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Making of epic contest between Raila, Ruto

By Moses Nyamori | Dec 14th 2021 | 6 min read

ODM leader Raila Odinga shakes hands with Deputy President William Ruto during Jamuhuri Day celebrations at Uhuru Gardens in Nairobi. [Standard]

The official entry of ODM leader Raila Odinga into the 2022 presidential race and the long-running campaigns by Deputy President William Ruto has framed one epic race in the ultimate quest for power.

For long, Ruto has dared Raila, his senior, to "bring it on", describing the handshake as a power grab scheme hatched to tilt the presidential contest in the latter's favor.

But with the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI), the handshake's grand project, punctured by the courts, and with time running out, the ODM leader tossed himself in the fray on Friday.

On Sunday, President Uhuru Kenyatta doled yet another subtle endorsement of Raila, breaking protocol to allow him to speak last at a national event, and decorating him as a man who had given him a great deal of advice.

Although there are other aspirants seeking to succeed Uhuru, the ODM leader and Ruto are widely perceived as the front runners in the race, as they command solid support bases across the country.

How the other hopefuls play their cards in the coming days will either shatter this perception or firm it up.

Uhuru is believed to be rooting for a Raila presidency and has in the past made attempts to unite opposition figures in crafting a formidable force to face his estranged deputy - Ruto.

A day before the ODM leader's Azimio La Umoja convention on Friday last week, the President’s allies and tycoons under the ambit of Mount Kenya Foundation (MKF) declared their support for him while launching a scathing attack on Ruto’s style of leadership.

One Kenya Alliance (OKA) principal Musalia Mudavadi (ANC), Kalonzo Musyoka (Wiper), Kanu chairman Gideon Moi and Ford-Kenya leader Moses Wetang'ula have all indicated their intention to run for the top seat.

They are, however, yet to settle on a preferred candidate amid reports of deep-rooted suspicion that some of them may jump ship to support Raila or Ruto.

Analysts reckon that in the event of no drastic realignment in the political scene, the battle will remain between Raila and Ruto.

Raila enjoys the backing of more than 30 governors, besides having Nyanza, Western and Coast as some of his strongholds.

Ruto, on the other hand, has the backing of the majority of Members of Parliament from the Mt Kenya region.

The vote-rich region is also perceived to be leaning towards the DP, who enjoys the support of his Rift Valley backyard. Further, he has made forays in Raila’s backyard in an attempt to chip off his support.

According to political analyst Macharia Munene, the race will be about the two politicians. He describes them as “very energetic” and capable of building strong support base around their candidacy.

“Whichever way one looks at it, they are the people to look at in the election. Raila has a solid support base and Ruto has exploited the sympathy that he is a victim of state manipulation and harassment,” says Prof Macharia.

“It is possible to have a third force in the race because we still have eight months to go. But that drastic change can only happen if Ruto and Raila make blunder along the way, otherwise the race is currently between the two,” he adds.

Macharia says Ruto has succeeded in becoming a force in the country’s political scene by consistently selling himself as the hope of the downtrodden through his "hustler" narrative.

Munene argues that Raila has succeeded in retaining his traditional support base as well to create some wave that enabled his accommodation within the political establishment.

The views are shared by political analyst and university lecturer Herman Manyora, who argues that the third force can only come from Mt Kenya should the region decide to rally behind one of its own.

Murang’a Governor Mwangi wa Iria and National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi have declared intention to run, but have not received favourable traction even within Mt Kenya.

“OKA will disintegrate and the principals are likely to go back to Raila. Only Mudavadi has remained stubborn and could decide to run. In short, there is no third force in the race,” says Mr Manyora.

He describes Ruto as a shrewd politician, who started building his political empire immediately Jubilee came to power.

“Being a project comes with liability, but Raila is bigger than size. The project tag cannot be put together with him. It is also stupid to underrate the power of the system. When you get the support of the system it comes with a lot of things that any serious candidate would want,” he adds.

Yesterday, Mudavadi said the elections would be decided by the people, at the ballot. He downplayed the influence of endorsement by an incumbent, stating that it could only work if done devoid of intimidation and coercion.

“My message is very simple; why can't we take a leaf from (Kenneth) Matiba’s statement that let the people decide. At the end of the day, Kenyan voter is very wise,” said the ANC leader.

The OKA principal said the public was likely to revolt against a candidate being pushed down their throat by the state. “Endorsement can be beneficial or costly because it depends on how it is perceived. If it is coated with intimidation and coercion, it can be costly to the intended person,” he said.

“I have been maintaining a message that people should not be coerced. The greatest endorsement is the endorsement by the Kenyan voter because it is the vote that will be counted. These others are mere opinions,” he added. 

Wiper vice-chairperson Mutula Kilonzo Jnr gave credence to a possible two-horse race, but warned that it could turn into a recipe for chaos.

He said OKA was not surprised by MKF's decision to endorse Raila, describing the vetting by the tycoons as a sham exercise designed to promote the former premier’s candidature.

“A contest pitting Ruto and Raila can cause chaos for Kenya; we need an alternative. We want to tell (Cotu boss Francis) Atwoli that you will not get Gideon Moi from OKA. OKA is the only coalition that can offer the best alternative to Kenyans as a third force,” said the Makueni Senator.

“We won’t accept dictatorship as to who will become a presidential candidate; that issue of endorsing a president to us... we said no, and we won’t accept it, and we will refuse him. We want Kenyans to be given an opportunity to choose the candidate they want,” he added. 

Atwoli, on Friday, nudged Gideon to abandon OKA and join Raila’s Azimio La Umoja movement. Gideon however avoided the talk, and described OKA's relationship with Raila as one of the mutual allies. 

Yesterday, Atwoli said those willing to run should proceed, but observed that it would be a waste of time and resources. “(Being the) third force will be a waste of time. If someone has money to burn, let them come and burn it; but it will definitely be a two-horse race of Raila and Ruto."

ANC Nominated MP Godfrey Osotsi said it was a two-horse race. "The third formation is not inspiring. In fact, the so-called third force is perceived by many to be spoilers, and will not attract much political traction. The race between Raila and Ruto is going to be too intense for a third arrangement to thrive,” said Osotsi, who has since shifted his allegiance to Raila.

But ANC deputy party leader Ayub Savula dismissed the candidature of Raila and Ruto, claiming they were fast losing perceived strongholds.

Mr Savula claimed Raila and Ruto did not enjoy regional kingpins' backing. “Ruto has no solid backers; he has no regional kingpins. In Western, we have Musalia and Wetang’ula. In Ukambani we have Kalonzo. In Mt Kenya we have Martha Karua,” he said, adding: “Raila is a lone ranger operating with struggling and retiring governors. Ruto is also another lone ranger operating with first-term MPs who have no regional traction. For sure we are ahead of them. We have a strong team."

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