Similarities and parallels in Raila Odinga, William Ruto campaign tactics

Deputy President William Ruto meet Azimio One Kenya Alliance flag bearer Raila Odinga during former President Mwai Kibaki  State Funeral Service at Nyayo National Stadium on April 29, 2022. [Stafford Ondego, Standard].

The main protagonists in this year’s presidential contest, Deputy President William Ruto and ODM leader Raila Odinga, are as different as night and day, or are they?

A look at their approach and strategies show a diametrically opposed pair who are, at times, shadow boxing, aping each other and, at times, deploying different techniques in their battle for the 22 million votes that will ultimately propel the winner to State House. 

After insisting that gender on the presidential ticket should not be something to consider, Ruto on Friday showed that his alliance had no intention of overlooking the women’s vote when he signed the Kenya Kwanza Women’s Charter.

This shows how much Raila’s choice of Narc-Kenya leader Martha Karua as his running mate has helped reshape the race to succeed President Uhuru Kenyatta.

Ruto is keen on tapping the female vote with a list of initiatives that betrays his strategy to chip away at the ground that his Azimio la Umoja opponent has covered.

Both Ruto and Raila have promised to invest in the welfare of single women, including empowering them financially.

They have been as much part of the same political formations as they have been on opposite sides. This familiarity is apparent in the strategies they have employed as they canvass the country making a case for their bids.

As the time winds down to the voting day, they have both ramped up their campaigns and have deployed their allies across the country.

Kenya Kwanza has split campaign teams into three parallel teams. Ruto, the United Democratic Alliance (UDA) party leader, is leading one team while his running mate Rigathi Gachagua is in charge of another group. Amani National Congress (ANC) Musalia Mudavadi and his Ford Kenya counterpart Moses Wetang’ula are in charge of the third campaign team.

Similarly, Azimio la Umoja-One Kenya coalition has broken down its campaign into 15 regional campaign teams.

The running mates, both from Mt Kenya region, are leading the campaigns in the region.

Ruto, using Raila’s old allies, is hoping to chip off from a Raila’s bloc in Coast and Western

Raila, on the other hand, is banking on scoring a significant number of votes in the Mt Kenya region that would add to his tally from previous elections.

Political analysts say that Ruto could have gone for a different campaign strategy to counter Azimio.

Kamau Wairuri reasons that Raila’s strategy of picking Karua would test the widely held belief that ethnicity is the biggest determinant in any election.

“There’s always this logic that Kenyan politics is primarily down to ethnicity. If you get the ethnic blocks right then everything is sorted. But I think we now have an election that is going to show us slightly different dimensions,” he said.

He said that by insisting on social media and political rallies that gender should not be an agenda, Ruto’s team was attempting to counter Azimio.

“I think the number of things that come into play. When Raila picks a woman as a running mate and Ruto picks a man, this obviously opens up gender, which is an important point. That is how Kenya Kwanza came up with the idea that we don’t want gender, we want an agenda. Gender is an agenda and it is a critical thing,” he said.

Tom Mboya, another political analyst, believes that this was the reason some from Kenya Kwanza have taken to attacking Karua in rallies

“As the first female running mate within a major coalition, she has the potential to galvanise women as a constituency in a manner that has never happened before. This is a major concern for Ruto and Kenya Kwanza as they have no counter for that,” he said.

This similarity of strategies can also be seen in the digital strategies employed by the two coalitions.

Raila has amped his social media strategy and is now keen to appeal to the mostly youthful constituency online, previously a stamping ground for Ruto.

Ruto had initially sought a movement of hustlers rather than using the regional leaders but has since embraced the likes of Mudavadi, Wetang’ula and governors Amason Kingi and Alfred Mutua.

“The thinking was we can build the hustler movement because we do not need anyone. But as you get closer to the election you realise why you need these tribal kingpins,” Mboya said.

Both Raila and Ruto are also dangling prime cabinet slots to their allies. Raila has promised Wiper party leader Kalonzo Musyoka the Chief Cabinet Secretary slot while Ruto has promised a similar post to Mudavadi.

Raila has gone further to line up the leaders that he is considering for the cabinet slots which has served to further ensure that some of the support bases will remain loyal. Those who were named are Hassan Joho, Peter Munya, and Wycliffe Oparanya.  

In a contrast, while Ruto has deliberately cultivated his image as an anti-establishment candidate to tap voter anger against the Jubilee administration, Raila is keen on taking advantage of his relationship with President Uhuru Kenyatta.

Raila is pledging continuity, to build on some of the plans of the incumbent while Ruto sees things from a different lens - a revolution.

Ruto wants to transform the economic model, insisting that greater focus should be placed on the small businesses, the small hustlers.

Ruto has built his campaign, depicting himself as the outsider, yet at the same time he has played up some of the achievements of his tenure with Uhuru.

As the candidate who wants to change the status quo and one who has been persecuted by the government.