Why William Ruto conquered Mt Kenya

Deputy President William Ruto on phone after a church service at his Karen residence, Nairobi County, on August 14, 2022. [PSCU, Standard]

UDA presidential candidate William Ruto beat Azimio’s Raila Odinga in over 90 per cent of the polling stations in Mount Kenya region in Tuesday’s General Election.

Although Raila increased his previous numbers in the region, he was vanquished by Ruto even in the diaspora counties of Nakuru and Laikipia.

The closest Raila got to Ruto in Mt Kenya counties was in cosmopolitan Nakuru Town East where the Azimio flagbearer polled 34,223 votes to Ruto’s 40,942, Ruiru where he polled 32,959 to Ruto’s 68,695 votes, and Naivasha at 36,487 against 61,915.

The rejection of Azimio in the region is almost akin to the total rejection of Kanu, which never had an elected MP in the then Central Province between 1992 and 2002.

But the situation for Azimio was somehow placated by the election of David Kiaraho of Ol Kalou and Kinangop’s Kwenya Thuku on Jubilee tickets.

In Mt Kenya East where the voting patterns are traditionally more dynamic, Jubilee managed to win South Imenti under Shadrack Mwiti and Igembe Central under Dan Kiili as well as Tigania East by No Peu’s Mpuru Aburi.

Rahim Dawood, who got elected on an independent ticket, was initially allied to Jubilee but increasingly charted a middle path as the election neared.

Just what drove Ruto to have such a magnetic hold on the Mt Kenya voter is bound to form discourse for many political observers.

Kiaraho managed 24,058 votes against the UDA challenger Sammy Douglas Kamau who had 19,380 votes, while for Thuku, it was a close shave, polling 39,321 against UDA’s Chege Mugo who had 34,842 votes.

Federation of Evangelical and Indigenous Christian Churches of Kenya (FEICCK) Chairman Samuel Njiriri said the results show how President Uhuru Kenyatta alienated himself from his primary flock in his last term in office largely by staying away and failing to groom a successor.

“The handshake and the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) were largely opaque to Mt Kenya rank and file though they could have been well-intentioned,” said Bishop Njiriri.

“Uhuru went mute and Ruto stayed in touch with the region through numerous visits and interactions with organised groups.”

According to Njiriri, Raila also faced a historic generational perception of the Odingas in Mt Kenya.

“To many, he was still the scion of a generation that had a chequered relationship with Jomo Kenyatta and President Moi. Many remembered how Raila made life difficult for a calm President Kibaki, forcing the latter to share government. I think many still view Raila unfavourably within Mt Kenya,” he said.

But the cleric said the most devastating blow to Raila’s campaigns in Mt Kenya was by the church, which tactically and openly supported Ruto’s campaigns.

“His network in the church worked for him, especially when it appeared the other side was against them,” he said.

Political commentator Peter Kagwanja agrees with Bishop Njiriri, saying Ruto’s win was hardly surprising, as he had worked for it for the last nine years.

“He had the best strategy. Followed it through and financed it,” said Prof Kagwanja.

Meru Senator-elect Kathuri Murungi traced Ruto’s journey with the mountain to the campaigns in 2013 and his refusal to relent even after the handshake between President Kenyatta and Raila and his bitter fallout with his boss.

“The DP was like the uncle who becomes popular with children of a deadbeat father or one who rarely visits,” said Kathuri, who polled 348,478 votes to claim the seat on his debut attempt.

According to the former South Imenti MP, Ruto’s presence in Mt Kenya remained highly visible.

“He resonated well with the grassroots, especially because he showed genuine support for local projects. The region settled on him as their choice for Uhuru successor,” said Kathuri.

Azimio forces in Mt Kenya are unusually miffed by the devastating losses and offered few explanations on what really transpired.

“I think we need to hold on to deciding whether he pulled it off or not,” said Ngunjiri Wambugu, who is disputing his loss to UDA’s Duncan Maina Mathenge, who polled 41,007 to his 11,808.

Azimio Presidential Campaign Chairman Ndiritu Muriithi said a lot of the election returns are not making sense and it could be difficult to make any conclusions based on the present turn of events.

“We expect an avalanche of legal challenges to the electoral verdicts,” said Muriithi, who also lost his Laikipia governor seat to UDA’s Joshua Irungu.

Former Moi era minister and political commentator Amukowa Anangwe offered varied explanations on how Ruto managed the feat.

“When a wave is coming, you never see it,” said Prof Anangwe.

“It appears that Ruto got into people’s psyche. He had name recognition and many people voted for him simply on account of having been to their village. They wondered how they were to vote for candidates they had not seen nearby and who had never directly asked for their votes.”

Anangwe also argued that Uhuru failed to grasp the mindset of his backyard, which has no time for departing leaders – they are looking for continuity of their businesses and income generation opportunities.

“Uhuru had no help to his allies, especially when the backyard remembered that Ruto had been hammering the hustler narrative and was big on promises to help finance small businesses,” he said. According to Anangwe, the UDA presidential candidate’s performance was helped by his running mate.

“With the benefit of hindsight, one cannot fail to credit Rigathi Gachagua for stepping in to help the forces. That worked well when many of the Jubilee candidates lacked effective finishing power,” he said.