Kenya elections: Battle between Ruto and Odinga for vote-rich Mount Kenya region intensifies

By Victor Abuso
Posted on Thursday, 7 July 2022 19:41, updated on Monday, 11 July 2022 11:14

Kenya's President William Ruto in Nairobi, Kenya, 30 June 2022. REUTERS/Monicah Mwangi

Kenya’s leading presidential candidates, Raila Odinga and Deputy President William Ruto, both pitched camp in the vote-rich Mount Kenya region this week to seek support ahead of next month’s polls.

Mount Kenya is home to the outgoing president, Uhuru Kenyatta, but is now perceived to be Ruto’s stronghold, according to opinion polls.

Odinga, who is running for presidency for the fifth time since 1997, has never won many votes from the region. Mount Kenya boasts more than five million voters, out of more than 22 million voters countywide who are eligible to vote this year, according to data from the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC).

However, with Odinga’s decision to pick Martha Karua – who hails from Kirinyaga County in Mount Kenya – as his running mate and having secured Kenyatta’s support, Odinga is now attracting crowds in a region where he rarely campaigned before.

Time to return the favour?

Speaking on 5 July, Odinga and Karua said the time has come for voters to respond in kind to the support that was offered to the late President Mwai Kibaki in 2002 through the ‘Kibaki Tosha (Kibaki is enough)’ declaration.

“I ensured that Kibaki clinched the presidency. It is now your time to reciprocate that favour,” Odinga said during a political rally in Nyeri County in the heart of Mount Kenya.

Odinga has promised that he will follow through on projects undertaken by the current administration, and that his government will reduce the cost of living within the first 100 days, if he wins the presidency.

“I have agreed with President Kenyatta that I will continue with the projects he has started,” he told supporters during a rally in Gatundu constituency.

Karua, for her part, reminded voters that it was Odinga who helped the country to stabilise after the disputed 2017 elections, following his famous handshake with Kenyatta in March the following year.

“You won’t defeat me”

An opinion poll conducted by Infotrak in June indicates that though Odinga has made some headway in the region, with 27% popularity, Ruto still has a commanding lead at 52%.

Speaking to voters in Meru County this week, Ruto said he is confident of beating his main rival in the 9 August elections. “We shall send him [Odinga] home. He should accept the results,” Ruto told supporters in Meru town.

Ruto promises to improve the economy of the Mount Kenya region, if he wins the election, by providing loans to boost businesses of young people and farmers, in particular.

“We shall invest KSh50bn [$423m] to boost your businesses,” he told supporters.

Making headway

According to Kevin Kegoli, an analyst in Nairobi, the headway that Odinga is making in Mount Kenya after settling on Karua as his running mate might deny Ruto the presidency, if the opinion polls are anything to go by.

“Ruto is still strong in that region, but [Raila] Odinga’s gaining popularity. That should worry Ruto,” he tells The Africa Report.

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