Eldoret North MP William Ruto and his Tinderet counterpart Henry Kosgey are embroiled in a fierce political battle for control of the Rift Valley voting block ahead of the general election next year. The two are engaged in private and public meetings to persuade the electorate to support their rival parties - Ruto's United Republican Party and Kosgey's ODM.
Kosgey, the ODM chairman, is also campaigning to become Prime Minister Raila Odinga's running mate. After surviving the ICC charges over the 2007-08 post-election violence and abuse of office charges in a Nairobi court, Kosgey has re-emerged to stage the political fight of his life as he seeks to popularise ODM in the region where Ruto says his URP party is dominant. "My fight is not against Ruto. I am just going out to tell the people of the Rift Valley region what is true in terms of our political direction as a community and the best leadership we can have for this country," said Kosgey.
One of the longest serving MPs, Kosgey says the Kalenjin community is waking up to reality as the general election approaches. The ODM had lost substantial support in the region following the fallout between Raila and Ruto. A clique of MPs from the region allied to Ruto last year announced their intention to quit ODM and have been actively campaigning against it. This culminated in the formation of URP which is Ruto's vehicle of choice for the presidential race.
Following Kosgey's re-emergence, Ruto and his allies have been on the defensive and have been holding a series of meetings in recent weeks to consolidate their URP base. Raila, Deputy Prime Minister Musalia Mudavadi, former Education PS James ole Kiyiapi and other presidential aspirants have taken advantage of the wrangles that continue to plague the URP and have also been holding meetings and rallies to try and capture the Rift Valley support.
Last Saturday and Sunday, Kosgey hosted Raila in Nakuru and Baringo while Mudavadi held rallies in Nandi County. During one of his rallies last week, Ruto told off both Kosgey and Roads minister Franklin Bett for "seeking the position of Raila's running mate yet the Kalenjin community is capable of producing the leader for the country".
But at a rally, hundreds of youth who met in Eldoret asked Ruto to keep off ODM affairs and stop criticising Kosgey during his URP rallies. "Ruto should concentrate on his URP affairs and leave Kosgey alone. We stand with Kosgey because we know he is never swayed easily once he makes up his mind," said the youth who were led by Noah Kemei, Solomon Kosgey, Nancy Cheruto and Hillary Tanui.
Kemei said residents of the Rift Valley were trooping back to ODM because of Kosgey and that the Orange party should ensure that the Tinderet MP becomes Raila's running mate. "Within the last three weeks, Kosgey has shown his capacity to deliver the Rift Valley region to ODM and no one should underate him now," said Kemei. The region, with voters estimated at four million, is crucial in deciding the winner.
The Kipsigis community in the South Rift and the Nandis in the North Rift account for more than 60 per cent of the vote in the region and it is in these regions that Ruto, Kosgey and other aspirants are hoping to get their most support. Cherangany MP Joshua Kutuny commented on the political battle between Ruto and Kosgey. "We are strongly in URP but let Kosgey try his best in ODM. The people will decide," said Kutuny.
Cabinet minister Musa Sirma says the Kalenjin will not be controlled by an individual during the coming polls. "There are those who have been saying that this region is for some individual or party. They are mistaken because many of us are in ODM yet we are also from this community," said Sirma. Insiders in ODM told The Star Kosgey's re-emergence in the Rift Valley has changed Raila's view of the ODM chairman. Unlike in the past, he is now being a considered as a front runner for the running mate position. The ODM is scheduled to hold its delegates conference in September when it will announce who Raila's running mate will be.
Ruto supporters are however convinced that Kosgey is unlikely to dislodge Ruto since his ambition is to be president and not a running mate like Kosgey. Retired President Moi is among those who are said to be watching keenly the political trends in the region before he makes a move on whom to back in the coming polls. "Moi's main concern has always been peace, unity and stability of the country. Other things will come later," said Kanu's Keiyo South branch chairman Paul Kibet.
He said Kosgey and other players are giving URP a real headache in the region. Ruto currently has more than 25 MPs from the region backing URP while ten others, especially from the South Rift, are for the ODM. Assistant minister Magerer Langat said ODM popularity in the region is growing especially because of the push to have Kosgey or someone from the Rift Valley as Raila's running mate.