Choppers, cash, dirty tricks: Inside Ruto, Raila campaign war chest like no other

choppers, cash

Deputy President William Ruto and ODM leader Raila Odinga have crafted an elaborate campaign plan with a war chest worth billions of shillings for the two-month long succession battle.

Photo credit: Nation Media Group

 Deputy President William Ruto and ODM leader Raila Odinga, the perceived front-runners in the August 9 elections, have crafted an elaborate campaign plan with a war chest worth billions of shillings for the two-month long succession battle that officially begins today.

Despite the vote-hunt having intensified from last year, the official campaign period is a major milestone in the countdown and allows contestants more legal protection in their political activities.

At the heart of the grand plans by the two, crafted by trusted strategy teams, are heavy investments in technology – including plans to set up parallel tallying centres and live streaming of events – and deployment of multiple campaign teams with helicopters, high-end vehicles and equipped offices at their disposal.

Both the Kenya Kwanza Alliance of Dr Ruto and Azimio la Umoja-One Kenya Coalition fronting Mr Odinga are further toying with the controversial idea of deploying supporters to take charge of polling stations for high voter turnout in their strongholds and protection of votes in hostile regions in a strategy known as “adopt-a-polling-station”.

Apart from the regular social media posts, online propaganda through manipulation of video clips as well as use of parody accounts to spread fake news in an attempt to manipulate voters are on the rise.

Insiders from both camps have told the Sunday Nation that implementing the set campaign plans would require at least Sh5 billion for a serious presidential bid.

Sources said they are seeking to mobilise some of the funds through donations by influential individuals in Kenya and abroad, support in kind and as well as organised fundraisers. They also plan to have their aspirants donate to the national campaign kitty.

The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) had sought to cap presidential campaign expenditure at Sh4.4 billion. Implementation of this requirement was, however, frustrated by MPs, who rejected the Election Campaign Financing Regulations, 2020, on the floor of the House.

“We will mount serious campaigns both in the air and on ground. We are going to populate the entire country in the next two months. We will also adopt polling stations to ensure maximum voter turnout by deploying grassroots officials,” said Nandi Senator Samson Cherargei, a close ally of Dr Ruto.

“We are going to campaign from house to house, village to village and town to town to sell our agenda to the people. The choppers are there but I can’t tell you about the number because some are being donated by Kenyans of goodwill,” he added.

Kenya Kwanza has split campaign teams into three for parallel rallies. The alliance of more than 10 political parties has plans to cascade the campaign teams to the grassroots level.

DP Ruto, the United Democratic Alliance (UDA) presidential candidate, is leading one team while his running mate Rigathi Gachagua is in-charge of another group in an aggressive vote-hunting. Amani National Congress (ANC) Musalia Mudavadi and his Ford Kenya counterpart are in-charge of yet another campaign team.

Currently, the teams are having well-oiled parallel economic forums and public rallies across the country. For instance, most of last week, DP Ruto was at the Coast, Mr Mudavadi and Mr Wetang’ula in western and Mr Rigathi in Rift Valley.

"We are going to mobilise our candidates for various seats around the country to campaign for our presidential candidate. Our national and regional campaign teams are also carrying out both rallies and economic forums. All these activities are being coordinated at the national level," said UDA secretary-general Veronica Maina.

Azimio la Umoja-One Kenya Coalition secretary-general Junet Mohammed said the formation is setting up offices for its 15 regional campaign teams across the country. The coalition has created a national campaign team as well, making total number of 16 teams.

The teams will have resources at their disposal to run parallel rallies. The offices will have teams of communications and IT experts to help the political class in running the campaigns.

Once in a while, Mr Odinga or his running mate Martha Karua will join the teams in turns, according a draft plan by the coalition. The plan is to have as many rallies as possible within the campaign period.

"Each one of the regional teams will be campaigning differently. They are hitting the ground from this week when the official campaign begins," said Mr Mohammed.

