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Will Ruto's charm offensive in Western sway Raila's turf vote?

President William Ruto at Friends Church (Quakers), Donholm, with Prime CS Musalia Mudavadi, Public Service CS Aisha Jumwa and Nairobi Governor Johnson Sakaja on April 23, 2023. [PCS, Standard]

In seven months, President William Ruto has visited the Western region counties of Bungoma, Busia and Kakamega five times.

Ruto first visited Bungoma as the President-elect on August 29, 2022, where he thanked voters for their massive votes in his favour. On his second visit, Ruto graced the 18th graduation ceremony at Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology on December 9, 2022, in Kakamega town.

He would later visit Malava Constituency, in Kakamega, on April 29, 2023, where he launched the construction of the 13-kilometre Malava-Kimangeti road.

A month later, he visited Busia on May 29, 2023, and more recently, he attended a church service at the ACK Church, Kakamega, on June 18, 2023, where he conducted a fundraiser.

The president's frequent visits have evoked mixed feelings. Is he on a charm offensive in the predominantly opposition vote-rich region or is it just part of his itinerary to tour the country and initiate development projects?

"President Ruto is trying to look for an alternative reliable bloc for two reasons. First, in the event the mountain disintegrates, he will find an alternative in Western Kenya, and secondly, to check on Prime Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi and Speaker of the National Assembly Moses Wetang'ula just in case they change their minds and try to hold him to ransom for political bargaining," lawyer and political analyst Kennedy Echesa says.

President William Ruto with leaders from Busia County during interdenominational prayers and thanksgiving ceremony at Busia Stadium on May 28, 2023. [Benjamin Sakwa, Standard]

Cumulatively, the four Western Kenya counties have 2,217,948 registered voters going by the latest IEBC count. In 2022, Bungoma and Busia stood in stark political contrast during the August general elections.

Bungoma gave Ruto the highest number of votes, 255906 against Raila's 145,280. Busia gave him the least votes, 48801 against Raila's 226042. In Kakamega, Ruto got 141166 against Raila's 357857.

If Ruto were to retain his votes in these counties while eating into Raila's numbers, 2027 would represent less of a hurdle for him.

Ruto has already cut a niche for himself as a shrewd operator who beat the State machinery to win the presidency in 2022 when the odds were heavily stacked against him.

Political Risk analyst Dismas Mokua says the President is simply doing his work as the country's Chief Executive Officer.

"In my view, President Ruto has maintained a hectic calendar and has visited most parts of Kenya. These visits are not limited to Western Kenya. He has visited the entire country. The visits are the hallmarks of participatory leadership where he gets to interact with elected leaders and citizens."

According to Mokua, Ruto uses these countrywide visits to keep citizens, partners and stakeholders posted on the Kenya Kwanza success and trajectory, and to get feedback from citizens.

Prime Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi and Speaker of the National Assembly Moses Wetang'ula at Friends School Silungai in Malava sub-county on April 1, 2023. [Benjamin Sakwa, Standard]

President William Ruto combines persuasion, aggression, logic and the occasional broadside at his competitors to get his message across. This has been put to good use on his touring circuit of Western Kenya, where he has promised residents several goodies as he tenaciously holds onto the Finance Bill 2023, especially his housing vision.

"You pay their (leaders) salaries. What is wrong with asking them to give you 3 per cent and keep the 97 per cent? We shall build 10,000 houses in Kakamega every year," he promised.

During the ACK Church Kakamega function, Ruto thanked voters for their support in 2022 and made a litany of promises on the projects he wants to follow up in the region. Key among these is the expansion of the Kakamega airstrip to an airport, completion of the Kakamega Teaching and Referral Hospital, restarting stalled road projects, construction of an agro-processing industrial park for value addition as well as giving financial support to Community Health Promoters (CHP).

"I came here to check the progress on the hospital that has been built for a long time. The national government will look for Sh300 million through the supplementary budget in October to support the hospital. I will also give Sh1 billion for the purchase of hospital equipment here to help decongest the Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital in Eldoret."

Ruto pledged to give the Kakamega County government Sh3.5 billion to equip CHPs and Sh120 billion cumulatively for the 4,250 CHPs recruited in Kakamega, each to take care of 100 households.

"I will give money to the county government to extend the runway and also build a new apron at the airstrip."

Musalia Mudavadi, William Ruto, Moses Wetang'ula and Rigathi Gachagua after addressing a campaign rally at Kapkatet Grounds, Kericho County, ahead of last year's General Election. [File, Standard[

The president also promised to sort out the mess in the sugar industry in the region. "I was not joking when I said I will sort out the mess at Mumias. We have already invested Sh 5 billion but it went to waste. I will ask Parliament to write off the Sh 60 billion debt owed by sugar millers. I will avail Sh 250 million for this job and Sh3 billion to build markets in Bukura, Kakunga, Lubao, Harambee, Buhuru, Iguhu, Malinya and Butere".

Earlier in Busia, he had promised to give money to construct a dual carriageway from the Busia border to Korinda and will provide funds to decongest Busia and Malaba towns that have heavy truck traffic constricting the roads.

Kakamega is only one of 47 counties that Ruto has visited and pledged to give billions of shillings, yet the government is struggling financially, unable to meet its financial obligations. A month ago, Prime Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi said it would take a minimum of three years for the economy to start showing signs of recovery.

Coupled with the fact that the Kenya Revenue Authority has consistently failed to meet targets, Ruto could find himself in a precarious position if things don't turn out as projected, and there are any number of things that could go wrong.

If Ruto fails to fulfil his myriad promises due to financial constraints, they could easily become an albatross around his neck in 2027. Already, there are grumbles that he has reneged on the array of colourful promises he gave to hustlers during last year's election campaigns.

The anticipated manna from Kenya Kwanza has failed to fall on hustlers as the poor economy and high cost of living put a squeeze on them every day.

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