Kenya 2022: Is Kenyatta losing his grip to Ruto in home turf of Kiambu County?

In depth
This article is part of the dossier: Kenya 2022: Who will win the great race?

By Son Gatitu

Posted on Wednesday, 27 July 2022 11:22, updated on Thursday, 28 July 2022 10:35
William Ruto and his running mate Rigathi Gachagua campaigning in Banana hill, Kiambu county (twitter: @rigathi)

Kenya’s general election has been billed as a contest between political dynasties versus self-made politicians. Kiambu County, which is part of the larger Mt. Kenya region, has traditionally been a vote bank for President Uhuru Kenyatta. But with Deputy President William Ruto gaining in strength, will this election mark the end of Kenyatta influence on Kiambu politics?

Kiambu County is the second largest region by voter population after Nairobi. With 1.27 million registered voters, it has the ability to sway the presidential election in either direction. As a county that has 12 constituencies each represented by an MP in the National Assembly, it also receives one of the highest revenue allocations from the national government – KSh11.7bn ($98.9m) annually.

The Kenyatta family has been at the centre of Kiambu politics since Kenya attained independence in 1963. However, this election looks set to break with the past as the outgoing president, Uhuru Kenyatta, faces a pushback in his backyard propelled by homegrown revolt.

“I thank you for voting for us in 2013 and 2017, that’s why we have been able to do all the work we did here in Kiambu,” Ruto told a campaign meeting on 17 July. “I am asking you, have you prepared yourselves or are [you] waiting to be prepared?”

Recent opinion polls show that Ruto enjoys more than half of the support in Mt. Kenya region, which includes Kiambu. According to polls by research firms TIFA and Infotrak, released in early July, former Prime Minister Raila Odinga had 24% of support in the region. This is the highest poll rating Raila has ever secured in Mt. Kenya in his five presidential bids.

I’d imagine, had Martha Karua not been from the mountain, neither William Ruto nor his running mate Rigathi Gachagua would be spending so much time in the mountain area

“My father [Jaramogi] brought me here and Mzee Kenyatta held my hand,” Raila told a campaign meeting in Gatundu South, the president’s home constituency, on 6 July. “When I come here I feel like I am returning home.”

Even though Raila picked Martha Karua – who hails from Kirinyaga (in Mt. Kenya region) – as his running mate, recent polls show no significant impact to his popularity when compared to poll results before the announcement.

“We haven’t seen a major shift in distribution of expressed voting intention either in the Mt. Kenya region as a whole or especially with women nationally,” says Tom Wolf, a lead researcher at TIFA.

This is complicated by the reality that Ruto also picked his running mate, Rigathi Gachagua, from Nyeri County – another region within Mt. Kenya. “I’d imagine, had Martha Karua not been from the mountain, neither William Ruto nor his running mate Rigathi Gachagua would be spending so much time in the mountain area,” Wolf says.

The Kenyatta factor

In 2017, Kenyatta – who ran for office with Ruto as his deputy nominee – polled an average of 97% in the Mt. Kenya region. He scored 93% of the Kiambu vote, leaving just 7% for Raila.

Four years before that, Kenyatta and Ruto had been facing charges against humanity at the ICC and were criticised for risking the country’s stability over their personal ambitions.

During that year’s presidential debate, Raila expressed doubt over the possibility of Kenyatta governing the country while attending court sessions at The Hague. “I know it will pose serious challenges to run a government via Skype,” Raila had said.

In his current bid for the presidency, Ruto has been reminding supporters of what transpired during the ICC trials. “Were it not for God and your prayers, wouldn’t these people have finished us?” he said in reference to Raila and Karua, both of whom questioned the electability of Kenyatta and Ruto in 2013.

For the ordinary voter, the Kenyatta government, albeit infra-structurally transformative, has been detrimental to their economic fortunes. Even though Kenyatta has explained the economic challenges as unprecedented due to local and external challenges, such as the Covid-19 pandemic and the impact of the Russia-Ukraine war on the global economy, the electorate has been less understanding.

Transitional baggage

Raila finds himself in a difficult situation: To defend an outgoing government on account of his friendship with Kenyatta, while also feeling the urgency to criticise its shortcomings that he conveniently attributes to Ruto’s conduct in the second term.

