WILL THE MOUNT KENYA REGION DETERMINE WHO BECOMES THE NEXT PRESIDENT?


DP William Ruto (centre) with his political allies at a rally in Kiambu County in February 2021.

With less than one year to the August 2022 general elections, the political landscape in Kenya is getting quite heated.

The country is already engulfed in a palpable campaign mood, in spite of the ever-present COVID-19 pandemic threat.

As things stand, we have DP William Samoei Arap Ruto and former PM Raila Amollo Odinga staring down each other as the main protagonists and front runners in next year’s presidential polls.

Perhaps, the most interesting reality in the upcoming 2022 elections is the fact that, for the very first time since 1992, the vote-rich Mount Kenya region will not be having a decisively unifying presidential flag bearer of their own.

Thus, the largest voting block in the country finds itself in unfamiliar territory, which can partly explain the confusion and disquiet in the region.

This reality is largely informed by the fact that the region has produced 3 out of the four presidents who have ruled this country since independence.

Both the outgoing president, Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta, and his immediate predecessor – Retired president Mwai Kibaki – come from the Mountain region.

Uhuru’s father, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta (The Burning Spear) was the republic’s first president.

This makes the late Daniel Toroitich Arap Moi the only non-Kikuyu president to have ever ruled this country.

Rightfully so, this is such a big deal in a country that is as ethnically polarized as ours.

A rare photo of the 4 men who have ruled Kenya since 1963. Seated is Kenya’s first president, Jomo Kenyatta, with his young son Uhuru Kenyatta (the current president). Standing are Daniel Moi and Mwai Kibaki (the 2nd and 3rd Kenyan presidents respectively).

Hence, there seems to be a silent consensus that it would be quite difficult to sell another Kikuyu presidential candidate as the person most suited to succeed Uhuru as president.

Uhuru said as much during the burial of Musalia Mudavadi’s mother when he hinted that it’s about time we had a president from outside the Kikuyu-Kalenjin hegemony that has ruled this country since independence.

His statement was a reaction to the pressure mounted on him to honour his promise to support his estranged DP’s bid to be the next main tenant at Statehouse.

Uhuru’s argument, which seemed to resonate well with many Kenyans, is that it would be foolhardy and dangerous to treat the presidency as a preserve of the Kikuyu-Kalenjin axis, which has ruled Kenya for almost six decades now.

This argument seemed to rubbish his earlier 2017 campaign declaration of “Yangu Kumi na ya William Kumi”, making such a possibility look like nonsense balanced on stilts.

The possibility of having the presidency become a never-ending relay race between two communities is a repulsive one and can never augur well with the rest of the Kenyan communities.

The Kikuyu community seems to have already surrendered to the fate of not producing the next president.

On the other hand, DP Ruto will stop at nothing to ensure he succeeds his boss as the country’s C-in-C and it’s obvious that he’s mainly banking on the vote-rich Central Kenya region and his Rift Valley backyard to win the presidency.

If the Mount Kenya region overwhelmingly votes for Ruto, the way they did for Kibaki and Uhuru, he stands a good chance of becoming the next president. But will they?

At the moment William Ruto seems to be way ahead of the rest of the presidential candidates, in terms of popularity in the region.

But, this can only be attributed to the fact that he has been literally on the campaign trail in that part of the country, since 2017.

There are those who say, he has been running alone and when you run alone, there is no way you can come second to yourself.

Therefore, if William Ruto thinks that he will have a clean sweep of the Kikuyu and the Mount Kenya region votes, without forming any meaningful coalition with other leaders, then he must be the most deluded man alive today.

The fact that there is no clear and formidable presidential candidate from the vote-rich region is likely to make it a major battleground for the top presidential contenders in next year’s polls.

There has been a long-standing myth that Raila Odinga is unelectable in Kikuyuland and the Mount Kenya region. That myth is about to be debunked in 2022.

The Kikuyu have always voted against Raila because they had one of their own gunning for the top seat, not because they had anything tangible against him.

Raila had to be demonized by the Mount Kenya leaders gunning for the presidency in order for them to ascend to power.

Former PM Raila Odinga and Meru Governor Kiraitu Murungi arrive for a rally in Kinoru Stadium, Meru county, in February 2021.

With no formidable presidential candidate from the region, this is likely to change.

