Azimio aspirants in Mt Kenya raise Raila worries

Jubilee supporters

Jubilee supporters follow proceedings during a party meeting in Nyeri Town in March. The party’s aspirants in Mt Kenya, who also support Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition Party presidential candidate Raila Odinga, have removed his colours and symbols from their campaign material, opting to use only Jubilee colours.

Photo credit: Joseph Kanyi | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Raila is looking to turn the tide in a region where he has performed poorly in the last four presidential elections.
  • Mt Kenya region largely perceived as backing Deputy President William Ruto and his United Democratic Alliance.

The Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition Party is confronting the dilemma of its aspirants in Mt Kenya shunning Mr Raila Odinga’s symbol on their campaign posters and avoiding marketing his presidential bid, citing hostility from voters.

Some aspirants have resorted to using Jubilee Party colours and are avoiding campaigning for Mr Odinga so as not to jeopardise their own bids in a region largely perceived as backing Deputy President William Ruto and his United Democratic Alliance (UDA).

Mr Odinga, who has secured the endorsement of President Kenyatta, is looking to turn the tide in a region where he has performed poorly in the last four presidential elections but reluctance by some of his foot soldiers there has rang the alarm bells.

His strategists say Mr Odinga is targeting at least 1.5 million votes to help him get over the 50 percent plus one vote to win the presidential elections in the first round. This explains the decision to address the panic among his allies in Mt Kenya before it hurts his fifth bid for President.

Initially whispered in silence, the concern that even some Azimio bigwigs were growing cold feet boiled over in public forums attended by Mr Odinga in Kiambu and Muranga.

Azimio announced that it will not fund campaigns for aspirants in the region who don’t publicly associate with Mr Odinga and popularise his candidature.

This was proposed by area Azimio bigwigs and endorsed by Mr Odinga when he met Murang'a aspirants on Wednesday at Thika Greens Hotel.

The warning came as aspirants appeared to have boycotted associating themselves with the Odinga presidential pitch, preferring to package themselves as Jubilee party aspirants.

“We want footsoldiers who are brave and optimistic. In Mt Kenya we know it might be tougher than in other areas. But keep the faith and remain committed to the cause. We have other fronts that are performing very well in this war and I guarantee you that we are winning," Mr Odinga said.

He said he knows footsoldiers require “guns and bullets” ( read campaign financing) to face the battle.

“Those who have shown commitment will get lots of ammo from me. Do not have any doubts about that. I have since directed that we get ward, constituency and county campaign committees and sync them with the presidential campaign secretariat that has former Jubilee Party Secretary-General Raphael Tuju as the executive director," he said.

If by pushing for his candidature the aspirants lose their seats, they should not worry as they will get appointments in government if Azimio wins, Mr Odinga said.

“Do not be worried at all. We will win. Stand tall and campaign for Raila. Do not fear that if you associate with me, you will lose. If you lose, the Azimio government is big, and Raila will appoint you to it,” Mr Odinga said.

National Assembly Majority leader Amos Kimunya, during a forum attended by Mr Odinga with Kiambu leaders, lifted the lid on the matter, saying, some Azimio candidates in Mt Kenya had chosen to campaign for their seats and had refused to market Mr Odinga.

“We have to focus on all our seats, and the big one that Raila Odinga is looking for. Do not be distracted by anybody that in some places you cannot talk about Raila [in Mt Kenya]. If you cannot sell Raila’s candidature, then why are you in Azimio? So let us go down to the ground; to the people. When you leave here, go to the ground, assemble people at the polling centre, and talk to them. It is not a hard exercise. It can be done,” Mr Kimunya told the Kiambu forum.

Murang’a Woman Representative Sabina Chege also commented on the issue, saying, it was wrong for aspirants not to put Mr Odinga’s name and picture in their campaign posters.

“Put Raila’s picture; even the acronym R for Mr Odinga. Do not fear. Some of you put Uhuru’s portraits in their campaign posters and when they got to Parliament, they turned against him. This time, we do not want such kind of betrayal,” said Ms Chege, a member of the President Kenyatta-led Azimio Council, the coalition’s highest decision-making organ.

In Murang’a where the former prime minister went after the Kiambu forum, Mr Odinga was responding to concerns raised by Gatanga MP Nduati Ngugi, who said “we have run out of ammunition and that is why we appear to have taken cover to a point we are said to be retreating”.

He added: “We are doing an audit on our footsoldiers so that we do not end up arming an enemy who may have infiltrated us.”

“It will be very critical that all aspirants who are contesting under the Azimio ticket offer evidence that they are committed to our cause and this is through making available campaign materials that prominently display [Mr Odinga’s] symbols.”

He said billboards and posters emblazoned with Mr Odinga’s picture and symbols must start coming up in the Mt Kenya region. Mr Ngugi's remarks were ignited by Murang’a Woman Rep aspirant Evelyne Waithera, who said aspirants needed “special assistance” to effectively campaign for Mr Odinga.

“A special Odinga campaign committee should be on the ground to help us since it will be tough to seek individual votes as well as campaign for him.” 

“We want a team that will do the hard digging as we aspirants follow in’s a hard job,” she said. Former Gatanga MP Peter Kenneth said the region has a tough job ensuring it is locked to the advantage of Mr Odinga.

“But you need not worry about the competition that we are facing in Mt Kenya. We are campaigning against a wing that is [well-versed] in spreading propaganda, lies and insults about our leaders and the government. Ours is to undo that and Mr Odinga is the panacea for that deception,” he said.

Mr Kenneth added that he had volunteered to physically, financially and morally support loyal aspirants who will prove their commitment to the Odinga presidential bid while campaigning. He said this was his “local arrangement” and was willing to spend money on it. He urged aspirants to unite and establish a schedule for their campaign rallies for him to back them.

Mr Kenneth added that he would proceed with the journey he started in 2019 of networking with Mr Odinga’s men in pursuit of the presidency.

“I have been bringing together elders from our side with those from Mr Odinga’s backyard. We have been planning with the President on how to actualise the Odinga presidency. We are now at that critical moment where all that matters is loyalty and commitment,” he said.

Mr Kenneth is among several Mt Kenya politicians eyeing the running mate position in the Odinga ticket. Others are Narc Kenya party leader Martha Karua, Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya and governors Lee Kinyanjui (Nakuru) and Ndiritu Múríithi (Laikipia).

Mr Odinga said that, if all goes according to plan, he would get a majority of the seats in the National Assembly, the Senate and county assemblies.

“To seamlessly push the government agenda, we need to paint all houses with Azimio colours. When I am working at State House, I should be guaranteed numbers to push through our collective promise to the people,” he said.“We have to work hard for those numbers and one way of doing so is to be fully committed to my campaigns in your areas.”

Mr Odinga said he prefers an arrangement where Azimio voters are sensitised to vote six-piece (President, governor, senator, MP, woman rep and ward aspirants).