It’s a double edged sword for both Raila and Ruto

Ruto has however distanced himself from Kenyatta’s shortcomings. He told a campaign rally in Kiambu that “for five years they [Kenyatta and Raila] have been leading the ‘handshake’ government. Has the price of unga [maize flour] lowered or gone up? They are saying they will lower the cost of living, where have they been for the last four years?”

Ruto also harbours bitterness over Kenyatta’s decision to openly support Raila’s presidential bid and accuses the former prime minister of “confusing” his boss following the political truce of March 2018.

“[How is it that] the 10 million of us have no one to lead us until they [had to] go get [Raila] to lead us? Isn’t that contemptuous?” said Ruto at the Kiambu meeting in July.

However, at a campaign rally in Gatundu, Karua hit back at Ruto saying: “A person comes to defame the president in his backyard! It has never happened… Should we allow Uhuru to be threatened with litigation by a person he gave a job to? It is Uhuru who gave the young man [Ruto] a job.”

Kenyatta, who now chairs the council of Raila’s coalition (Azimio la Umoja), has been faithful to the former prime minister – at least in public. “I am seeing the path that this elder [Raila] has taken with Martha who doesn’t joke,” Kenyatta said in Nairobi on 12 July. “These are people who stand for what is right, the others are just about talk and insults.”

In a campaign meeting in Kiambu, Raila promised to honour Kenyatta’s legacy. “Uhuru maybe leaving, but Baba [Raila] here, with ‘mama’ [Karua],” Raila said. “We want to continue with the work that Uhuru has started. We will rectify the challenges you are experiencing, like cost of living, cost of unga and sugar.” Raila was speaking in Gatundu South, an area the Kenyatta family has represented in parliament for 25 years.

As the two presidential candidates use Kenyatta’s name for different strategies, Wolf tells The Africa Report: “It’s a double edged sword for both Raila and Ruto.”  He says: “There are just so many votes [in Mt. Kenya] that even getting an extra couple of percentage points could be the difference once they start counting the votes on 9 August.”

Raising the numbers

In 2017, the voter turn out in Central Kenya (Kiambu, Murang’a, Nyeri, Kirinyaga and Nyandarua counties) was an average of 86%, with 83% in Kiambu County.

Raila and Ruto hope to maximise on the voter turnout in the Mt. Kenya region, with the former prime minister paying special attention to Kiambu as it is a more cosmopolitan area and home to several ethnic communities given its increasing urban culture.

Ruto, however, needs to secure a high voter turnout in Central Kenya. For Ruto to be comfortable ahead of election day, he needs margins as high as what Kenyatta beat Raila with in the region in the past.

Kiambu’s profile

According to the 2019 census report, Kiambu had a population of 2.4 million, becoming the second highest populated county after Nairobi. The population growth has been driven by an increasing rate of urbanisation, yet some of the constituencies in the area remain largely rural and underdeveloped.

Six in every 10 households in the county live in permanent houses, one of the highest rates in the country. One in every 10 households has earth floors. In President Kenyatta’s backyard of Gatundu South constituency, which he represented in parliament (2002-2013), the rate is even higher at 30%.

When it comes to [Kenya Kwanza] events in Mt. Kenya region, the planning meetings are held exclusively by UDA and [the rest of us] are thrown out

The majority of households in Kiambu county have proper waste disposal mechanisms with only one household in 1000 relieving themselves in the open or in bushes. This contrasts with a county like Turkana (one of the poorest) where 681 households in every 1,000 relieve themselves in the open.

As for water, more than half of households in Kiambu county have access to piped water. In Turkana county, only nine in every 100 households have access to piped water.

Economically, the majority of households depend on agriculture both for food and cash crops, but only about 83% engage in agriculture to feed themselves, with 17% engaging in farming for commercial reasons.

Local politics

Kiambu County politics is turning out to be one of the fiercest contests with seven candidates facing off for the governor’s seat. Over the last nine years, three governors have served Kiambu. The current governor, James Nyoro, ascended to the office after Ferdinand Waititu was impeached in December 2019. Waititu had barely served 16 months in office after ousting the first governor, William Kabogo, in the August 2017 general election.

Jilted by the loss, Kabogo took a hard stance against Ruto whom he accused of orchestrating his loss at the Jubilee party nominations that subsequently led to his election loss, pushing him to run as an independent candidate. “When it came to nominations, which I had been assured of, things went south. Ruto was in charge of the exercise and I have no reason to say otherwise,” Kabogo said.

