homa Bay tour. This came a month after a bitterly contested Migori senatorial by-election in which ODM accused Dr Ruto of supporting the Federal Party of Kenya’s Eddy Oketch who came second to Ochillo Ayacko of the Orange party.
Mr Ruto’s last public visit to Kisumu was in July 2017 where he encountered a hostile reception.
He had avoided Luo Nyanza since then although he visited Migori in November 2018. Governor Okoth Obado hosted the Deputy President.
In the same year, he also accompanied President Kenyatta during a tour of Kisumu alongside Mr Odinga, Kalonzo Musyoka, Musalia Mudavadi and Moses Wetang’ula.
Last year, Dr Ruto also planned to take his hustler campaign to the region after his key ally Kapseret MP Oscar Sudi hosted more than 100 youths from Nyanza under the umbrella of ‘Nyanza Youth Movement for Ruto 2022’ led by Stephen Midenyo aka Mada and 2013 Rangwe parliamentary candidate Everest Okambo, in a move aimed at reaching out to the region but the trip was also cancelled.
In early June, Deputy President’s brother David Ruto hosted Mr Obado, who is viewed as a rebel in the region, in what was interpreted as a move to clip Mr Odinga’s wing in Nyanza.
According to Mr Sudi, the hustler movement is targeting the youth, women groups and the church to reach out to the Nyanza populace and woo voters to join DP Ruto’s bandwagon.
The second-term legislator says over years the politicians from the region had been pushing for their own selfish agenda at the expense of that of the masses by always “worshipping” the Odingas.
Mr Sudi said Dr Ruto is keen on reaching out to all corners of the country and is ready to serve all Kenyans regardless of their economic status, gender, tribe or race.
He said they are ready to camp in Mr Odinga’s political bastion ahead of the 2022 polls.
For Keiyo South MP Daniel Rono, such meetings aim to increase the chances of Dr Ruto succeeding President Kenyatta.
“We are reaching out to the whole country because the hustler movement is not confined to a certain region but targeting the entire country,” he told the Sunday Nation.
Many former foot soldiers of Mr Odinga attended a meeting Mr Owalo convened at a Nairobi hotel in mid-May.
The participants included those who decamped after losing ODM nominations in the 2013 and 2017 elections, among them former Kisumu governor Jack Ranguma, former Rongo MP Dalmas Otieno and former Rangwe MP Martin Ogindo. Also, Citizen’s Convention Party leader Grace Akumu attended.
However, when Mr Ranguma was asked whether he is ready to join UDA, he said he was still listening to the voices of the electorate. He said he had political clout and that when he decides to join Dr Ruto’s party, it will be known.
UDA secretary-general Veronica Maina told the Sunday Nation that in their recruitment drive, Nyanza is not left out saying the party’s clerks are stationed in the region.