"Each of them will have regional offices and technical teams to assist them run effective campaigns. The teams will be cascaded to the county, constituency, ward and village levels. The plan is to reach every voter and to sell to them our presidential candidate," Mr Mohammed said.

Mr Odinga will, at the tail-end of the campaigns, retreat to his traditional strongholds like Nyanza, Western and Coast to whip the regions into voting him and ensuring a huge turnout. Ms Karua is expected to continue her whirlwind tour of Mt Kenya region that will intensify in the last weeks of the campaign. The target is to ensure not less than 30 per cent of the region vote for Azimio.

Nyanza team has since set up an office in Kisumu to handle the six counties of Kisumu, Siaya, Migori, Homa Bay, Kisii and Nyamira in the area that has traditionally backed Mr Odinga’s previous presidential bids. The other regions are in the process of renting office spaces and equipping them with computers and a small technical teams.

At the Coast, it has also been agreed that there is a need to completely water down the recent forays made by Deputy President William Ruto.

The teams, according to the plan, will have town hall meetings at the constituencies within their jurisdictions where they will engage various professionals on a wide range of national issues which will then be elevated to the national level to form part and parcel of the final manifesto of Azimio coalition.

National Assembly minority leader John Mbadi told the Sunday Nation that they will meet various groups such as the clergy and fishermen among others in the town hall meetings

"We will meet with, for instance, the fishermen if it is Kisumu and listen to them, then have their issues addressed at the national level," Mr Mbadi said.

The grassroots meetings are also meant to counter the regional economic forums that the deputy president has been holding across counties.

UDA Nairobi governor aspirant Johnson Sakaja – who was in Mr Kenyatta’s campaign team for both 2013 and 2017 – places the cost of mounting a serious presidential race at more than Sh5 billion.

He says procuring campaign merchandise, mobilisation and hiring of agents consume a bigger chunk of campaign monies. Typically, he says, a presidential candidate will require Sh500 million to print merchandise that include T-shirts, caps, placards and other branding materials.

The cost of each T-shirt and cap are estimated at Sh300 and Sh200 respectively, meaning it will cost Sh500 to give a single supporter the two items during a political rally. In major rallies, politicians distribute at least 2,000 caps and T-shirts to the crowd. Some of the supporters are also ferried to the venue in hired buses.

"Generally, it depends on the kind of the campaign you want to mount. This year looks more and more expensive. For a presidential candidate, if you don’t have Sh5 billion you will have a big problem," said Mr Sakaja.

Then there are the election day logistics and personnel. Nairobi alone has 3,300 polling stations. Mr Sakaja says to deploy four agents for a presidential candidate – two for the day and two at night – cost at least Sh26.4 million if they are paid Sh1, 000 each and food provided for Sh1,000.

There are 52,481 polling stations spread across the country. A serious presidential candidate seeking to deploy two agents in each of the stations will spend at least Sh210 million by paying each of the agents Sh2, 000.

"Doing a rally may not be that expensive because you don’t pay people to come but you will spend about Sh2 million on logistics; things like dais, sound system and chairs. You mobilise a small group, the rest would come based on the party support and hype you create around the event," he says.

This figure could, however, be about Sh4 million if campaign merchandise like T-shirts, caps and banners are factored in.

Dr Ruto and Mr Odinga have already erected tens of billboards in major towns and highways across the country.

Renting a billboard space costs at least Sh150, 000 per month — more or less depending on the location — while printing a canvas costs Sh60, 000. This implies that to put a single billboard for a period of a month costs an average of Sh210, 000.

A study by governance expert Karuti Kanyinga and Tom Mboya shows that candidates who spend more money have higher chances of winning an election.

"There is little doubt that the cost of participating in elective politics is on the rise. The findings from interviews demonstrates that even with the very best of intentions, under current conditions, it is unlikely that one can seriously compete for elections without a significant financial war-chest," the study published last year observes.

It placed the least cost of running for the Senate at Sh35.5 million and Sh22.8 for Woman rep position. The cost for MP seat is at an average of 18.2 million while that of MCA is estimated at Sh3.1 million.

