For Deputy President William Ruto and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga, it’s make or break in their fierce battle for Rift Valley votes, 10 months to the General Election.
Mr Odinga has been camping in the North Rift, touring Trans Nzoia and West Pokot counties, and a rally that was to be held in Bomet is now postponed.
The Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) party leader’s latest overtures come hot on the heels of a similar tour of Uasin Gishu County, which was billed as a successful engagement with voters in the DP’s backyard, as the former PM seeks to regain the strong political foothold in the region that he lost in the 2012 and 2017 general elections.
On the other hand, the DP, who has often been accused of neglecting Rift Valley residents in his “empowerment” drives, allegedly because he feels entitled to their votes, is keen to roll back the gains Mr Odinga and Baringo Senator Gideon Moi, the leader of independence party Kanu, have made in the recent past.
“Dr Ruto’s tours are aimed at propagating UDA ideals. It’s a party that enjoys immense support in the region, with the Jubilee Party having lost favour over the past four years,” Belgut MP Nelson Koech said.
The DP is touring the region at a time he is having another headache: many of his close allies can’t see eye to eye and are going for each other’s jugular. His tours of Kericho, Nandi and Nakuru counties partly aimed at forestalling fallout in the United Democratic Alliance (UDA) party primaries.
In Narok, Ruto allies—Labour Chief Administrative Secretary Patrick Ole Ntutu, Woman Representative Soipan Kudate Tuiya, and Members of Parliament Gabriel Tonkoyo (Narok West), Korei Ole Lemein (Narok North)—are all angling to run for governor on the party’s ticket.
Catch 22 situation
They are seeking to succeed Governor Samuel Tunai, who is serving his second and final term and has declared his interest to run for the Senate seat held by Mr Ledama Ole Kina.
“It’s a catch-22 situation for the DP as all his political allies are gunning for the same position. If he is not careful, all his trusted lieutenants will be out of elective posts in the next General Election,” Mr Jackson Kiptanui, a Narok South resident, said.
Mr Kiptanui added that the DP’s main challenge lay in convincing some of the candidates to drop out in favour of others deemed to have better prospects of being elected.
In Bomet County, Governor Hillary Barchok will slug it out with Petroleum and Mining Chief Administrative Secretary John Mosonik in the UDA party primaries.
Nandi Governor Stephen Sang will fight it out with Nairobi lawyer Allan Kosgey, son of former cabinet minister Henry Kosgei, as Emgwen MP Alex Kosgey (Mr Kosgey’s other son) seeks to unseat Senator Samson Cherargei.
Battle of wits
The DP and the former prime minister have been engaged in a battle of wits, trading barbs and throwing brickbats, as the clock ticks towards the polls.
The two senior politicians are seen as the frontrunners in the race to succeed President Kenyatta, who is serving his second and final term in office.
“It’s clearly demonstrated by the tours made to the Rift Valley that Mr Odinga has grassroots support as opposed to what his opponents have been projecting,” Mr Kipkorir Menjo, an ODM official, said. Mr John Langat, an ODM official in Kericho County, said: “The number of votes the ODM leader will deliver in Rift Valley will shock many.
Apart from the Kalenjin, he has immense support in other communities.”
Mr Odinga’s tour of the Rift Valley comes in the backdrop of Dr Ruto’s disrupted rally in Kisumu. However, local leaders have dismissed fears of retaliation.
“We want to make it clear that all presidential aspirants are welcome to seek support from residents of Rift Valley without fear of their meetings being disrupted,” Kericho Woman Rep Florence Bore said.
Ms Bore added: “We’re aware that some people are expecting voters in the region to cause chaos during rallies, but they will be very disappointed. In the spirit of democracy, all candidates are free to sell their policies. Whether or not they will succeed is a different matter.”
Mr Odinga’s tour also comes hot on the heels of the defection by ODM nominated MP Wilson Sossion to UDA on October 11.
“In a democracy, it’s the people who decide a politician’s destiny. My move to UDA has been public knowledge for some time now and it’s clear to all that I’m responding to voters’ demands,” Mr Sossion said.
Fullness of time
He added that he does not expect a backlash from ODM over his declared intentions to formally join UDA.
“I’ve not quit ODM. I’ve only signalled my intentions to do so, which has been delivered in good faith, as I don’t want to ambush my party with the issue when the time comes,” Mr Sossion added.
By backing the DP against Mr Odinga, the nominated MP went against the grain in a gamble whose full impact will be seen in the fullness of time.
Mr Sossion has declared his interest to unseat Bomet Senator Christopher Langat, who beat former Senator Wilfred Lessan in the 2017 Jubilee Party primaries and eventually defeated Kanu Secretary General Nick Salat and Dr Joel Koskei of Chama Cha Mashinani in the polls.