THE STAR 09/8/2020
ODM leader Raila Odinga has embarked on an aggressive charm offensive to consolidate his bastions to counter forays by his main rivals ahead of the 2022 polls.
He is planning a flurry of activities to re-energise his strongholds across the country, signalling his fifth stab at the presidency.
Raila has lined up a series of meetings in Western Kenya and at the Coast in efforts to turn the tables on his opponents.
After touring Kakamega county at the weekend, Raila's men from the region are saying they have lined up engagement meetings to reinvigorate the party.
Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya, ODM deputy party leader, is leading the offensive in Western Kenya.
On Monday, Oparanya told the Star the party has embarked on a crucial phase to reconnect with its supporters across the country.
"There is a lot we are doing in Western Kenya and other parts of the country in the coming weeks. Some activities don't need the party leader and I will lead them myself, especially in Western," Oparanya said.
Raila will from Tuesday pitch camp in Taita Taveta county for two days in another round of party meetings to firm up his grip of the Coast ahead of 2022 polls.
The declining Covid-19 infection numbers in the country have signalled the full reopening of the country, with political bigwigs already gearing up for a return to 2022 election campaigns.
Deputy President William Ruto has already returned to his usual church services and addressing roadside rallies after a short hiatus.
There are reports that the Building Bridges Initiative train will start hurtling down soon once the Covid-19 protocols are eased.
Raila is keen to penetrate and win over regions that have traditionally opposed his presidential bid, including President Uhuru Kenyatta's Mt Kenya backyard. He is also banking on his handshake deal with President Uhuru Kenyatta to woo the the populous region.
ODM is expected to heighten activities in the coming weeks which are geared at reinvigorating the party and consolidating Raila's support base ahead of the 2022 race.
Party chairman John Mbadi said party officials are monitoring the Covid-19 situation before releasing a calendar of activities.
"What is happening for now is that the party leader is doing the usual engagements and consultative forums with supporters. The full itinerary will be available after Covid-19 restrictions are reviewed," Mbadi said.
Raila is also seeking a pie of Deputy President William Ruto's Rift Valley vote bloc by wooing influential forces opposed to the DP's 2022 presidential bid.
The former Prime Minister on Monday held a meeting with Cherangany MP Joshua Kutuny and former Uasin Gishu gubernatorial aspirant Zedekiah Kiprop, alias Buzeki.
The two politicians are some of the fiercest critics of the DP from the Rift Valley and their crossover to Raila's camp could be a major blow to Ruto.
After a tour of Kakamega county at the weekend that focused on how to neutralise his rivals from the region, Raila will on Tuesday visit Taita Taveta county.
On Monday, ODM secretary general Edwin Sifuna told the Star that Raila is back in office to execute his "mandate as a national and party leader".
“There are some people who have not seen the party leader for a long time. He (Raila) is back and will continue to hold consultative meetings with people wherever he wants,” Sifuna said.
Without revealing much of Raila's itinerary, Sifuna said the ODM leader has resumed his official duties with quite a lot in his in-tray.
The former premier is expected to lead a two-day visit in which he will hold meetings on Wednesday and Thursday in a renewed campaign for the Building Bridges Initiative.
The BBI was forced into a break by the coronavirus pandemic but the country could return to full political mode given the declining number of cases being reported.
Ironically, indicative of the shifting political alignments, Raila will be hosted in Taita Taveta by Governor Granton Samboja of Kalonzo Musyoka's Wiper party.
“Raila Odinga will be here for two days to drum up support for the government’s agenda. We are fully supporting President Uhuru Kenyatta and his partner Raila Odinga,” Samboja said.
Raila's tour of the coastal county comes days after Ruto visited the region in his efforts to counter the ODM leader's influence.
Raila's latest moves to fortify his bedrocks and break new ground could be the clearest indication that he is plotting a fifth stab at the presidency in 2022.
East African Legislative Assembly member Oburu Odinga has suggested Raila will win the 2022 presidential contest because he now has the support of the "system" and Uhuru.
Raila is expected to return to Western at the weekend for other meetings with local leaders in Vihiga and Busia counties.
The Star has established that he has lined up grassroots meetings across Western counties in the coming weeks in what is seen as a game plan to consolidate his stranglehold.
Already, grassroots meetings are ongoing across the subcounties to prepare for Raila to ring-fence a region that overwhelmingly supported him in the 2013 and 2017 polls.
Analysts say the Western tours are meant to fend off threats posed by Ruto, ANC leader Musalia Mudavadi and Ford Kenya boss Moses Wetang'ula.
“Raila is trying to consolidate his backyards that have become so porous. If he would remain a formidable candidate in 2022, Raila must ensure his bases in Western and Coast are solid,” political analyst Felix Odhiambo said.
According to Odhiambo, the 2022 election campaigns are set to hit fiver-pitch in the coming weeks as the Covid-19 numbers keep coming down.
“It is now clear that people are back to business and the political environment is likely to get hotter with the BBI crusade set to come back,” he said.
Raila's critics say he was in panic mode after realising that his popularity in the vote-rich bloc had dwindled significantly. At the weekend, Raila held meetings at Kakamega Governor Oparanya's Emabole home in Butere in what his confidants termed a strategy session.
His tour of Kakamega elicited sharp reactions from the Musalia and Ruto troops who laughed off the visit saying it was inconsequential as many political leaders snubbed it.
Raila met at least 20 MCAs from Kakamega county and a section of MPs, including a faction claiming the leadership of Ford Kenya party.
Kanduyi MP Wafula Wamunyinyi attended the meeting on Saturday night in what was seen as a plan to neutralise Wetang'ula.
On Monday, ANC deputy party leader Ayub Savula told the Star that Raila's tour of Kakamega county was a "desperate visit" to try to resuscitate his waning fortunes.
“Raila is in a panic mode,” said the Lugari lawmaker, a close confidant of Musalia.
Savula claimed that Raila was trailing Musalia and Ruto in popularity ratings in Western Kenya.
“The panic is because Musalia is leading in Western followed by Ruto in position two. The ODM has lost ground and we will lock them out of the region,” Savula claimed.
Former Kakamega Senator Boni Khalwale, a key Ruto ally in the region, also claimed that Raila's fortunes in Western had gone up in smoke following Ruto's inroads.
“Ruto and Jubilee is way ahead of Raila and ODM in Western Kenya. Raila is no longer a threat in Western,” Khalwale said.
The vocal former senator claimed that Ruto had taken over Western Kenya ahead of the 2022 presidential duel.
“Raila is no longer a threat in Kakamega. He is just one of the recognisable actors but not a threat,” he said.
The ODM chief is working closely with Oparanya and Devolution CS Eugene Wamalwa, as well as Cotu secretary general Francis Atwoli, to neutralise Mudavadi and Ruto in the region.
On Sunday while in Kakamega, Raila tipped Oparanya for a more senior position in the proposed new structure of government under the BBI.
“We want to have people up there whom we will work with. That is why I want to tell Wycliffe to quit the junior league and join the senior league,” Raila said.
Oparanya who had previously said he would go for the country's top seat suggested that he would be comfortable with any arrangement Raila would offer him.
“I will gladly accept wherever you want me to be in 2022. I will follow your directions. I have decided to leave this lower league and climb up. I will accept the position you will offer me,” Oparanya said.