Deputy President William Ruto’s dream of succeeding President Kenyatta is increasingly becoming hinged on how Mt Kenya votes next year.
This, observers say, has made the DP a near-captive of the region, a view the DP recently acknowledged with the declaration: “My government will be made in Mt Kenya”.
And just yesterday, the delicate political terrain that is the region was evident when two Ruto’s allies — Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria and former Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri — joined Narc Kenya leader Martha Karua in forming a caucus, whose aim, they said, is to champion the region’s unity, a development celebrated by Mr Kenyatta’s supporters (see separate story).
Win residents’ hearts
Cognisant of plans to deny him the region’s votes, DP Ruto has literally camped in Mt Kenya as he seeks to win residents’ hearts.
This follows his falling out with Mr Kenyatta after the famous March 9, 2018 handshake between the President and the then opposition National Super Alliance (Nasa) leader Raila Odinga.
If he is not on the campaign trail in Mt Kenya, the DP is hosting delegations from the region at his official residence in Karen, Nairobi county.
In his efforts to win the region, however, the DP has faced huge demands from voters and politicians, key being the running mate position.
The DP’s Mt Kenya lieutenants have argued that their support for him is unconditional, but it’s obvious they have set their sights on the Deputy President slot should he become Head of State.
State machinery and KRA
However, choosing a running mate from Mt Kenya will have far-reaching effects that could affect his chances in other regions.
Having run with Mr Kenyatta in 2013 and 2017, it may not please voters in other regions if he appoints a person from the mountain as running mate.
An MP from his camp told the Nation yesterday that while the DP needs Mt Kenya votes, his team is aware that choosing a running mate from the region may invite political backlash from other parts of the country.
“It’s a delicate balancing act because failure to give the slot to Mt Kenya will also be detrimental to us. Giving it to the region will equally be viewed as controlling the government interchangeably by two ethnic communities,” the lawmaker said.
On August 4, the DP admitted that he considers the region crucial to his bid for the presidency, but called for patience in regard to naming a running mate.
“We will walk this journey together. This process is competitive, considering what is at play. But you can bet that my government will be made in Mt Kenya,” the DP said in an interview with Inooro FM.
“These things require tact since revealing too much of ourselves to competition is a technically flawed strategy.”
Saying he would select a running mate “at the right time”, he told the region that it would have a major stake should he form the government next year.
“Be patient; my government will mostly belong to you as Mt Kenya. Much the more that it will be a government for the Republic of Kenya, it will be your government,” he DP said.
The DP suggested that the mountain owes him a political debt that is ripe for repayment by helping him succeed President Kenyatta.
“I now have a history with the region. I have been there when you needed someone to support Uhuru Kenyatta become president. I first showed up in his 2002 failed bid. I returned in 2013 and twice in 2017,” he said.
“I have been to your churches and villages interacting and developing a conversation.”
The DP said most Mt Kenya businesspeople secretly back his 2022 bid.
“They fear that doing so openly will lead to harassment by the State machinery. The taxman and detectives could be unleashed against them,” the DP said.
Almost all Mt Kenya elected leaders, he said, will join the United Democratic Alliance (UDA) — a party he hopes to use in the State House journey — before May next year, “especially if Jubilee Party is pawned to Mr Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement (ODM)”.
Murang’a Senator Irungu Kang’ata yesterday said events to market DP Ruto as the preferred presidential candidate of Mt Kenya, would begin in churches soon.
“We are waiting for Covid-19 guidelines and protocols to be eased. The leaders are in agreement that of all the presidential hopefuls, Dr Ruto is the best bet to be trusted with Mt Kenya interests,” Senator Kang’ata said.
There is a reason the DP is investing a lot in the region, which alongside his Rift Valley stronghold, helped him and Mr Kenyatta win the presidency in 2013 and secure re-election in 2017. The voter turnout in the two regions was huge.
Pundits say the DP needs at least 90 per cent of Mt Kenya votes in a near-100 per cent turnout. For political analyst Herman Manyora, the DP can pull a surprise victory should he garner at least 75 per cent of Mt Kenya votes.
“If the President can marshal at least 40 per cent of locals to vote against Ruto in Mt Kenya, the DP is done,” he says.
Ethnicity and hatred
For analyst Dismas Mokua, the Ruto 2022 presidential victory is anchored on a clean Mt Kenya win.
“He needs to create a powerful emotional and irrational connection with residents to secure 90 per cent of the turnout,” Mr Mokua says.
However, he adds that achieving that would be a tall order.
“Mt Kenya voter turnout is usually high when a person from the region is contesting the presidency. That was the case with Presidents Mwai Kibaki and Kenyatta,” Mr Mokua says.
The analyst says naming a running mate from Mt Kenya would significantly raise Ruto’s chances of getting a big slice of the region’s vote “but push the entire country outside his Rift Valley bastion to his competitors”.
“The choice of a Mt Kenya running mate will disenfranchise potential candidates and push them to work with Dr Ruto’s competition,” he argued.
Mt Kenya, Mr Mokua said, is therefore a problem for the DP and he will need to do “serious sensitive and scenario analyses”.
“He needs to solve the complicated simultaneous equation with a lot of wisdom. Failure to do so will see him in the opposition,” he says.
During the burial of Amani National Congress (ANC) leader Musalia Mudavadi’s mother in Sabatia, Vihiga county, in January, President Kenyatta hinted at supporting a candidate from other communities that have not produced a President.
The country’s first President Jomo Kenyatta, Mr Kibaki and the current Head of State are Kikuyu while Daniel Toroitich arap Moi was Kalenjin.
“They are saying people are tired of the leadership from this or that family. If that is your argument, I can also stand and say two communities have ruled this nation. Maybe it is time to give a chance to other communities to lead,” President Kenyatta said to the applause of mourners.
In response, the DP and his supporters said Kenya is a democracy and nobody should be denied an opportunity to seek votes because of where they come from.
“We cannot degenerate to this level. When I supported President Kenyatta, it was not because of his ethnicity but his agenda,” the DP said.
“I supported the President knowing very well that Kibaki was Kikuyu. It was deliberate. We wanted to end the politics of ethnicity and hatred.”
According to Nominated MP Maina Kamanda, Ruto’s slim victory in the Kiambaa by-election should worry him.
“We are planning meetings and forums in Mt Kenya that will see the region stand firmly behind President Kenyatta,” Mr Kamanda said.
He added that the recent meeting in Murang’a county that was attended by Mr Odinga and more than 50 pro-Handshake leaders is among the first to spread President Kenyatta’s message to the region.
For Kandara MP Alice Wahome, Ruto support in Mt Kenya is far much ahead of his rivals’.
“From the look of things, the presidential vote in Mt Kenya is between 85 and 95 per cent for Ruto.
“Odinga should not be fooled that he will make any meaningful inroads as far as the region’s vote is concerned,” the lawmaker said.
But Mr Kiunjuri, The Service Party (TSP) leader, said there is a wide scheme to derail Ruto’s victory by sponsoring candidates from Mt Kenya to divide the region.
“There is a mission to divide Mt Kenya. They want the votes to be scattered. We must be alive to this fact and remain united,” Mr Kiunjuri said.
“Numbers never matter until there is unity. It is unfortunate that we are no longer kingmakers but only viewed as a swing vote.”
Mr Kiunjuri added that the disintegration of Nasa has complicated matters for the DP and could deny him first-round victory “as all the former Nasa principals could contest the presidency”.