ODM leader Raila Odinga's visit to Murang'a County last week has been the most significant of his latest forays into Mt Kenya region.
He attended the Skiza tunes luncheon for artistes at the Ndakaini home of media owner SK Macharia, where several leaders from the region endorsed his candidature for president next year.
The ODM leader has had a chequered relationship with the region, and opinion is divided on whether his latest overtures will bear fruit. During the event, Raila declared the birth of a new dawn that would see him and President Uhuru Kenyatta embark on countrywide tours to unite Kenyans.
Several politicians, opinion shapers and the church have welcomed the move to accompany Raila on his tours of the region, while those allied to Deputy President William Ruto claim that accompanying Raila to the region is tantamount to committing 'political suicide’.
Kiharu MP Ndindi Nyoro says Raila is "not sellable" in the region, warning that any leader who tries to prop him up puts their political career on the line as voters will reject them at the ballot.
He said President Kenyatta has in the past made unsavoury remarks about the ODM leader and it would be hard to undo the damage.
Others allied to Ruto questioned why the event brought celebrities, businessmen and politicians together at a private home and not a public rally.
“In Murang'a alone, only two MPs were present out of seven. Those who did not go there clearly fear killing their political careers. Again why hasn’t President Kenyatta accompanied Odinga to Mt Kenya? It is because the ground cannot support him,” said Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria.
Kiambu Woman Representative Gathoni Wamuchomba said: “A wise bird does not establish a nest on a mature banana tree since soon it will be cut down."
She said the Raila-Uhuru alliance is built on quick sand and headed for doom.
But other leaders believe the 'lies' told about Raila can be undone.
“Anything can be changed. Peoples’ perception against Odinga were built on lies and lies have a shelf life. When people know the truth, they will not only be apologetic but also willing to vote for him as a sign of repentance,” said Mathioya MP Peter Kimari.
Murang'a Woman Representative Sabina Chege said with a good political strategy, nothing is impossible.
And to convince the region that there has never been bad blood between the Kikuyu and the Luo communities, Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya hinted that Raila will likely pick his running mate from the region.
Murang'a Bishops Forum Chairperson Stephen Maina said welcoming Raila to the region would cure the violence that has sometimes been witnessed during the ODM leader's tour of the region.
“It will create a level playing ground for all presidential contenders unlike before when no one would be allowed to pitch tent here. As to whether it will yield fruit, that is for Kenyans to debate,” Maina said.
Since the 2018 Handshake between Raila and Uhuru, the ODM leader has accompanied the president thrice on tours across Nyanza region. The president is, however, yet to return the favour in his backyard.
Delegations – which include elders, among them Raila’s brother Oburu Oginga – from either side have met to prepare ground for his Central Kenya visits after the president’s fallout with his deputy.
The Handshake saw Raila – once President Kenyatta’s fiercest critic – transformed, often endorsing the president’s plan for the nation.
And for his loyalty, Raila’s allies have kept faith that Uhuru would endorse him for president, inheriting a significant sum of his 2013 and 2017 votes from the region in the absence of an evident front-runner.
The president is yet to officially declare his preferred successor, but has urged his backyard to “be wary of politicians seeking their support through the window”, asking politicians to court Mt Kenya through “the front door”.
Raila's allies have viewed this "front door" to be Uhuru.
Political scientist Karuti Kanyinga says it is highly unlikely that Uhuru would endorse any candidate.
"Many politicians think Mt Kenya is up for grabs because Uhuru is not running, and so they are seeking his support... but I don’t think the president will introduce anyone as his preferred choice unless he deems it necessary. Perhaps if the opposition was united behind a single candidate he would introduce the candidate,” said Prof Kanyinga, who teaches political science at the University of Nairobi.
This, he argued, is a result of the fact that the next election may be more of a supremacy contest between the president and his deputy.
Raila’s tour of Murang’a last week was perhaps the most telling of how he plans to engage the region in light of his endorsement by a section of leaders from the region.
Yesterday, ODM’s Director of Elections Junet Mohamed told The Sunday Standard that the party had a plan for every region, Mt Kenya included.
“We will go to every village in every part of this country. Mt Kenya is among those parts of our country. We don’t need anyone to take us to Mt Kenya. We will use our contacts, networks and members to campaign in the region,” said Junet.
ODM Director of Political Affairs Opiyo Wandayi echoed Junet’s views, calling Raila “a nationalist and a Pan-Africanist whose politics is all-inclusive for sustainable development of the nation”.
The Ugunja MP also said Raila was no stranger to Mt Kenya, adding that his engagements with the region go a long way back.
“Raila was a comrade-in-arms with leading lights from Mt Kenya in the struggle for the country’s second liberation. His engagements with the region comes out naturally,” Wandayi said, adding that the former prime minister would tour the region in due time.
“Besides, he has not declared his intention to run for the presidency yet. We, his supporters, are the ones demanding that he does.”