In Raila Odinga, Uhuru secures asset to pacify bastions

By Daily Nation

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On July 12, 2017, a crowd gathered at the East African Breweries grounds in Kisumu, dressed in Jubilee Party-branded red T-shirts.

They waved Jubilee flags as President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Deputy William Ruto drove in to relaunch the keg brewery.

But as soon as Mr Ruto began speaking, the group started to jeer him, hurling unprintable names.

That marked the last time the President and his deputy had attempted to penetrate the traditional support base for opposition leader Raila Odinga.

But now, political scientists say, the recent handshake between President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga may have turned the opposition leader into an ally that the President lacked.

HANDSHAKE

“The handshake broke the ice in ways that could create a soft landing for the President,” argued Mr Tom Mboya, a political science lecturer at Maseno University.

Mr Odinga toured parts of Nyanza last week to seek the opinion of residents before he finally takes the President to the region.

“I have come back home to deliver to you our message and resolutions with President Kenyatta,” Mr Odinga declared at Kondele, popularly known as Darfur as a result of the numerous political protests at the trading centre.

Mr Odinga said his talks with President Kenyatta discussed a myriad of issues aimed at fostering unity among the country’s communities.

ADDRESS INJUSTICES

“You know many of our people were killed and maimed following the elections last year. We agreed with President Kenyatta that all these, among other injustices, must be addressed and compensation made to the affected families,” Mr Odinga said.

Several people were killed, including six-month-old baby Samantha Pendo, during protests that hit the lakeside city after last year’s polls.

During his rallies last week, Mr Odinga told audiences he would return with the President to preach peace and implement some pending projects, indicating the Head of State has finally landed a new ally to pacify the restive region.

POOR TURNOUT

The President’s few visits in the region have been characterised by occasional jeers and a poor turnout, and given a wide berth by local leaders

Nyanza has been the bedrock of Mr Odinga’s political support since 1997, when he first attempted to gain the Presidency. People in the region have often taken his word on political directions, and on October 26 stayed away from voting, as urged by Mr Odinga, who declined to take part in the rerun presidential election, arguing it was still fraudulent.

It is the only region where voting did not take place in the repeat polls, except two constituencies in Migori County and two polling stations in Kisumu that border Kericho.

Still, violence merchants at the time targeted electoral commission officials, welding doors to polling centres or erecting barriers across main highways to ensure voting materials were not delivered.

RAILA ‘OATH’

And in January locals vowed to recognise Mr Odinga as President and continued to push him to take an “oath” of office, which he did on January 30, calling himself the “people’s president”.

However, the surprise shaking of hands between Mr Kenyatta and Mr Odinga on March 9 seems to have quickly diffused the bad blood against the President in Nyanza.

“President Uhuru Kenyatta required the goodwill from the opposition, which he has got in Mr Odinga. It allows him to penetrate the region,” Prof Maurice Amutabi, a historian and vice-chancellor of Lukenya University, told the Nation.

“He now needs to demonstrate that goodwill by giving Mr Odinga an important role to play. He could appoint some of Mr Odinga’s lieutenants as advisers, for example. This has been done in other parts of the world. We saw it with Barack Obama, and we have seen it with Donald Trump,” Prof Amutabi explained, referring to two successive US presidents who appointed to their cabinets politicians who contested against them.

OPPOSITION

In Africa, Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni and Botswana’s Ian Khama selected senior government officials from among opposition lieutenants.

The problem, though, is that in some of these countries, critics say such moves risk weakening the opposition.

Mr Odinga, who also addressed huge gatherings in Oyugis in Homa Bay County, Ahero in Kisumu, and Ugenya and Bondo in Siaya, requested the opinions of locals following the announcement of his plans to accompany the President to the region.

Nyatike MP Tom Odege was Tuesday optimistic that Mr Odinga’s planned tour of Nyanza with the President would bring positive results to the region.

DEVELOPMENT

“We had been side-lined for a long time in terms of development and we must now seize this opportunity to ensure implementation and completion of all stalled development projects in the region,” Mr Odege said.

He called for patience and asked the people of Nyanza to give the two leaders time to implement the details of their agreement.

However, Kisumu West MP Olago Aluoch cautioned that it was too early for President Kenyatta to be invited to Nyanza.

“It is too early to celebrate the handshake by taking Uhuru to Kisumu,” he said. “Tears have not dried up and grass has not grown on the graves of those who died.”

Mr Aluoch also questioned the terms of the handshake and how it will affect the Opposition’s oversight role regarding the Executive and Parliament.