  • In this election, Kabogo is back in the ring to face Nyoro and five others.
  • The current senator, Kimani Wamatangi, is bidding for the seat under Ruto’s UDA ticket with the belief that he stands a better chance given Ruto’s popularity in Kiambu and the Mt. Kenya region.
  • Moses Kuria is running on a Chama cha Kazi ticket after declining to fold his party for UDA. He has, in recent months, fashioned himself as a critic of the UDA, claiming the party’s candidates for various seats in Kiambu have deliberately stood in the way of other parties. “When it comes to [Kenya Kwanza] events in Mt. Kenya region, the planning meetings are held exclusively by UDA and [the rest of us] are thrown out,” Kuria said in mid-June.
  • Others in the governor’s race include Mwende Gatabaki (Safina), Patrick Wainaina Jungle (Independent), and Agnes Ndung’u (Independent).
  • Patrick Wainaina ‘Jungle’ currently serves as the MP for Thika Town and decamped from UDA in April 2022 after losing the party primaries to Senator Wamatangi. Jungle picked President Kenyatta’s relative, Annah Nyokabi, who served as the first female MP representing Kiambu between 2013 and 2017 for a gubernatorial running mate.

Nyokabi lost in the Jubilee party primaries in 2017 to Gathoni Wamuchomba who has since moved his political base to Githunguri, a constituency in Kiambu. Wamuchomba had until June 2021 been a frontline defender of Uhuru, but dumped his Jubilee party fearing for her political survival.

Weight of 9 August

On election day, the Kiambu electorate will have to make tough choices. In backing Ruto, they are revolting against their own son (Uhuru Kenyatta). However, they may also split their votes between Ruto and Raila to safeguard their loyalty to President Kenyatta and his deputy. The latter option might be an easier one at the national level, but the harder choice will be at the local level where good candidates could be lost in political waves and a repeat of the same mistake in 2017 is committed.

Understand Africa's tomorrow... today

We believe that Africa is poorly represented, and badly under-estimated. Beyond the vast opportunity manifest in African markets, we highlight people who make a difference; leaders turning the tide, youth driving change, and an indefatigable business community. That is what we believe will change the continent, and that is what we report on. With hard-hitting investigations, innovative analysis and deep dives into countries and sectors, The Africa Report delivers the insight you need.

View subscription options
Also in this in Depth:

Kenya 2022: Voters fear election violence from resurgent Mungiki sect

With elections in Kenya just two months away, voters are worried about the resurgence of the violent Mungiki gang that unleashed ethnic violence across the country after the 2007 poll.

Kenya 2022: What to expect in this year’s most competitive elections

Political analysts have billed this year’s election as one of the most competitive in Kenya’s history, pitting deputy president William Ruto against the godfather of opposition politics Raila Odinga. There is already fear that the cut-throat competition for the top seat might fail to produce an outright winner hence forcing a run-off.

Kenya: Who’s who in Raila Odinga’s Azimio la Umoja alliance?

Presidential contender and former prime minister Raila Odinga is counting on his skills in building a coalition to take on deputy president William Ruto in the August 2022 polls. One Kenya Alliance leaders Kalonzo Musyoka and Gideon Moi have joined Raila's Azimio la Umoja coalition, setting the stage for a face-off with deputy president William Ruto and his Kenya Kwanza Alliance.

Kenya 2022: Who’s who in William Ruto’s Kenya Kwanza Alliance?

In early April, Deputy President William Ruto, a presidential contender, admitted eight new people to his Kenya Kwanza Alliance, bringing the total number of political parties to 12. However, unlike Raila Odinga’s Azimio la Umoja - a registered coalition party - Kenya Kwanza is an alliance of parties. We outline those closest to Ruto in the alliance.

Kenya: Why Raila & Ruto remain quiet on land justice issues

For the first time in decades, Kenya’s leading presidential candidates are skirting around the explosive issue of land justice – instead of exploiting it as a way to mobilise voters to their campaigns.   Both candidates – for different reasons – have chosen to accept the status quo on legal regime on land rights

Kenya 2022: Who is Rigathi Gachagua, Ruto’s running mate?

Kenya’s Deputy President William Ruto has picked an ardent critic of President Uhuru Kenyatta to deputise him for the next five years should he win the August presidential election.

