September 27, 2022
World Post News
General Politics

Campaign Concentration In The Mountain Region Offers No Guaranteed Outcomes For Either Raila Amollo Odinga Or William Samoei Ruto

With 50 days to go to the presidential elections, teams allied to front runners Deputy President William Ruto and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga remain focused on Mt Kenya region as the hunt for votes intensifies.

Yesterday, both the Ruto and Raila-led teams camped in the vote-rich region, in Kiambu and Meru counties, respectively. On Friday, Raila, the Azimio la Umoja-One Kenya presidential candidate, was on a day-long tour of Murang’a County.The strategic importance of Mt Kenya is further exhibited by the fact that three of the four presidential candidates who have so far been cleared by the electoral body have picked running mates from the region, namely, Rigathi Gachagua and Martha Karua for Ruto and Raila, respectively, while Roots Party candidate George Wajackoyah has settled on Justina Wamae.

While the region, which boasts of over five million registered voters, is an attractive hunting ground, poll observers and political players warn that campaign concentration in the mountain region offers no guaranteed outcomes.

Instead, they say the magic bullet to victory may lie elsewhere.Besides, opines Dr Richard Bosire, a commentator on political affairs, residents from the so-called ‘neglected’ regions could fall into the hands of rivals.

 

Democratic Action Party of Kenya (DAP-K) Secretary General Eseli Simiyu is alive to the ‘campaign anomaly’, saying they have noticed that the focus on Mt Kenya region is undermining voter mobilisation in other regions, particularly in the rural areas.“The last time Baba (Raila) came around in my constituency (Tongaren), I drastically changed the campaign itinerary by taking him to the villages, which are the neglected zones and where the people are–as opposed to the main towns such as Bungoma,” said Dr Simiyu.

According to the DAP-K official, who is among those leading the Raila presidential campaigns in western Kenya, the team should first consolidate Raila’s traditional strongholds–under the former Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (Cord) and the National Super Alliance (Nasa) outfits–before venturing elsewhere.“It is rather risky that we are eyeing what is in the neighbour’s compound across, yet we have not sealed our own compound against theft. I mean, if we do not consolidate at home, the rival camp will continue chipping away at our support as is the case already,” he said.

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But according to Ruto’s lead campaigner in the coastal region Hassan Omar, Kenya Kwanza Alliance has rolled out a countrywide campaign “with equal focus on every corner of the country”.Noting that Ruto already had the populous Mt Kenya region “under wraps”, Hassan says it is Raila “who is left without an option apart from striving to get a sizeable chunk of the Mt Kenya vote because we have substantially eaten into his traditional strongholds”.

The former Mombasa Senator singles out parts of the coastal and western Kenya regions, as well as Kisii and Nyamira counties in Nyanza region as areas that the DP has reportedly eaten into.

Campaign schedule

ODM Secretary General Edwin Sifuna has attributed the claims about campaign concentration in Mt Kenya to “sheer perception”: “Mzee’s (Raila) campaign schedule has taken him to every corner of this country. How come you did not ask whether Azimio was focusing on western Kenya when we recently spent one week in the region?”

But Dr Eseli argues that the schedules ought to be reactive to reflect the ever-changing dynamics on the ground. He says the Ruto-allied team has, for instance, camped in the western region over the last three weeks, with the campaigners from the rival camp reportedly “splashing around a lot of cash”. The DAP-K official warns that these efforts could help Ruto tilt the scales “if we continue to pitch tent on the mountain and forget about the traditional strongholds”.While appreciating that Mt Kenya region is a crucial vote-hunting area, Dr Bosire says the hyped political importance of the region could prove otherwise.

The biggest assumption made by those wooing voters in the region, the political scientist says, is that residents will cast their vote as a bloc for an individual candidate.“Concentrating on this region has its own myriad risks, including the fact that the votes could be scattered among various players, or the region could be hit by voter apathy attributable to the fact this time around there is no solid presidential candidate from the locality.”

