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Ruto, Raila sweat over a running mate from Mt Kenya

By Josphat Thio'go | September 4th 2021

Deputy President William Ruto chats with ODM Party leader Raila Odinga during the burial of Mzee Abel Gongera, father to Kisii County Joash Maangi at the Tendere Secondary School grounds, Gucha, Kisii County. [DPPS,Standard]

Forays in President Uhuru Kenyatta's backyard by 2022 presidential hopefuls have lifted the lid on the huge dilemma of identifying their running mates.

Deputy President William Ruto, ODM leader Raila Odinga and Amani National Congress (AMC) leader Musalia Mudavadi have pitched tent in the region, engaging locals, attending events including church service, to woo the vote-rich region.

Mt Kenya region has so far produced three presidents, including the late Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, retired president Mwai Kibaki and this is the first time there is not clear successor to President Uhuru Kenyatta.

The 2022 presidential contender's headache will be a delicate balance to ensure their choice of running mate will not upset the support base or cause a fall out in their inner circles.

President Kenyatta has reportedly rallied for Raila, One Kenya Alliance (OKA) leaders comprising Mudavadi, Wiper's Kalonzo Musyoka, KANU chairman Senator Gideon Moi and Ford Kenya's senator Moses Wetang'ula in a bid for a super alliance against Ruto.

The DP has over the years made inroads in Mt Kenya, with wins in recent parliamentary by-elections in Juja and Kiambaa as well as ward mini-polls in London and Rurii. 

With less than a year to the General Election, residents having not identified a person to take over as Mt Kenya leader from President Kenyatta, the presidential hopefuls want to dangle the carrot of a running mate to the region.

With more than five million voters spread across Kiambu, Nyeri, Kirinyaga, Murang’a, Nyandarua, Meru, Embu, Tharaka Nithi and Laikipia counties as well as Nakuru County, Mount Kenya looks promising for the presidential hopefuls.

Political analyst Herman Manyora attributes the scramble for Mt Kenya by the presidential hopefuls to its huge numbers. 

The assumed lack of a presidential candidate from Mt Kenya has also attracted the leaders.

"For Ruto, it is because Mt Kenya is his most supportive base and without it his candidacy is dead. For Raila, he is in a deal with Uhuru which is engineered to ensure both principals gain. This is why the two serious presidential contenders are likely to have running mates from the mountain,” said Prof Manyora.

He, however, noted that currently there is no strong running mate for either Ruto, Raila or Mudavadi.

“The nature of our politics is that we operate like kingdoms where we only have a king at a time so that even the crown prince is not supposed to be seen or heard. In the mountain region, Uhuru overshadows everybody, in Nyanza, Raila also overshadows everybody,” he said.  

He added, “For that reason, to identify someone who has a following in the mountain will be like looking at Uhuru’s rival and that is not there. The people available are just ordinary people who to even become governors or MPs they would have to struggle."

Manyora warned that President Kenyatta could be holding his cards close to his chest and could be thinking of changing the game by introducing a serious businessman or technocrat to be Raila’s running mate.

Political analyst Tom Mboya said the DP and ODM leader to fully consolidate Mt Kenya votes, they will have to find someone who has a huge following at the regional level and marketable nationally.

“Given the numbers from Mt Kenya, political and financial influence of the region and that they have held the presidency for so long, they cannot be ignored. It then makes sense for serious presidential contenders to leverage on a running mate from that region,” said Mboya.

“It’s not enough to say that just because someone has marketability in Central that they are sellable nationally. National appeal is important. It is important to get that balance right so that the rest of Kenyans can identify with that running mate,” he added.

Mboya also said the scramble for Mt Kenya was premised on the region not fielding a presidential candidate next year.

“Most of the other regions already feel excluded from presidency and may not be accepting of the next president coming from that region at this point in time. Those with serious ambitions, will however have to include Mt Kenya,” he added.

This raises the question; why a running mate from Mt Kenya?

Ruto faces a delicate balancing act in choosing his running mate as he seeks to succeed his boss in August 2022.

At least five politicians from the region are battling to catch his eye and the DP must make a wise choice to avoid upsetting the support base.

National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi, former Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri, Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria, Murang'a Governor Mwangi wa Iria and former Kiambu Governor William Kabogo are among politicians touted to be possible running mate for the DP.

All save for Kabogo, are allied to political parties which they are actively popularising across the country ahead of the elections.

Others reportedly interested in being Ruto’s running mate are Senators Mithika Linturi (Meru), Irungu Kang'ata (Murang'a), and Prof Kithure Kindiki (Tharaka Nithi).

Raila has intensified tours to Mt Kenya and meetings with local opinion shapers, businessmen, youth, elders and the political class. He has visited the region four times.

Last week Sunday, the ODM leader was in Bible Fellowship Church in Kigumo Constituency in Murang’a, three weeks after he received the endorsement of leaders at the home of media owner SK Macharia in Gatanga.

And just like Ruto, Raila has the herculean task of choosing a running mate from leaders associated with him including former Gatanga MP Peter Kenneth.

Kenneth, an ally of President Kenyatta, has been accompanying the ODM leader during visits to Central. Sources indicate that leaders have been urging Raila to initiate talks with Laikipia Governor Ndiritu Muriithi.

Raila chose Nakuru County – a Mt Kenya Diaspora - to unveil his “Azimio la Umoja” initiative.

Mudavadi, a principal in One Kenya Alliance (OKA), has also been making forays in Central, although he has not declared intent to find a running mate from the region.

In July, the ANC leader was on a two-day tour of Nyeri and later visited Nyandarua where he was nicknamed "Macharia.”

In Gikuyu, Macharia means "one who searches."

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