Kenya: Raila and Ruto Gear Up for Epic Battle

18 September 2020

It is almost two years to the next polls, but the race to succeed President Kenyatta is well and truly on.

Supporters of the two main protagonists, Deputy President William Ruto and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga, are sparing no effort to score political points.

While Mr Odinga's camp is betting on the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI), the Deputy President has latched onto the "saviour" tag, packaging himself as a defender of the downtrodden.

Though Mr Odinga is yet to formally announce his bid for the top job, the DP is characterising the race as between himself and the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) party chief.

Mr Odinga's brother, Dr Oburu Oginga and Jubilee Vice-Chairman David Murathe, have also hinted at a fresh stab at the presidency for the man from Bondo. Firebrand trade unionist Francis Atwoli is also drumming up support for what would be Mr Odinga's fifth try for the highest office.

Handshake corner

Parties in Mr Odinga's Handshake corner include Baringo senator Gideon Moi's Kanu, former Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka's Wiper and former Bomet governor Isaac Ruto's Chama Cha Mashinani.

Read: Former Uhuru, Raila men heading DP William Ruto's campaign

The Ruto camp has former Machakos senator Johnson Muthama, Kiharu MP Ndindi Nyoro, Mr Odinga's former chief of staff Caroli Omondi, former Kakamega senator Boni Khalwale and former Mombasa senator Hassan Omar, among others.

"This will be a contest between Ruto, a man with the support of the people, and Raila, a spent force. There are only two teams: One is with Uhuru, Raila and Gideon Moi and the other is with William Samoei Ruto and Kenyans," former Machakos senator Johnson Muthama told the Nation.

The DP has hyped up his differences with Mr Odinga on the anti-corruption fight, insisting that the ODM leader had changed his stand. Another battlefront is the county revenue-sharing formula, where the Deputy President has positioned himself as the saviour of the marginalised counties in North Eastern and the Coast -- Mr Odinga's support base.

Read: You are part of the deep state, Raila Odinga tells DP William Ruto

The DP has also constantly opposed the March 2018 Handshake between Mr Odinga and President Kenyatta, painting it as a ploy to block his bid. Mr Odinga has painted the DP as a flip-flopper in the referendum debate. He has also accused him of donating money from questionable sources to churches, an accusation Mr Ruto is turning around to rally his political base.

"They despise me. They think because I was once a chicken seller, I should never be President. Shock on them! Today, I want to tell them: These people you despise, the bodaboda man and the mama mboga, they are the people who will help us form the government in 2022," the DP told an enthusiastic crowd in Kitengela in Kajiado County on Sunday.

Hosting delegations

The DP has been hosting delegations of youths, women and other groups at his Sugoi and Karen homes as part of his campaign strategy.

But Mr Atwoli, a key Raila and Uhuru ally, said the DP was not ripe for the top job.

"Sometimes I ask myself at night, can Ruto really be President in 2022? The answer is always no. Even the birds in my compound know that he will not be President," Mr Atwoli, said.

Top ODM officials have refused to state whether or not Mr Odinga will be on the ballot, but made it clear that the Orange party was planning to go for the top seat.

"ODM is neither a religious nor a community-based organisation, but a large political party that knows it will be in power in 2022. What I know as a leader in this party is that we are preparing to capture power in 2022 together with other coalitions and partners who are willing to work with us," said director of elections Junet Mohamed. National chairman John Mbadi said the party remains the most "organised and intellectually endowed".

"This is the only party that I think has functioning structures," said Mr Mbadi. Secretary-general Edwin Sifuna said the party is revamping itself ahead of their "grand match to State House in 2022", saying, the focus for now was on passing the BBI report.

"The tag of perennial loser that Raila carries will work to our advantage on the ballot. Of all the worries that we would have for 2022, none of them is about Raila beating Ruto. We need Raila on the ballot only for the purpose of aiding us post a win," Kiharu MP Ndindi Nyoro, a vocal first-term MP and close ally of the DP, said.

Reporting by Patrick Lang'at, Mwangi Muiruri and Justus Ochieng

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