Four presidential hopefuls and various political lobbies, coupled with behind-the-scenes manoeuvres of prominent “outsiders” — Deputy President William Ruto and Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) leader Raila Odinga — is a mixed grill that has muddied politics in populous western Kenya.
With Amani National Congress (ANC) leader Musalia Mudavadi, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) head Mukhisa Kituyi, Council of Governors chairman Wycliffe Oparanya and (possibly) Devolution Cabinet Secretary Eugene Wamalwa angling for the presidency, the situation is becoming complex and unpredictable.
This confusion is compounded by roles played by influential personalities like Central Organisation of Trade Unions (Cotu) Secretary General Francis Atwoli, politicians pushing the Deputy President William Ruto and Raila presidential bids, as well as the recently launched Mulembe Youth Movement.
Former Cabinet minister Paul Otuoma admits that the scenario is confusing.
He says what is important now is for the Kenyatta-Odinga team to focus on its objectives.
“Many want to know which candidate from the region is being fronted for the top seat or who we are lobbying for. This is not the time to confront such questions or start splitting ourselves into different formations,” the former Funyula MP said.
“We want to forge ahead as a united pro-handshake team and sort out the other issues later.”
The biggest riddle revolves around Mr Wamalwa and Mr Oparanya. The two have held meetings with the President, sometimes accompanied by delegations from western Kenya.
It is not clear who between them supports the other for the top seat, but they clearly enjoy the backing of the President and the ODM leader.
According to a source in the presidency, Mr Wamalwa and Mr Oparanya are being marketed by the State as possible presidential candidates – either as a decoy or serious hopefuls.
The initial plan, according to the source, was to support Mr Mudavadi but his lukewarm backing for the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) and dalliance with Dr Ruto changed the equation.
The Oparanya-Wamalwa team has been accorded a lucrative kitty for several development projects, including reviving stalled ones, in western Kenya.
This is partly aimed at marketing the two and helping them to win over local support.
Ford-Kenya boss Moses Wetang’ula recently said attempts to dislodge him from the party leadership are part of the wider strategy to install Mr Wamalwa and Oparanya as regional kingpins.
The Bungoma senator narrowly survived a rebellion that had installed Kanduyi MP Wafula Wamunyinyi as Ford Kenya chairman.
Mr Oparanya and Mr Wamalwa, says former Cabinet minister Amukowa Anangwe, are seeking relevance in the next political dispensation.
“They have to do spadework and galvanise the regional vote for Mr Odinga in order to win favour to be in the next government if he wins. But in doing so, they will be perceived to be undermining Mr Mudavadi’s bid and may be regarded as spoilers,” Prof Anangwe said.
Mr Wamalwa says he is only serving Kenyans as Devolution Cabinet Secretary.
“As a resident of the region, I am interested in the development of our people and home,” he said.
According to Mr Wamalwa, the country is ready for western leadership “yet my senior political brothers (Mudavadi and Wetang’ula) are still dragging their feet by running solo campaigns in their small political outfits”.
Mr Oparanya says the unity push involves members of all other communities in the region, not just the Luhya.
Maintaining that he is focused on forming and not being part of government, Mr Mudavadi accuses Mr Wamalwa and the Kakamega governor of running errands for politicians from outside the region.
Mr Oparanya, who is ODM’s deputy party leader, is thought to be playing duty for Mr Odinga.
Prof Anangwe attributes the lack of political cohesion and emergence of several presidential candidates from the region as well as proliferation of lobbies to lack of quality leaders.
“None of the contemporary leaders has had the requisite charisma and gravitas to dominate the political space in western,” Prof Anangwe said.
But not many agree with the don’s claims. Insisting that western Kenya “is awash with top notch leaders”, Mr Wamalwa says the past mistake “has been to confine ourselves to a few individuals, which is why we want to try other options”.
One of these options may be Dr Kituyi. Efforts to reach the UNCTAD secretary-general for comment were fruitless as he had not come through by the time of filing this report.
However, the Sunday Nation has established that the former Trade minister and Kimilili MP is serious about succeeding President Kenyatta.
Though he is yet to hit the campaign trail, Dr Kituyi – whose second four-year term of office ends next year – has reportedly set up a panel made up of professionals and high-profile businesspeople.
Team Kituyi is yet to set up a secretariat but has been meeting virtually to map out campaign strategies.
The political economist’s impressive international profile and leadership credentials notwithstanding, there is no guarantee he will get a nod from his backyard.
If the UNCTAD chief eventually gets into the presidential race, he will have to face formidable challenge from other hopefuls.
Prof Anangwe says western has since 1992 failed to produce a formidable presidential candidate but the exit of Mr Kenyatta and possible “Raila fatigue” could make 2022 an interesting year for the region.