There is a silent conservative population, led by a section of the region’s filthy rich billionaires, the likes of RMS Owner SK Macharia and Jimmy Wanjigi, who are already supporting Raila’s bid for the presidency. Throw in the Kenyatta family’s influence.

This group of people in president Uhuru’s corner will do everything within their powers to stop Ruto from becoming the next president.

We are talking about very old money and networks that run back to independence time, versus Ruto’s new money and new networks in the region.

If you thought that money can’t move a mountain, you need to think again. Tons of cash will be splashed in the mountain region during the 2022 campaigns proper, like never before.

Currently, the mountain is quite flexible since it is split right in the middle, with one half supporting Uhuru while the other half supports his deputy.

This might not appear to be the case as DP Ruto seems to have a nearly unassailable lead in the region, but the scenario was totally different in the Kiambaa by-election. The Kiambaa by-election is likely to replicate itself across the region.

In other words, the mountain region is literally up for grabs and none of the top presidential contenders will get out empty-handed.

We are about to witness a campaign like no other in that region, which might as well be the main deciding factor in who becomes Kenya’s next president.

Ruto’s continued public fight with his boss Uhuru Kenyatta isn’t helping him either. He’s likely to lose a sizable chunk of Mount Kenya voters, who remain loyal to the president, as well as other Kenyans who think he’s overly disrespectful to his boss.

He is also already being pushed against the wall by the state machinery.

In retaliation, his camp is going to make costly gaffes like we saw in the recent DP security debacle.

A good example is Kimani Ichungwa’s insolent and condescending remarks, which he recently directed at CS Matiang’i and PS Kibicho.

Ichungwa’s tasteless remarks ended up demeaning the entire teaching fraternity as “watu wa chokaa;” a gaffe that did not augur well with a majority of Kenyans. It actually flew in the face of the hustler narrative that one can rise from grass to grace.

Ruto must also now decide whether he’s in or out of government. It’s not humanly possible to be in two places at the same time. He is not Omnipresent. You’re either in or out.

The more he keeps distancing himself from the rot of the current government, while enjoying its trappings and boasting of its success stories, the more he comes across as very duplicitous and indecisive.

His security detail saga proved that he still enjoys immense state security and other lucrative perks, as second in command.

Castigating the same government and trying to distance himself from its sins is a tricky affair. He can’t have his cake and eat it at the same time!

At some point, he’ll be forced to quit and once he does, he’ll lose the advantage of the state resources at his disposal. This will throw him off-balance and considerably slow him down. He’s better off exiting earlier and getting used to the cold.

Finally, in 2013 and 2017, the Uhuruto duo used their ICC cases to demonize Raila as the man who wanted them jailed in a foreign land.

Since the handshake between Uhuru and Raila, there seems to be nothing tangible to be used to demonize Raila in Central Kenya and the greater Mount Kenya region.

If Ruto is waiting to shock people by attaining a clean sweep of votes in the mountain region in 2022, he will end up shocking himself.

The fact that he has expended so much of his energy and financial resources campaigning in the region shows how important that region is to his stab at the presidency in 2022.

Pundits who have closely analyzed the dynamics which obtained in the Kiambaa by-election agree that the same scenario is likely to replicate itself across the Mount Kenya region, in the case of a Raila vs Ruto face-off.

I won’t be surprised if the two top contenders end up splitting the region’s vote in a near 50% – 50% run as seen in Kiambaa.

If Ruto gets anything short of 80% of the Mount Kenya region votes, he can as well bid the possibility of winning the 2022 presidential race goodbye.

But there are other factors that will determine the winner of the 2022 presidential elections.

For instance, if the OKA team picks a candidate who goes all the way to the polls, their candidate may come a distant third but force a runoff between the top two.

The OKA team can use that to bargain for a pre-election pact with either Raila or Ruto. Their choice will determine how the repeat presidential elections will go.

It is still not easy to make any plausible and accurate predictions since a day in politics is such a long time. By May next year, the race to statehouse will have taken a clearer shape.

For now, we can only sit back and watch the noisy campaign season unfold right before us.

It will be very interesting to see how the mountain region will vote in the absence of a formidable presidential candidate of their own.

But, it’s unlikely that they will risk putting all their eggs, sorry, votes in one basket.

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