Ruto, Raila face new headache over restive Mt Kenya
President William Ruto and Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition leader Raila Odinga are facing a tough balancing act in their efforts to maintain a grip on the vote-rich Mt Kenya region, amid threats from their key allies in the area.
The new headache, apparently fuelled by the recent parliamentary elections for members of the East African Legislative Assembly (Eala), is a wake-up call for the two bigwigs as they ponder their political future.
Dr Ruto had won the hearts of Mt Kenya in the run-up to the August elections, despite falling out with former President Uhuru Kenyatta. But he now has to contend with his ambitious deputy Rigathi Gachagua, who is seemingly plotting to rally the region behind him as a bargaining chip in the government.
Suggesting that all was not well in Mt Kenya, which overwhelmingly voted for Dr Ruto in the last election, a warning shot was fired from DP Gachagua’s Nyeri backyard, with area Governor Mutahi Kahiga not mincing his words, cautioning against “political conmanship”.
Coupled with huge expectations from the region regarding campaign promises to prioritise coffee, tea and milk processing that are dear to the community and disquiet over tough conditions for accessing the Hustler Fund, President Ruto is walking a tight rope to maintain his key support base amid the hard economic times.
Dr Ruto is walking a slippery ground, especially on how he handles the economy of the region and the country as a whole, said Multimedia University don Prof Gitile Naituli.
“For [Mt Kenya] people, the economy comes first. If the economy does not improve, they will go,” he avers.
He insists that Dr Ruto would easily lose his support in the region.
“The Mt Kenya region was never in UDA [United Democratic Alliance]. The vote was against Uhuru Kenyatta,” Prof Naituli says.
“They simply took the most convenient enemy of Uhuru Kenyatta to demonstrate to him how much they hated him. I think these guys will find their level, not in Azimio and not in UDA. It’s a question of time.”
For Mr Odinga, the current unrest in his Azimio team following threats to exit by one of the main partners – Jubilee, which is dominant in the Mt Kenya region – does not look good for his political prospects.
Jubilee secretary-general Jeremiah Kioni argues that the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), Mr Odinga’s party, should reciprocate the support they gave him in the last election amid an onslaught by Dr Ruto’s UDA that led to most of them losing their seats.
“We delivered 1.2 million votes. If you compare with what Raila had [received in Mt Kenya] before, at least for those of us who were with them, they should show respect,” Mr Kioni says.
The former Ndaragwa MP, who lost his seat in the last election, adds: “The only reason... I’m not in [Parliament] is having stuck with Jubilee and having supported Raila. The person you were loyal to should reciprocate.”
But ODM secretary-general Edwin Sifuna insists that the party’s agreement with Jubilee in the Azimio framework was that Jubilee would help get 40 per cent of votes in Mt Kenya, something that did not happen.
Also Read: The making of a new Mt Kenya kingpin
“If you look at the registered number of voters in Mt Kenya of about six million, that means that Jeremiah Kioni and his party was supposed to deliver 2.4 million votes,” Mr Sifuna said.
“People from Mt Kenya were lying to Baba (Mr Odinga) about the actual situation on the ground. We were being told they would deliver 40 per cent when some of these people even knew they were going to lose themselves.
“So they should not tell us they are suffering because of Raila; they are suffering because they lied to Raila Odinga about the true situation on the ground in Mt Kenya.”
As squabbles continue in Mr Odinga’s camp, casting doubts on his retention of the support in Mt Kenya, DP Gachagua has also launched a scheme to rally all Azimio-allied leaders from Mt Kenya to his fold, and has even given a deadline of the end of December, further throwing Mr Odinga into a quandary.
“As I have said before, politics is now over and it is time to serve the people. During the just concluded elections, Azimio had 13 per cent of votes in this region and we will reach out to professionals, business people and politicians who had gone astray,” the DP said on Sunday.
“I have talked to many of them and they have told me they were intimidated and coerced into joining Azimio and are ready to return to the fold.”
