Uhuru Kenyatta, William Ruto draw battle lines in Kiambu ahead of polls

President Uhuru Kenyatta accompanied by First Lady Margaret Kenyatta is received by Deputy President William Ruto at Parliament Buildings for viewing the body of the late President Daniel Moi. [File, Standard]

Campaigns in Kiambu County are at full throttle, 51 days to the elections. The battle for the heart and soul of the populous county is crystallising. Lead protagonists are President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Deputy William Ruto.

At stake are nearly two million votes - nine per cent of the country’s entire vote basket - which can propel a presidential candidate to State House. This explains why major presidential candidates are circling the county, which has produced two of Kenya’s four presidents. More importantly, this time round, Kiambu and entire Mt Kenya region have no leading presidential candidate, making it a fertile hunting ground.

Against this background, Ruto has since 2017 made incessant forays into Mt Kenya region and specifically Kiambu, where he has pitched tent. His mission is bagging a huge chunk of the 5.9 million votes from Mt Kenya.

The popularity of his United Democratic Alliance (UDA) party which has fielded candidates in all elective positions in the county and struck deals with fringe parties- to form the Kenya Kwanza Alliance- is testament to be the second-in-command’s influence and war footing in the historically rich county.

Then there is the incumbent, Uhuru, who is fighting to ward off his estranged deputy and maintain the status quo where his Jubillee party forms a majority of the next county government.

President Uhuru is banking on incumbent Governor James Nyoro to trounce his UDA competitor and current Senator Kimani Wamatangi. Nyoro is seeking re-election after clinching power in 2020 following the ouster of Ferdinand Waititu. Wamatangi is a two-term Kiambu senator, banking on Ruto’s huge following to clinch the coveted seat.

The entrance of other equally competitive parties has, however, complicated matters for the duo and their party leaders. Chama cha Kazi’s Moses Kuria, Tujibebe Wakenya party leader William Kabogo, Mwende Gatabaki, a policy expert, Thika Town MP Patrick Wainaina Wa Jungle, who was floored by Wamatangi and is now running as an independent candidate, and Juliet Kimemia are quickly gaining traction.

The varied cast of gubernatorial hopefuls also tells of the fact that there is no dominant party in Kiambu, a departure from past elections. This means for any of the cast to win the polls, they have to claw it out in what is proving to be one of the fiercely contested governorship races.

Sibling rivalry could, however, cost Kenya Kwanza victory in the metropolitan county, as evidenced by the decision by Kuria and Kabogo’s withdrawal from the alliance’s campaign caravans on Thursday.

Later, they sent out a joint letter protesting what they termed being sidelined by UDA.

In the letter by Chama cha Kazi Secretary-General James Nage and his Tujibebe Party counterpart Wakili Gathii Irungu, the two political outfits cited instances in which they were allegedly sidelined by UDA members on the campaign trail.

It accused Kenya Kwanza of directing its aspirants and members to cut ties with  the CCK and Tujibebe parties.

“It is clear from the foregoing that whereas the UDA Party has no problem with ANC and Ford Kenya candidates in western Kenya, Maendeleo Chap Chap party candidates in lower Eastern and Pamoja African Alliance candidate in the Coast Region, a decision has been made by some quarters that parties with a strong footing in Mt Kenya region are not wanted in the Kenya Kwanza Alliance,” read the letter addressed to the Kenya Kwanza principals, calling for a meeting to chart way forward.

Political pundits now warn that should the bickering between Kuria, Kabogo, Wamatangi and Rigathi Gachagua continue, it might give impetus to Nyoro’s bid to retain the seat.

Prof Emmanuel Kisiangani explains that both Azimio and Kenya Kwanza risk defeat should they not address sibling rivalry, especially at the county level.

“The two parties agreed on who would be their Presidential flag bearers but are still struggling with the grassroot politics. This might prove costly should they not resolve it amicably,” he said.