Jubilee Mt Kenya politicians splash millions to ward off Ruto

Muranga Governor Mwangi Wa Iria's presidential billboard along the Thika - Muranga Highway on October 7, 2020. [Elvis Ogina,Standard]

President Uhuru Kenyatta's Jubilee Party has so far spent Sh40 million to advertise on billboards in the Mt Kenya region even as it seeks to recover its popularity ahead of the August elections.

Nyeri Town MP Ngunjiri Wambugu said the ruling party has erected over 200 billboards in the region in the ongoing efforts to counter Deputy President William Ruto who has been making inroads in the President's backyard.

Jubilee Party is supporting ODM leader Raila Odinga's presidential bid, under the Azimio la Umoja coalition that has also brought Kalonzo Musyoka's Wiper, Gideon Moi's KANU and recently, Martha Karua's Narc-K among others.

DP Ruto is Raila's main rival. The DP, through his United Democratic Alliance (UDA) party, has partnered with, among others, Amani National Congress leader Musalia Mudavadi and Moses Wetang'ula of Ford Kenya to form the Kenya Kwanza Coalition.

"We want to take up every space available and put up billboards reminding residents of President Kenyatta's achievements in the region. We are doing all these hoping the existence of Jubilee Party will permanently remain registered in the minds of electorates," Wambugu told The Standard on Wednesday.

He added: "We have realised that billboards are a major boost to our campaigns. They get people talking after which some may challenge some of your ideas while other ideas are supported. They also create an impression that a party or candidate has the financial muscle to campaign due to the huge costs involved."

The Jubilee billboards bear the image of President Kenyatta. Someone who does not know the president is retiring may actually think he is seeking re-election based on the number of billboards that line roads, especially on major highways in the region. 

Regain influence

Wambugu said the billboards are also meant to help President Kenyatta regain his influence in the region, especially after his fallout with his deputy that has split the Jubilee Party.

Nyeri Town MP Ngunjiri Wambugu speaks during a Jubilee meeting at Kutus on February 21, 2022. [Standard]

Murang'a Governor Mwangi Wa Iria’s Usawa Kwa Wote Party is also spending heavily on campaigns as the county chief seeks the presidency, having already spent Sh18 million on billboards.

The party's Director of Strategy and Political Affairs James Mwangi said they have already put up 72 billboards across 42 counties.

They have mainly been erected strategically on highways and near settlements.

Mwangi said the money they have used on the billboards was mainly generated from party membership fees. Part of the money has also been contributed by 'Friends of Mwangi Wa Iria', Mwangi told The Standard.

The governor's party has another strategy which it refers to as "adopt a billboard" where supporters of the county chief pay for some of the billboards.

"The billboards are costly but have positively impacted on the governor's presidential campaigns," the official told The Standard on phone.

One needs between Sh150,000 and Sh1 million, to have their names and imprinted on billboards. The charges are mainly determined by the location of a billboard.

A banner measuring seven metres by one meter fetches up to Sh16,000.

Former Water and Sanitation Principal Secretary Irungu Wairagu, who is seeking to succeed Wa Iria in Murang'a on the Democratic Party ticket, has not been left behind in the scramble for billboards, having put up nine of them across the seven constituencies.

The former PS who is popularly known as Wairagu Wa Maai, had served in his government position since March 2018 before resigning in February.

Wairagu's campaign branding officer Magochi Murathi said they have contracted an advertising company that has mounted three billboards for them. 

"We will put up more billboards before the end of this week. It’s a marketing strategy we feel will work well for us as we seek to popularize our candidate. The strategy shows the seriousness of a candidate. It has a unique impact. Billboards help to register the image of a candidate in the minds of voters,” Murathi said.

He added: “We have 20 banners measuring seven by four meters each in addition to the billboards. The message sent out through a billboard can reach people and places the candidate may not."

In Nyeri, senator Ephraim Maina who is hoping to supplant the UDA-leaning governor Mutahi Kahiga, has billboards in all major towns.

Others in the race for Nyeri's top job are Kamanga alias Anko G, who is seeking the Jubilee ticket, Mr Gachara Kamanga, Mr Thuo Mathenge and Mr Peter Munyiri.

The senator said the billboards cost him between Sh120,000 to Sh180,000 every month depending on location.

"It appears some people get irritated when they see my billboards. They have been destroying them but I am unrelenting," said Maina who was reacting to the destruction of his billboard at Othaya junction, along Karatina-Nyeri road by unknown people, an incident he attributed to his competitors.

A Nyeri County government official, from the rates department, said of the 70 billboard spaces in the whole county, 40 have been hired by one person up to September 2022.

In Kirinyaga, area governor Anne Waiguru and Woman Representative Wangui Ngirici are competing for billboards and billboard spaces as they are doing for the governorship.

At one point, county officers brought down Ngirici’s billboards under unclear circumstances.

This forced her team to procure four billboards which means they won't need to pay a lending company. She will only pay county levies.

"We also have 14 fully painted vehicles and an aeroplane,” Ngirici said.

Instead of using paper covers, Ngirici has painted her campaign vehicles which is costly, especially if she decides to return their original colours.

Ngirici said she decided to procure the billboards as opposed to hiring as a long-term strategy as she will use them to explain her government and its achievements to the people if she is elected.

Ngirici said: "The money used is more than the impact one gets but it's a show of political might since some of us don't do campaign posters. Billboards only help popular candidates, not every Tom, Dick and Harry," she said on phone.