Jitters as key Ruto ally campaigns openly for Azimio candidates

Samburu County Governor Moses Lenolkulal.

Confusion has rocked supporters of Deputy President William Ruto in Samburu County after Governor Moses Lenolkulal, who is in the Kenya Kwanza team, embarked on campaigning for Azimio la Umoja One Kenya candidates in the region.

The cracks, the Nation has learnt, were fuelled by political rivalry and supremacy battles between Kenya Kwanza Samburu senator candidate Senator Steve Lelegwe and the retiring county chief.

Mr Lenolkulal in April joined Deputy President William Ruto’s campaign team after he shelved his Senate ambitions in favour of the incumbent, Dr Lelegwe, who is running on a United Democratic Alliance (UDA) party ticket.

On several occasions in the past two weeks, Mr Lenolkulal has been heard openly campaigning for Azimio governor and senator candidates in Samburu – Dr Richard Lesiyampe and Henry Lengolos, respectively. 

This contradicts what many expected – that the DP Ruto campaign chief would rally behind Kenya Kwanza candidates Jonathan Lati Leleliit for governor and Dr Lelegwe for senator.

"Are you ready for the August 9 General Election? Then vote in Dr Lesiyampe and Henry Lengolos as your next governor and senator. At the top, vote DP Ruto as your President," Governor Lenolkulal said during his development tour in Achers, Samburu East.

Mr Lenolkulal’s stance has elicited mixed reactions, with some UDA followers in Samburu calling him out for campaigning for the Azimio One Kenya team.

Mr Lenolkulal, who in April ditched the ruling Jubilee Party for DP Ruto's UDA, was seeking to unseat his political friend-turned-foe Dr Lelegwe in August. DP Ruto, who announced the deal on April 5, said Mr Lenolkulal's decision followed consultations between the two political heavyweights "and Governor Lenolkulal ceded ground for Dr Lelegwe". 

Dr Ruto revealed Mr Lenolkulal would join his presidential campaign team to help him win votes in Samburu County and other parts of Kenya.

He hailed Mr Lenolkulal as someone who brings vast experience to the Kenya Kwanza team.

"After extensive consultations, and in the spirit of putting together a team in Samburu County, Moses Lenolkulal has stepped down to allow our other brother Steve Lelegwe to defend his seat," Dr Ruto said on April 5.

August polls

The governor exuded confidence about Kenya Kwanza’s influence in Samburu, saying his brigade was sure to fetch the county’s votes in the August polls. In a one-minute speech, he vowed to spearhead DP Ruto's campaigns to help him win. 

"With that commitment, we will work together as a team and hopefully we will deliver come August 9," Mr Lenolkulal said.

The Kenya Kwanza and Azimio One Kenya Alliance have fielded their preferred candidates in the Samburu County governor’s contest, which is laced with clannism. 

The contest appears to be a two-horse race between the two political heavyweights who are seeking to succeed Mr Lenolkulal. The respective influence of Azimio One Kenya presidential candidate Raila Odinga and DP Ruto is another factor at play in the hotly contested race.

Dr Lesiyampe and Mr Lati are banking on the influence of ODM and the DP Ruto-linked UDA, respectively, to tilt votes in their favour. For instance, Mr Leleliit is expected to host the DP and UDA brigade next week in Samburu.

At least four candidates have been cleared by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) to contest the governor’s seat on August 9. They include Mr Leleliit (UDA), Daniel Lekupe (independent), Richard Leiyagu (PGP) and Dr Lesiyampe (Jubilee).

Politicians are now using popular social media pages such as Samburu Development Forum (SDF). Nation.Africa has established that the SDF Facebook page is one the largest platforms, with more than 42,000 members. Other platforms used include Samburu County Focus and Samburu Leadership Forum.

"The social media accounts are the workhorses to cultivate supporters and draw them to the campaign,” said Mr James Learugum, a local political analyst. 

“That is where campaigns can deliver their most direct messages and collect that valuable data about their supporters in this period that physical gatherings are not allowed. But they must be monitored."

The campaigns’ official feeds on the social media pages are on polls and their agenda to woo more support at the grassroots. Leading governor candidates in the region have taken vicious political battles online. 

The bloggers and influencers of the two leading contenders – Mr Leleliit, a former Samburu West MP, and Dr Lesiyampe, a former Agriculture principal secretary – are trying to outdo each other as vote-hunting shifts to social media.

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