Of Mt Kenya Azimio politicians who hid support for Raila but still lost

A campaign billboard for Azimio la Umajo One Presidential candidate Raila Odinga and his running mate Ms Martha Karua in Bomet town.

Photo credit: Vitalis Kimutai | Nation Media Group

In the run-up to the August 9 elections, Raila-phobia struck candidates allied to the Azimio la Umoja One Kenya coalition in Central Kenya.

They placed their campaign posters to popularise their bids, but they excluded the name and images of the coalition’s flag-bearer, Raila Odinga, for fear of losing, but they lost anyway. 

The political tactic drew a barrage of criticism from Mr Odinga’s diehard supporters, who hit out at the leaders and described them as cowards who wanted to have their cake and eat it too.

This year’s campaign tactics contrasted sharply with those in the 2017 General Election, when Jubilee was the party of choice in the region and having the image of the party leader on posters was significant enough to portray loyalty.

Indisputably, the United Democratic Alliance (UDA) had the upper hand in Central Kenya, and for most Azimio candidates, the clarion call to voters on the campaign trail was “vote for me for my seat but choose whoever you want for the top seat”.

Among the top targets of the criticism were Jubilee-affiliated politicians, who largely shied away from publicly campaigning for Mr Odinga’s presidential bid or including his image on their campaign posters, which was construed to mean they were disassociating from him privately.

One of the most prominent Jubilee politicians who fell with a thud was outgoing Kieni MP Kanini Kega, who is also the Jubilee director of elections. He was defeated by Mr Wainaina Njoroge of the United Democratic Alliance (UDA).

The others were outgoing Nyeri Town MP Ngunjiri Wambugu, who lost his bid to recapture his seat to UDA’s Duncan Maina Mathenge, and outgoing Nyeri Senator Ephraim Maina, who failed to unseat Nyeri Governor Mutahi Kahiga, who recaptured his seat under UDA.

Traditionally, most candidates for lower political seats would include images of their party’s presidential flag-bearer so as to popularise him, as was the case with UDA candidates, who incorporated the image of William Ruto on their campaign materials.

On the Azimio side, only Ms Phyllis Wambura Maranga, who ran for the Mathira parliamentary seat, included the images of Mr Odinga and his running mate Martha Karua on her posters.

She also openly campaigned for Mr Odinga in the constituency, the backyard of Deputy President-elect Rigathi Gachagua. Mr Odinga received about 10,000 votes in Mathira, according to IEBC data.

Ms Maranga vehemently defended her decision, saying that excluding Mr Odinga's images on campaign posters was a political strategy that other candidates in the larger Mt Kenya region employed.

Speaking at a press briefing on June 9, Mr Ngunjiri Wambugu explained that candidates were trying to distinguish themselves from the Azimio presidential candidate by selling their own agenda. The candidates, he argued, did not want to be elected because of the ODM leader but because of their own qualifications and appeal to voters.

"One of the things we want to try and challenge is that we want people to be elected based on their own personal standing so that we don’t get confused. We are trying to generate that aspect of personal responsibility. We do not want to confuse voters by hiding behind certain people," he said.

He went on: “We are selling our presidential candidate but this time, compared to 2017, there is a distinction. This is because in 2017 there were people who got elected because of President Uhuru Kenyatta but immediately they got into office, they started condemning him."

But Mr Patrick Macheru, the secretary of the Azimio Machinani Mathira constituency secretariat, thinks the politicians, most of whom were swept away by the UDA wave, should have gone down fighting and standing firm with Mr Odinga.

The votes that Mr Odinga garnered in the region, Mr Macheru believes, came from the efforts of ordinary citizens and not the politicians, who took a bigger chunk of campaign money but were only pushing their personal agenda. 

“They never campaigned for Odinga. To me, they displayed cowardice if indeed they shared the ideologies of the Azimio coalition,” he said.

“They should have sold its manifesto no matter the hostilities they encountered. They should have lost honourably.”