Raila, Ruto battle for South Rift votes intensifies as election nears

Presidential candidates Raila Odinga and William Ruto

Azimio presidential candidate Raila Odinga (left) and his Kenya Kwanza counterpart William Ruto.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Deputy President William Ruto and Raila Odinga are consolidating their strongholds in the South Rift Valley ahead of the August 9 polls.

Dr Ruto is seeking to ring-fence the vote-rich region, regarded as his political bedrock, while Mr Odinga is strategising on how to pull the rug under the feet of the DP.

Nakuru, Narok, West Pokot, Turkana, Trans Nzoia, Samburu and Kajiado are regarded as the main battlegrounds for the two presidential contenders, who are going for each other’s political jugular in the hotly contested polls.

Bomet, Kericho, Nandi, Baringo, Uasin Gishu and Elgeyo Marakwet are regarded as Dr Ruto’s strongholds, with Azimio-affiliated parties having failed to field candidates.

Mr Odinga has not taken his campaigns to Bomet and Kericho counties but chose to concentrate on neighbouring cosmopolitan counties.

Dr Ruto, on the other hand, has been criss-crossing the region in a bid to maintain his political hold.

“The Maasai and other communities in Narok and Kajiado are fully behind Mr Odinga in the presidential race. The outcome of the election will be a shocker to many,” said Narok Senator Ledama Ole Kina.

Governors Lee Kinyanjui (Nakuru), Mr Alex Tolgos (Elgeyo Marakwet) and Joseph Ole Lenku (Kajiado), Kanu, led by top officials Gideon Moi and Nick Salat, former Cabinet minister and head of Civil Service Sally Kosgey, former UDA vice-chairman Kipruto Kirwa and Cherangany MP Joshua Kutuny are the leading campaigners for Mr Odinga and the Azimio team.

Governor Kinyanjui, who is defending his seat under Jubilee, has called on residents of Nakuru and the Rift Valley to rally behind Mr Odinga.

In an apparent reference to UDA confusion in Nakuru, Governor Kinyanjui said: “The era of illusion politics is coming to an end and Azimio will surprise many on August 9.”

“The ground is shifting very fast and since Mr Odinga launched his campaign in Nakuru, our opponents have been losing numbers by the day.”

But Bomet Governor Hillary Barchok said: “I can assure you that UDA will carry the day in the Rift Valley region. Azimio affiliate parties will be shocked by the massive votes that Dr Ruto will get in the region.”

Mr David Rono, the Keiyo South MP, said it will be a tall order for the Azimio team to beat UDA in the region.

“Rift Valley is a Kenya Kwanza zone and those imagining that Azimio will cause an upset in the election have not done their arithmetic well,” he said.

Former Cabinet minister Musa Sirma said UDA was still the most preferred party and would win a majority of the presidential and parliamentary votes.

The Rift Valley is regarded Kenya’s bread basket, but the high cost of inputs has resulted in farmers incurring huge losses in the last 10 years and this will be a big issue in the run-up to the elections.

“Imports of cheap eggs, maize, beans, onions and other food crops from Tanzania and Uganda have resulted in the near-collapse of the agriculture sector in the country and farmers are not happy,” said Mr Sigey Bett, a Nairobi-based lawyer.

Mr Tolgos said candidates from Azimio’s affiliate parties will deliver many elective seats in the region for the coalition.

“In the North Rift region, almost every civic ward has an Azimio-affiliated party candidate in the General Election. This clearly demonstrates that the people from the region have confidence in Mr Odinga’s leadership,” Mr Tolgos said.

“We have many reasons why we are supporting Mr Odinga – he is capable of fixing the agricultural sector, addressing the high cost of farm inputs and returning it to profitability,” Dr Kosgey

Leaders from the region are backing Mr Odinga to revive stalled development projects and complete those initiated by the Jubilee administration.

The Kimwarer, Arror and Itare dams were initiated by Mr Odinga but implemented by the Jubilee administration under President Uhuru Kenyatta.

But their completion was hit by bad politics and corruption.

Former assistant minister Stephen Tarus said DP Ruto had done little in the last 10 years to revive the agricultural sector in the region.

In an apparent reference to Dr Ruto, Mr Tarus said: “One senior politician has destroyed the careers of professionals in government and politicians from the Rift Valley in the last decade. We are putting all our hopes on Mr Odinga and would not agree to be locked in the opposition.”

Mr Joseph Ngeno, the Azimio coordinator for Bomet County, said the coalition might not be the dominant one in the South Rift but it cannot be wished away.

“We have been holding consultative sessions with a section of stakeholders and political groupings in the region to lay down strategies to turn the tide around to the benefit of Mr Odinga,” he said.

Mr Ngeno said the narrative that UDA is the most popular party in the South Rift region was changing quickly ahead of the election.

“Mr Odinga has many followers in the South Rift region and the outcome of the General Election will be a shocker to many in a region that has been regarded as a UDA zone,” said Ms Lilah Siele, the Bomet Central ODM parliamentary candidate.