Why Nakuru county is seen as the bedrock of politics

President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto when they addressed Jubilee supporters at Afraha Stadium in Nakuru during his final rally on August 5, 2017. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

For over two decades, Nakuru County has set the space in shaping the country’s political setting.

Cosmopolitan in nature, the county has a population of over two million, and at least one million votes are up for grabs. Notable political pronouncements and deals have been made and sealed in the country’s youngest city.

In April 2011, Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto, who were then political adversaries, held joint prayers ahead of their trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) at Afraha Stadium.

In December 2012, the two rallied their troops to the stadium where Uhuru’s The National Alliance (TNA) and Ruto’s United Republican Party (URP) formed a coalition. It is also in Afraha Stadium where the Jubilee coalition was unveiled in 2013.

Uhuru and Ruto, after the deal, embarked on a countrywide campaign that saw them win the elections in the March 2013.

When their ICC cases collapsed in 2016, the duo returned to Afraha for a thanksgiving ceremony.

Nakuru’s position in national politics played out in the 2017 General Election as President Kenyatta and DP Ruto rallied the residents who voted for them overwhelmingly.

Their main competitor, Raila Odinga rejected the poll results and successfully filed a petition at the Supreme Court, which ordered the IEBC to conduct a repeat presidential election.

An angry President Uhuru, who was hosting newly elected Jubilee governors and MCAs in State House Nairobi, left the event in a huff and landed in Nakuru town minutes later.

After their re-election in the repeat November 2017 presidential poll, Ruto camped in Nakuru and bagged a majority of the Jubilee-elected legislators to campaign for his 2022 State House bid.

Now, with less than 50 days to the August 9 General Election, Nakuru continues to prove its significance, with key politicians making major pronouncements in the county.

On January 25, Ruto, ANC leader Musalia Mudavadi and Ford Kenya's Moses Wetang'ula held their first joint rally in Nakuru City. Ruto had on January 23 joined Mudavadi in his presidential bid launch at the Bomas of Kenya and announced the Nakuru rally as their first stop.

“The journey to bring this unity has started here in Bomas and our next stop will be on Wednesday in Nakuru County and later in Western and Central regions,” said Ruto.

Nakuru Senator Susan Kihika, who is eyeing the governor's seat in the coming polls, said they had selected Nakuru ASK Showground for the event.

The selection of Nakuru City as the launchpad for joint campaigns is, however, not a surprise to many as the area has played the same role for their challenger Raila.

“The rallies affirm the role Nakuru plays in national politics. It has not started now or with the current administration. It is a historical trend,” said Andrew Nyabuto, a political commentator.

Nyabuto says the way one approaches Nakuru is different from the way they approach other areas. He said one cannot afford to ignore Nakuru.

On August 17, 2021, Governor Lee Kinyanjui played host to Raila as he launched his Azimio la Umoja political train, which has been gathering steam on the country’s political landscape.

Raila then held multiple rallies in Nakuru accompanied by Kinyanjui and a section  of Mt Kenya leaders, who affirmed their support for his presidential bid in the August polls.

The Azimio la Umoja-One Kenya presidential candidate said he chose Nakuru because of its political significance in Kenya. He announced that a giant political machine was on the way.

Prof Gitile Naituli argues that Nakuru is the melting point of the country. Naituli, a professor of leadership and management, said Nakuru is not only cosmopolitan, but also a reflection of how Kenya should be.

“If you know how Nakuru is thinking, that's how obviously Kenya will think. That is why the political bigwigs will try to set their agenda there because it excites people's imaginations that are a true reflection of the country,” he said.

He said Jomo Kenyatta used to live in Nakuru and Mombasa and not in Nairobi.