Who will bag Mt Kenya, where a third of voters live?

ODM leader Raila Odinga addresses a roadside gathering at Mwihoko in Kiambu County on January 9, 2022. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

Mt Kenya’s voting bloc holds the key to the 2022 tyranny of numbers that will either propel one to State House or deny them the chance come August.

From the new numbers released by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) on Monday, the region now boasts of a combined voting power just shy of six million.

Granted, the vote could be divided due to a number of factors, including the kind of alliances the region will make. However, its 5.85 million vote basket will define the trajectory the presidential vote will take.

The region’s number is 27 per cent of the total provisional registered votes, now estimated at 22.3 million countrywide.

An outright presidential winner must garner 50 per cent, plus one vote, to secure a State House victory and avoid a run-off, making the region a game changer. 

Voting machine

Mt Kenya’s significance as a voting machine increases when one factors in voter turnout. Going by its past voting patterns, the region has always voted as a bloc. In 2013 and 2017, it gave Uhuru Kenyatta more than 90 per cent. It is this percentage that Deputy President William Ruto has been seeking to inherit.

However, sustained forays by ODM leader Raila Odinga, the President’s involvement in this year’s election, possible voter apathy and the mushrooming of fringe parties, have turned Mt Kenya into a battleground.

Raila still retains his traditional strongholds of Nyanza and Western while Nairobi, usually a contested affair, may tilt in his favour. The new “tyranny” would then comprise of Central’s split majority and allied blocs, whether in favour of Raila or Ruto.

The top contenders view climbing Mt Kenya as the surest path to State House, and they have been spending significant time and money courting voters there.

Ruto’s fallout with Uhuru presents him with uncertainties, since the President’s influence has not been sufficiently tested in recent years.

Assuming that Ruto inherits Uhuru’s votes in other regions -- excluding Mt Kenya - Raila’s votes stand at about 6.4 million while the Deputy President’s will come to about 4.1 million.

That is why it is a do-or-die for the two candidates to get as many votes from Mt Kenya. So much that each of the candidate is expected to pick a running mate from the region which, for the first will not be fielding a serious presidential candidate.

Political scientist Macharia Munene opines that the lack of an impactful contestant from Mt Kenya could drive the turnout down.

“But Mt Kenya is just as the rest of the country. If there is a low turnout countrywide, there will be low turnout in Mt Kenya,” says Prof Munene, who anticipates voter apathy to hurt turn-out the region on election day.

Through his camaraderie with Uhuru, Raila has sought to hive off a chunk of the region’s votes. The President is expected to lead his Jubilee Party into the Azimio la Umoja movement, whose presidential candidate will be Raila.

Traditional strongholds

It will, however, not be a walk in the park for Raila in his traditional strongholds of Western and Coast regions, where the DP has put up a spirited fight to wrestle them from the former prime minister.

Barring low voter turnout, Raila has ring-fenced his base of Nyanza which has a total of 2.1 million votes and where he has bagged between 92 and 95 per cent in 2017 and 2013 respectively respectively.

Although Ruto has never been a presidential candidate, he seems to have always delivered the votes from the seven North Rift counties that form his backyard. These are Uasin Gishu, Nandi, Kericho, West Pokot, Bomet, Baringo and Elgeyo/Marakwet, which account for 2.4 million votes. This represents 11.3 per cent of the total tally, two per cent more than what Raila solidly commands.

In 2007, when Raila vied against President Mwai Kibaki and had Ruto as one of his lieutenants, these seven counties overwhelmingly backed Raila. However, in the 2013 and 2017 elections, these votes went to Uhuru whose running mate was Ruto.

The two could face the threat of an anticipated voter apathy, made apparent by low registration of new voters. The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission had targeted to register 4.5 million voters, but fell shy of the target by close to two million.

However, they will be banking on the choice of a running mate from the region to excite voters and counter apathy. For both Raila and Ruto, the numbers they are likely to garner from there will make or break their chances; and they will still need to retain a firm grip on their traditional bases, all of which make for a bruising presidential battle.