Raila Odinga and William Ruto: Arch-rivals who mirror each other in vote hunt

Deputy President William Ruto and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga during the installation of Most Reverend Philip Anyolo as the Archbishop of Kisumu Catholic Archdiocese.[DPPS, Standard]

ODM leader Raila Odinga and Deputy President William Ruto are going head to head on campaign strategies as the race for 2022 narrows down to a matter of months.

Sizing each other, sometimes shadowing each other, the country's top political figures are not leaving anything to chance in a battle that has adopted slogans, catchphrases, models, targeted messaging and perception building.

In recent weeks, the ODM leader has intensified his engagements with youth, perhaps the largest potential voting bloc, issued messages tailored to specific audiences, adopted smaller "opinion-shaper" group meet-ups and extended his charm offensive across the country.

He is storming the regions; starting out with Mt Kenya and yesterday in Western, doling out his manifesto in bits while also warming his way to worshippers' hearts with frequent church visits.

Ruto, on the other hand, is not letting up on targeted group meetings, usually at his Karen residence, and occasionally in the counties. He is running away with his "bottom-up" economic model featuring "hustler" youth and is maintaining high visibility in places of worship.

However, Ruto's forays outside the country have been neutered by a combined resolve of government operatives and the 'system'. He recently ran into turbulence for the Ugandan visit, frustrated by the authorities, as well as latest revelations by Interior CS Fred Matiang'i that he was overly guarded.  

"Anyone who wants to be president must take the youth seriously," says University of Nairobi lecturer and political analyst Francis Owakah.

"Most of them will be first-time voters who know nothing about the dark days. Raila must re-engineer his strategy to win them over," adds Dr Owakah.

In his appeal to youth, Ruto wastes no time relishing the tough days of clamour for pluralism. His message is crisply founded on a promise to liberate the youth from shackles of poverty by empowering their hustles. The sum of his reform messaging is economic empowerment of less fortunate members of society.

To counter this seemingly catchy promise, Raila has crafted Azimio La Umoja and, lately, #Inawezekana slogans to raise the hopes of millions of disenfranchised Kenyans, many of whom have supported him in the past.

While Ruto has been going to regions, convening conferences with area leadership to brainstorm on regional needs, Raila is visiting the regions to read out to them prognostic treatises with accompanying solutions and a strong pitch for unity.

He started this journey in Nakuru, the melting pot of Kenya's communities, promising to create a political and ideological unity to confront the problems afflicting Kenyans.

"We believe that to address the problems afflicting our people in a sustainable manner, we must bring the diversity of our people, their leaders and their problems on to one table and embark on a systematic and transparent search for solutions, as equal stakeholders in Kenya’s future. We will fix this country," he said.

Yesterday in Western, Raila announced he had come back to take what was rightfully his by blood and heritage. He was fending off claims that he had been locked out of the region by the combined might of Amani National Congress (ANC) leader Musalia Mudavadi, his Ford Kenya counterpart Moses Wetang'ula and Ruto.

“The thought of locking Raila out of Western is wishful. I am a son of the soil, a Luhya who will return home at will. Stopping Raila and ODM is like stopping a tsunami,” he said during a meet-the-people tour in Kakamega town after a delegates meeting at Golf Hotel.

He had targeted message for Western; revival of collapsed sugar industry, blaming rivals for the same while styling himself as the saviour. He was endorsed to go for it by over 300 delegates, including governors and MPs.

To supplement regional meets, Ruto has sustained hosting delegations from the same regions at Karen, each day a new delegation. Yesterday, the DP met Makueni grassroots leaders at a makeshift dome erected for such meetings.

Earlier this week, he held meetings with leaders from Narok, Nairobi and Murang'a.

"We are committed to getting Kenya back to serious work by opening opportunities for all and nurturing pro-business environment that will unleash the power of enterprises," he said at the Murang'a meet.

As part of his appeal to the youth, Raila and his close aides are embracing youthful language, adopting street slang and appreciating art more than ever before.

By attending the birthday of Gideon Gichuki – a 22-year-old online supporter and gifting the family a cow – in Githunguri, Kiambu, on Saturday, Raila showed how much he is interested in winning over the youth.

He has also attended functions associated with the youth such as a thanksgiving by artistes in Murang’a in July, and quoting Mejja's song earlier on.

Besides the youth, the former prime minister is courting the religious folk.

"Religious leaders have a lot of influence in their flock and one needs to appeal to them," argues Dr Owakah.

Equally critical to Raila’s strategy is Mt Kenya. To attract a region that constantly votes against him, he has to shake off various tags that politicians have piled onto him.

One such tag is enemy of the Mt Kenya ethnic base, which Raila has dismissed by recounting the role he played in securing former President Mwai Kibaki’s 2002 election victory and the family ties that bind him with the region.

[email protected]