In 2013, Uhuru Kenyatta narrowly edged past the 50-plus one per cent mark with a paltry 8,000 votes to win the presidency. Just like then, Dr Bosire emphasizes the fact that ‘every vote counts’ in the upcoming polls.

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Stressing the need for national cohesion, Dr Bosire points out that the focus on the mountain promotes a perception that only one region matters politically “and that if they are not producing the presidency then they are determining who becomes president”.“Everyone and every region matters in the current Kenyan political dispensation, which explains why one must secure at least 25 per cent of votes cast in half of the counties, besides hitting the over 50 per cent mark of total votes cast.”

 

Narrow margin

Nine years ago, Uhuru and Ruto won by the narrowest of margins: 50.07 per cent of the vote. According to results announced by Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission chairman Isaak Hassan, Uhuru had 6,173,433 votes out of more than 12.3 million cast. His closest rival, Raila Odinga, got 5,340,546 votes in a contested that involved six other candidates.And while Mt Kenya region is a beehive of political activity, Mandera, Garissa, Wajir, Marsabit and Isiolo counties are experiencing lower presidential campaign activity. Former Mandera Senator Billow Kerrow attributes this to various factors, key among them the relatively low population and number of registered voters.

“Presidential candidates are hungry for numbers and accordingly do not consider it viable to travel all the way to the frontier regions in search for our limited numbers when they can get five or ten times as much closer home,” says Kerrow.Mandera’s first senator also believes that residents of northern Kenya are victims of historical bias–a factor that has condemned locals to underdevelopment. The net effect of this is that candidates find it expensive to travel to the region to campaign.“The logistics of organising travel and accommodation for presidential campaign teams are almost a nightmare. The road network is not so good, and the security situation is worrying owing to occasional attacks by terror gangs. These, and other factors, do not make the region attractive for campaign,” he says.

According to Kerrow, there is also the perception by government officials as well as residents that they cannot survive without government help and, therefore, must align themselves with the government of the day, including supporting a perceived government-friendly presidential candidate.“This explains why most local political parties are in Azimio because it is perceived as the party of the government. And that explains the low campaign activity here because the race and campaigns are regarded as a fait accompli,” says Kerrow.Political allegiance

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In the meantime, there are major shifts in political allegiances happening across the country as a result of the ongoing campaign pattern. And this trend is likely to continue as the big boys keep their focus on the mountain. In Nyanza, for instance, Migori Governor Okoth Obado, who serves as coordinator of the DP’s campaigns, told The Sunday Standard that the relatively fewer campaign trips by the Kenya Kwanza brigade were “good enough” and that, so far, all was well. Nyanza is the rural backyard of Raila–Ruto’s main challenger–which explains the limited political activity in the region by Ruto’s team.

The poll victory by Ruto-ally Feisal Bader in the Msambweni parliamentary by-election in December 2020 appears to have given the DP a critical footing in the coastal region. Besides Mt Kenya, Ruto has been a frequent campaigner in Kwale County, where he enjoys political support from Governor Salim Mvurya.

The DP is also making inroads into Kilifi County courtesy of his partnership with Governor Amason Kingi and his Pamoja African Alliance outfit. There is also Malindi MP Aisha Jumwa, who defected much earlier from Raila’s ODM to Ruto’s United Democratic Alliance (UDA).Raila has equally eaten into Ruto’s strongholds in the Rift Valley, especially in the larger Nakuru County–courtesy of Governor Lee Kinyanjui and scores of new allies allied to Uhuru’s Jubilee party. Ruto’s ‘absence’ from the region has reportedly also enabled him to win over new friends in West Pokot and Baringo counties.

Owing to the slippery and unpredictable nature of voters in Mt Kenya, coupled with the likelihood of voter apathy this time around, the August 9th magic bullet that determines the fifth president may just come from the ‘neglected’ rest of Kenya.

 

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