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Scramble begins as Mount Kenya vote up for grabs in State House race

By Jacob Ng’etich | July 29th 2021

Deputy President William Ruto addresses a crowd in Nyeri. [Kibata Kihu, Standard]

For the first time since the onset of multi-party politics in 1992, Mount Kenya region could become the country’s biggest swing vote in next year’s General Election.

President Uhuru Kenyatta is expected to retire after the August 9, 2022 elections, which will leave the region adrift.

With numerical strength of over five million voters in Kiambu, Nyeri, Kirinyaga, Murang’a, Nyandarua, Meru, Embu, Tharaka Nithi and Laikipia counties as well as parts of Nakuru, the Mount Kenya region will most likely determine the fifth president.

In 1992, when Kenya started competitive presidential elections, then-President Daniel Arap Moi faced two serious candidates from Mt Kenya region. 

Former minister Kenneth Matiba from Murang’a and retired President Mwai Kibaki from Nyeri fronted a spirited contest against Mzee Moi and would divide the votes by garnering 26 per cent and 19 per cent, respectively, a move that allowed the incumbent to sail through with 36 per cent. 

Five years later, after ailing Matiba dropped from the presidential race in 1997, the region put the votes into one basket giving Kibaki second position with 1.8 million votes against Moi’s 2.4 million. 

In subsequent elections, the sons from the region have passed the presidential baton from Nyeri to Kiambu.

The Moi succession election in 2002 offered the region a unique opportunity of choosing from two of their own where Kibaki trounced the younger Uhuru, maybe preserving him for a possible rainy day.

Kibaki, under a united opposition, marshalled 3.6 million votes to overwhelmingly win against Kanu’s Uhuru, who got 1.8 million.

A hotly contested election in 2007 gave Kibaki a narrow win of 4.5 million votes against CORD’s Raila Odinga, who got 4.3 million votes. When the time to pass the political baton came, the region would overwhelmingly vote for Uhuru in 2013 and the disputed 2017 exercise.

Today, a year to the Uhuru succession elections, there is no clear heir apparent, and the scramble for a possible six million votes from Mt Kenya is on like never before. The region could be the biggest political battlefield in 2022.

Nyeri Town MP Wambugu Ngunjiri notes that the Mt Kenya vote will be a determinant and whoever convinces the region will clinch the presidency.

He also said Deputy President William Ruto needs a huge chunk of the votes to win, but Raila and ANC leader Musalia Mudavadi require just a slice of it.

“The region will make a difference in the next election, it will basically determine who becomes president. Ruto had tried to lock it by building a narrative that after Uhuru it will go straight to him in 2022, but the Kiambaa by-election has shown that the region is up for grabs,” said Ngunjiri.  With this in mind, the DP, Raila, Mudavadi, Baringo Senator Gideon Moi and Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka have intensified their forays in the region.

Most presidential hopefuls are salivating for Mt Kenya’s backing. The 10 counties combined had 5.3 million registered voters, representing 31 per cent of the 19.6 million voters.

In the past, President Kenyatta has indicated that he will give direction on his successor. At State Lodge in Sagana, the president said he would have a say on the region’s future. But his wish has been exposed by losses in Kiambaa and Juja by-elections.  

University of Nairobi lecturer Peter Wanyande said the region finds itself in an unusual political situation. “It’s unlike any other time,” he said. 

Ruto has made countless forays in Mount Kenya and his allies claim he has made strong imprints in the region.  

Ruto, Raila and Mudavadi have hosted delegations from Mt Kenya in a bid to woo the region and strategise on their entry to President Kenyatta’s perceived stronghold. Ruto has so far visited every constituency in the region, inspecting and launching various development projects. He has also graced church fundraisers and attended funerals under the invite of Tangatanga adherents.

Kiharu MP Ndindi Nyoro said based on President Kenyatta’s promise to support Ruto in 2022, the region will favour the deputy president’s bid.

“The people of Mt Kenya are reliable and will keep their word. President Kenyatta promised people in broad daylight and before God that the region will support Ruto. The people will honour this pledge,” said Nyoro.

ODM leader Raila Odinga at Skiza Thanksgiving in Muranga County. July 27, 2021. [Ndungu Gachane, Standard]

In the last four years, Ruto has pitched camp in Mt Kenya and could have literally visited all the nooks and crannies of the populous region. Recently, Raila and Mudavadi have also increased their tours of the region.

On Tuesday, Raila made a powerful inroad into the region and even got the endorsement of nine governors and several MPs.

In a meeting held at media owner SK Macharia’s home in Gatanga, Governors Mwangi wa Iria (Murang’a), Anne Waiguru (Kirinyaga), James Nyoro (Kiambu) and Ndiriitu Mureithi of Laikipia said the region was ready to embrace Raila.

Previously, Raila has on two occasions hosted elders from the region at his Bondo home and has also graced Kikuyu elders’ meetings in Mt Kenya.

In the last month, Mudavadi has visited Nakuru, Nyeri, Kirinyaga and Nyandarua as part of enhancing his visibility. Others who have toured the region for political seduction are Kalonzo and Maendeleo Chap Chap party leader and Machakos Governor Alfred Mutua.

Talks of each presidential aspirant seeking a running mate from the region have been high, with Ruto looking at former Agriculture CS Mwangi Kiunjuri, Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria and wa Iria among the possible names.

At the Murang’a meeting, Raila was also urged to consider a running mate from the region next year.


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