Kenya: Raila Gains, Ruto Loses in Mt Kenya Vote Split

ODM leader Raila Odinga could be the biggest gainer of a split in the six-million strong Mount Kenya region voting bloc.

Deputy President William Ruto, on the other hand, stands to lose the most, should the two political rivals face each other in next year's General Election.

Mr Odinga has come closest to beating a united Jubilee party in the past two general elections when President Kenyatta and DP Ruto relied on the Mt Kenya and Rift Valley vote blocs to win the polls.

Political analysts, however, contend that the widening rift between leaders representing the eastern and western slopes of Mount Kenya could hurt DP Ruto's chances more than Mr Raila, whose vote strongholds remain largely the same as in recent presidential elections.

According to political analyst Prof Herman Manyora, the DP would need to replicate the Jubilee victories in the Mt Kenya region to win next year's polls.

"Ruto is like the proverbial crocodile whose strength is only known while in the water. If you don't get Ruto from Mt Kenya you can't beat him. The strategy is to ensure he loses the Mt Kenya bloc, including by propping up candidates pitting Mt Kenya East against the West," said Prof Manyora in an interview.

DP Ruto had been tipped to be the single biggest beneficiary of the Mt Kenya vote bloc in keeping with the political promises made while he campaigned with his boss in the 2013 and 2017 polls.

Ruto's perceived stronghold

But the political implosion underway could, however, hand an advantage to Mr Odinga, who has found it difficult to woo the region's voters in all the general elections when he has contested the presidency.

An analysis of 2013 presidential results shows that Mr Odinga defeated Mr Kenyatta in five out of the eight former provincial regions. But the Jubilee candidate opened a huge margin especially in Central and Rift Valley, which saw him declared winner with about 800,000 more votes.

In Central, a turnout of 92 per cent handed Mr Kenyatta 1,895,075 votes to Mr Odinga's paltry 84,010 in 2013.

DP Ruto's perceived stronghold of Rift Valley, which recorded a turnout of 88 per cent, seemed to cancel out any victories Raila had scored in Nyanza because the Jubilee duo secured 2,188,422 votes against Mr Odinga's 707,541 in Rift.

A similar vote pattern was replicated in the 2017 elections.

The current rift in the Mt Kenya region is a repeat of the first multi-party polls in 1992, when a divided opposition handed the incumbent Daniel Moi victory.

Kenneth Matiba's Ford Asili and Democratic Party's Mwai Kibaki split the Mt Kenya vote, while Ford Kenya's Jaramogi Odinga was the other major opposition politician who also ran for presidency.

Shift in voting patterns

The same opposition disunity handed President Moi victory in the subsequent 1997 polls.

Barring any radical shift in voting patterns, such as the DP making significant inroads in regions perceived to be Mr Odinga's strongholds, his presidential campaign would be significantly undermined if he does not benefit from the Mt Kenya vote bloc.

Mt Kenya East comprises the Embu, Meru, Mbeere, and Tharaka, while the West is predominantly Kikuyu.

The West has produced three presidents since independence.

The region's nine counties have a combined 4.4 million votes, projected to rise by about 1.68 million votes next year.

Nominated MP Maina Kamanda, who has emerged as the face of the Agikuyu support for Mr Odinga since the Handshake, says Mt Kenya should reject talk that Mr Odinga cannot win the presidency. He told the Nation that the region stands to gain more under an Odinga presidency.

"Mr Odinga only needs a fraction of the Mt Kenya votes to win the presidency compared to Ruto who needs more than 98 per cent," Mr Kamanda said.

Vote ourselves out

Mr Odinga has not personally declared his intention to succeed President Kenyatta, but his supporters have declared him a contender.

He has, however, exploited the Handshake to rebrand himself to Central Kenya where in 2013 and 2017 he was sold as a political enemy of the community.

In this region, Mr Odinga's image has in the recent past been on a roller coaster, from a political villain to a hero.

Even as he woos the region, Mr Odinga's perceived strongholds have the largest bloc (9.3 million) of potential new voters who could influence the outcome of the 2022 presidential election.

By getting a chunk of Mt Kenya votes, Mr Odinga will add onto his traditional strongholds of Nyanza, Western and Coast, as well as Turkana, which have overwhelmingly voted for him in the past.

Former Maragua MP Elias Mbau referred Mt Kenya voters to the Madaraka Day off-the-cuff speech by President Kenyatta where he said he will continue working with Mr Odinga to craft a prosperous, stable and secure future for the country.

"That in itself is telling... As a region, we might vote ourselves out of government and be left vulnerable to start post-election bargaining for a slice of the Odinga pie. We might revisit our Daniel Moi era when Kanu was in government but residents were in opposition with the system relying on the late Joseph Kamotho as our kingpin of convenience," he said.

Busy burning bridges

But Mathira MP Rigathi Gachagua, who admitted that the Mt Kenya vote is critical and offers advantage to the contender who gets it, said Mr Ruto's political backing in the region is solid and any attempts to frustrate his bid would fall flat.

"The meetings in Mt Kenya are from people trying to look for political bearing and stop Ruto's ambition to be president. But those of us in the Ruto camp know what we want. In fact, we would want a contest with Raila," Mr Gachagua said.

Murang'a Senator Irungu Kang'ata dismissed the division plot as "hopeless".

"Trying to divide Mt Kenya so as to rule it is a scheme that will fall flat on its face," he said.

Naivasha MP Jane Kihara said: "Those who are busy preaching to us about building bridges are the very ones very busy burning bridges in Mt Kenya and their schemes will fail as area votes are locked and the password is DP William Ruto."

Nyandarua Woman Representative Faith Gitau cited recent voting patterns of Juja constituency, Rurii, London, Lakeview and Gaturi mini polls as a pointer to where Mt Kenya voters are.

"We await the Kiambaa and Muguga by-elections results to seal the deal," she quipped referring to recent poll victories by parties allied to DP Ruto.

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