There is also the issue of Azimio’s unclear plans for 2027, with Mr Odinga not showing signs of either backing his running mate, Ms Martha Karua, who hails from Mt Kenya, or Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka, who has supported him three times since 2013.
It is not clear how the ODM leader will retain his support in the region, with analysts citing what they call “voter fatigue” and Mr Odinga’s advanced age.
For Dr Ruto, the absence of a Mt Kenya candidate for Eala in his preferred list of five generated after a mock election at State House in Nairobi last week has caused disquiet among legislators from the region, prompting them to disregard the line-up.
In the meeting chaired by President Ruto on Wednesday last week, Kenya Kwanza settled on former Mombasa senator Hassan Omar, ex-nominated MP David Sankok, ex-Nandi woman representative Zipporah Kering, ex-nominated senator Falhadha Iman Dekow, and former United Republican Party (URP) secretary-general Fred Muteti as their preferred line-up for the Eala seats.
But by the end of the voting, those chosen were Mr Omar, Ms Kering, Mr Sankok, Mr Mwangi Maina and former Igembe Central MP Cyprian Kubai Iringo.
Though Mr Iringo beat Ms Dekow in the number of votes, he was knocked out of the list because of gender requirements, with the latter taking up the last of the five seats reserved for Kenya Kwanza.
Even though Governor Kahiga’s statements were personal, political analysts feel most Mt Kenya leaders shared similar sentiments.
“We want to say that we shall walk together in this journey but we can still say that if we are not needed, we have not been married by anybody who will imagine that there is time he can decide to toss us up and down,” Governor Kahiga charged.
He went on: “We saw attempts by some people to try to bring the politics of conmanship. We have agreed that everything we are doing we shall do it together as one but some people have started playing games.
“We are telling them that was the reason we members of UDA elected Kanini Kega and we shall continue electing our children if people joke around with us. We want to say it’s still too early in this marriage but the sign of rain is clouds.”
But political analyst Dismas Mokua dismisses Mr Kahiga’s threats, arguing that the governor was simply seeking attention.
“Mr Kahiga is in a wrestling match and wants to be seen as the defender of Mt Kenya interests besides seeking national attention,” Mr Mokua says.
President Ruto, he says, has a strong and agile grassroots network in Mt Kenya.
“Besides, President Ruto did not use brokers to secure political capital in Mt Kenya but rather developed a direct relationship with voters. Mr Kahiga therefore has no capacity to threaten President Ruto and UDA,” Mr Mokua opines.
Mt Kenya remains a key pillar in Dr Ruto’s government owing to its contribution to his vote basket in the August 9 elections, and any misunderstandings now only spell doom for his administration.
In the eight counties of Mt Kenya East and West — Meru, Tharaka-Nithi, Embu, Nyandarua, Nyeri, Kirinyaga, Murang’a and Kiambu — Dr Ruto garnered 2,364,796 votes out of his 7,176,141 national total, while Mr Odinga had 573,245, the highest in his five bids for President.
Dr Ruto had 398,946 votes in Meru, 145,081 in Tharaka-Nithi, 187,981 in Embu, 189,519 in Nyandarua, 272,507 in Nyeri, 220,984 in Kirinyaga, 343,349 in Murang’a and 606,429 votes in Kiambu.
Mr Odinga, who garnered 6,942,930 votes countrywide, on the other hand had 103,679 votes in Meru, 15,062 in Tharaka-Nithi, 31,209 in Embu, 49,228 in Nyandarua, 52,052 in Nyeri, 37,909 in Kirinyaga, 73,526 in Murang’a and 210,580 Kiambu.
In Laikipia, Nakuru and Nairobi counties, which have a huge chunk of Mt Kenya votes, Dr Ruto garnered 1,136,781 votes, with 119,142 in Laikipia, 455,864 in Nakuru and 561,775 in Nairobi. Mr Odinga had 1,042,355 in the three counties – Laikipia (48,908), Nakuru (226,052) and Nairobi (767,395).