These could, however, be conservative figures. A governor aspirant who dropped out before party primaries admitted to having spent about Sh35 million. Most of the money went into handouts and mobilisation of supporters to attend rallies.

Mr Odinga’s presidential campaign board chairman Ndiritu Muriithi said that the principle reason for having multiple campaign teams is to ensure proper mobilisation of voters to cast their ballot in favour of their presidential candidate.

Mr Muriithi said the campaign teams have been given briefs to ensure coordinated campaigns in their areas with proper messaging of the coalition’s agenda.

"You will see more coordinated campaigns and we will soon release our manifesto. The things that will change is the intensity of the campaigns. We already have offices and more are being created. This is not a one-man show but a competent team led by the most-experienced campaign," said Mr Muriithi.

He disclosed that the coalition will deploy its officials to polling stations on the election day to ensure that vote cast is what is transmitted to the National Tallying Centre.

He, however, remained coy on whether the coalition was planning for a parallel tallying centre.

"The primary thing is that counting is done at the polling station and you want to ensure that the results announced by the presiding officer are properly signed off and the transmission is flawless," he added.

Dr Ruto while on a recent tour of the UK hinted at putting in place a system that will ensure his votes are not stolen while his allies have openly said the alliance will put up a parallel tallying system to monitor in rigging of the outcome.

"My votes cannot be stolen. I am not the type they can steal votes from. It is not possible," Dr Ruto told supporters at Holiday Inn Hotel in London.

Mr Mbadi – who is in-charge of the Nyanza alongside Kisii Governor James Ongwae and MP Simba Arati – said the region’s brief is to ensure high voter turnout in the region that has traditionally backed Mr Odinga.

"We have agreed that each region to meet and put their strategy in place. Us we are meeting in Kisumu on Friday. We have a secretariat with computers in place already. This should be the case in the other regions," said Mr Mbadi.

"The Azimio secretariat will be coordinating but each region will craft its own strategy modelled around town hall meetings and political rallies. It will subsequently lead to adopt-a-polling-station model. In Nyanza, we are focusing on the voter turnout that will be done through voter mobilisation targeting polling stations," he added.

He said that the regional teams will be facilitated by the national office with campaign mechandise and other materials that require money.

Aspirants for various seats are also expected to finance some of the campaign activities by making available their vehicles and other campaign materials.

Lugari MP Ayub Savula – who is part of the western campaign team under Kakaemga Governor Wycliffe Oparanya and Defence Cabinet Secretary Eugene Wamalwa – said their brief is to deliver the region to Azimio. "We have a target to boost Raila’s rating from the current 60 per cent to 90 per cent. We are telling the western people that once Raila breaks the jinx of presidents from central and Rift Valley, it would be the turn for Luhya to take over," said Mr Savula.

Nominated Senator Isaac Mwaura, who is coordinating Kenya Kwanza campaigns in Kiambu, said they are engaging voters directly through economic forums.

"We are engaging people directly, through town hall meetings as well as rallies. Our aspirants are also meeting people directly so that they can understand what we are promising to do. I am the national team; we have multi-pronged approach," said Mr Mwaura.

Getting the campaign strategy right became apparent in the 2002 presidential election when Mr Mwai Kibaki’s Narc triumphed over Kanu.

And when the government side, led by Mr Kibaki, lost the 2005 referendum elections to the "No" side of Mr Odinga, it was blamed on a "disorganised, uncoordinated and ineffective campaign." Weeks after then minister Kiraitu Murungi promised to launch a campaign that would shake every corner of the country.

The 2013 and 2017 elections, particularly for the Jubilee ticket of Mr Uhuru Kenyata and Mr Ruto, stood out for their glitzy campaigns and pointed messaging. The involvement in the Jubilee campaigns of Cambridge Analytica, a controversial British political consulting firm that was later closed down after controversy about its dirty tricks online in elections across the world, was also revealed.

Additional reporting by Samwel Owino