By: Kamande Muchiri @MountKenyaTimes
Several candidates have declared interest in vying for the presidency in next year’s general election, but the race is shaping up as a contest between Deputy President William Ruto and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga.
Raila and his Jubilee friends have painted Ruto and his allies as opportunists who are taking advantage of many jobless youths by promising to empower them if elected to office.
Ruto and his allies on the other hand have accused Raila of playing politics of ‘conmanship’ as the race to succeed President Uhuru Kenyatta, who is serving his second and final term gathers pace.
The DP’s “hustler nation” train is directly targeting those lower down the ladder, while Raila has fashioned himself a politician looking for “partnerships” by knocking at the doors of regional political kingpins.
On Friday, Raila stormed DP’s Ruto’s Rift Valley home turf to woo the region to back his 2022 bid.
The opposition chief took his ‘Azimio la Umoja’ campaign to the DP’s home county of Uasin Gishu, preaching the message of unity.
“Unity in diversity is our strength as a nation. If we unite, then we can realize our objectives,’ he told ecstatic crowd that turned up to listen to him in Eldoret town.
Raila met a section of area leaders before addressing a huge public gathering inside Eldoret town, reiterated the need for the country to come together ahead of next year’s eagerly-awaited poll to realize development.
Buoyed by a massive, ecstatic crowd that turned up to listen to him, he said Kenya is blessed with diverse ethnic groups and this should be used for the benefit of the country and not for anything else.
The former PM asked the locals to back his bid for the country’s top job so as to make this a reality.
The former PM pledged cheaper seeds for growers, subsidized fertiliser, a tax regime that would reduce prices of animal feeds and other agricultural inputs.
His visit to the region comes only days after he addressed the Kalenjin nation through the community’s five radio stations where he sought their support in the next General Election.
Raila made his pitch to Rift Valley in his quest for a share of the region’s 4.6 million votes – as per IEBC 2017 elections data.
During the interview, Raila said he has no problem with any leader from the region, adding that his differences with Ruto are political.
He dismissed as propaganda claims that he turned his back on the DP in their grand coalition with former President Mwai Kibaki, hence their fallout.
“For a house of many people, it is normal for differences to emerge. But that was at the top, not among wananchi. People who have been corrected have a tendency to seek sympathy from their backyards,” the former PM said.
Raila relived his time in the grand coalition, saying he gave the region the largest share of Cabinet portfolios and would not abandon Rift Valley voters either.
“I want you to know Arap Mibei is still the same. My policies and views for the Kalenjin community remain unchanged. I still have allies but many have given me their backs owing to our political differences,” he said.
Analysts see Rift Valley, as a major political battleground for many politicians seeking to ascend to the presidency in 2022.
Raila’s tour comes at a time when his former close allies have abandoned him and joined the United Democratic Alliance (UDA), which Ruto plans to use as his political vehicle in next year’s presidential election.
Notable among them is Turkana governor Josphat Nanok, who was the ODM vice chairman.
Former Bomet Governor Isaac Rutto who was one of the Nasa principals in 2017 has also shifted allegiance to the DP.
Isaac has, however, defied calls by the DP that all those supporting him must join UDA and maintained that he will not fold up his Chama Cha Mashinani (CCM) party.
Raila is currently banking on Elgeyo-Marakwet Governor Alex Tolgos and Menjo to spearhead his campaigns in Elgeyo-Marakwet, Uasin Gishu, Nandi, Kericho and Bomet counties.
Others from the region who are supporting his presidential bid include Narok Senator Ledama ole Kina and MPs Memusi Kanchori (Kajiado Central), Moitalel ole Kenta (Narok North), Nominated Senator Judy Pareno and former Kajiado governor David Nkedianye.
Ruto allies have accused Raila of being behind the rift in Jubilee following his Handshake with President Uhuru Kenyatta, an allegation latter’s allies have dismissed as untrue.
According to Raila allies, the former prime minister is still the man to beat in the Rift Valley region.
In 2013 and 2017, Raila received a sizable number of votes from the region but not as many as 2007, when the region overwhelmingly voted for him.
Raila last week discredited the assertions by Ruto that he delivered the Rift Valley vote in 2007, saying the late Kipkalya Kones steered the team.
“By then, Ruto wanted to be a candidate but shifted to our side during the ODM nominations. Kones then took charge of the South Rift while Ruto was in the North Rift,” he said during a Radio interview.
Dp Ruto is banking heavily on Rift Valley votes and those of Mt Kenya as a head-start in the quest for a round-one win in 2022.
After concluding the engagements in Rift Valley, the ODM train will head to Mt Kenya East where he will meet delegates from Meru, Embu, and Tharaka Nithi.
From Mt Kenya East, the ODM leader will take his troops on a tour of Ukambani to popularise the unity bid and finish with a mega meeting in Nairobi.
Monthly stipends storm
Raila has promised a Sh6,000 monthly stipends if elected president, calling it the “biggest social welfare programme in Africa”.
Addressing supporters at historic Kamukunji grounds in Nairobi on Wednesday, Raila said the initiative, to be rolled out as a direct cash transfer programme, will be given out monthly to two million of the poorest households.
During the tour of Nairobi in the company of both ODM and Jubilee MPs, the ODM boss announced his journey for the third and final liberation.
Raila said the first liberation for Kenya was when the country gained independence, the second was when the new constitution was promulgated and the third will be reviving the economy of the nation.
“We have started the third and final. We must improve the economy, ensure that we provide employment and fight diseases,” said Raila.
While Raila insists his pledge is achievable with sound economic policies he intends to put in place, Ruto said “it’s a way of introducing a hand-out economy” adding that Kenyan youth are in need of jobs and not ‘handouts’.
“Hawa vijana hawataki ‘handouts’ wanataka kazi. Washindani wetu wanataka wabadilishe katiba wagawane vyeo,” Ruto said.
(These youths don’t need ‘handouts’ they want jobs. Our opponents want to amend the constitution to get political positions,” he said on Friday in Coast region.
Ruto, for his part, had said he would take Sh29 billion to boost businesses at the grassroots in the bottom-up approach.
ANC leader Musalia Mudavadi equally poured scorn on the plan as unsustainable, casting doubts on how it would be funded.
“Donors will not come in to fund such a programme. Where are you going to get this extra money that is supposedly free?” asked Mudavadi during an interview on Wednesday.
But Raila team holds that the more people have disposable income, the higher their purchasing power.
Raila, Ruto and Mudavadi are all angling themselves to succeed Uhuru. Kenya will hold elections in August 2022.
Others who have expressed interest in the presidency include ANC party leader Musalia Mudavadi. Wiper party leader Kalonzo Musyoka, Gideon Moi of KANU, Ford Kenya leader Moses Wetangula, businessman Jimi Wanjigi, Murang’a Governor Mwangi Wa Iria, Speaker of the National Assembly Justin Muturi and UNCTAD’s seventh Secretary-General Dr Mukhisa Kituyi.