Kenya 2022: Raila promises the moon with Azimio manifesto

Presidential candidate Raila Odinga's Azimio coalition manifesto promises voters a range of freebies that many political analysts believe will be impossible to fully deliver if he wins the 9 August elections. Will Kenya's 22 million registered voters take the bait?

Can Kenya’s ‘Iron Lady’ Martha Karua push Raila over the top?

Presidential candidate Raila Odinga made Kenyan history this month when he chose as his running mate the first woman to ever join a major party ticket. But will she be able to push the Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Alliance leader to the top?

Kenya 2022: Your guide to the four presidential candidates

On 9 August, more than 22 million Kenyan voters will head to polling stations to choose who will be their leader for the next five years. Four men have presented themselves to succeed President Uhuru Kenyatta. Who are they, and what are they offering?

Kenya 2022: Electoral battlegrounds to watch during polling day

Kenya's two leading presidential candidates are banking on voter turnout in their respective regional strongholds to win the coveted prize. Final opinion polls show former Prime Minister Raila Odinga pulling ahead of Deputy President William Ruto, but a run-off — the first in the nation's history — looms as a possibility. Which regions will determine the big race?

Kenya 2022 elections: Taxes, costlier loans top concerns for businesses ahead of polls

What does Kenya's business community want from the new government that is set to be elected on 9 August?

Kenya 2022: Whose mobilising strategy will win voters?

As Kenya's election day nears, the top presidential contenders William Ruto and Raila Odinga have shifted focus on getting out the vote to ensure a first round win. Who will have the perfect strategy to deliver the knock-out blow on 9 August?

Kenya 2022: Who will be crowned leader of voter-rich Nakuru county?

Kenya’s top presidential candidates William Ruto and Raila Odinga have been competing for attention in the voter-rich Rift Valley region.

Kenya: Why arrest of Venezuelans fuels fear of post-poll turmoil

What appeared as a normal arrest of  a foreigner at Kenya’s main airport has now turned into a major row between the electoral commission and the police, threatening to throw one of the country’s most competitive elections into disarray. Will the elections be deemed credible after all is done and dusted?

Kenya 2022: Could George Wajackoyah force a runoff between Ruto and Odinga?

Kenya's fringe presidential candidate George Wajackoyah is causing shockwaves in the political battlefield with some analysts fearing that his rising popularity might force a run-off for the first time in the country’s history. Is the Wajackoyah effect real or just a passing cloud?

Kenya 2022: Debt, corruption, and living costs top concerns as Kenyans go to polls

A mix of fear and hope hangs over Kenya as more than 22 million registered voters get the chance to elect the country’s next president on Tuesday.

As Kenya voted, the East Africa region watched in awe, desperation

The East African region has been watching Kenya's recent elections unfold. In Uganda, the election evoked recollections of last year's election, which were characterised by violence meted out on opposition politicians. In South Sudan, one of the countries where Kenyans in the diaspora voted, its citizens wondered when their country will hold its first election. Meanwhile, many Tanzanians praised the maturity of Kenya’s democracy.

Kenya elections 2022: Results awaited as candidates ask why so many people did not vote

As Kenyans wait for final results of the tight presidential race pitting deputy president William Ruto against former prime minister Raila Odinga, questions still linger why Kenyans defied the clarion call to turn out in large numbers and vote. Why did millions of Kenyans stay away?

Kenya 2022: International observers praise voting, warn on disinformation

As Kenyans wait for the final presidential results, international observers – in their preliminary reports – say the voting exercise was largely peaceful, even though there has been spread of disinformation that confused some voters.

Kenya 2022: Elections marred by low-voter turnout, technology failure, bribery

After the polls in one of Kenya’s most competitive elections ended on Tuesday evening, the focus now shifts to counting the presidential votes. Who between William Ruto and Raila Odinga will win the coveted prize?

Kenya 2022: Why Kenyans must wait before results are announced

22.1 million Kenyan voters are expected to head to their voting stations to choose who their leaders for the next five years will be. However, Kenyans will have to wait nearly a week to find out who will be the winner of this highly anticipated election due to the strict legal regime of the tallying process. We break down the process and voting technicalities.

Kenya 2022: Ruto declared winner of presidential election, Raila to contest in court

After nearly a week of tallying ballots, Kenya's Independent Electoral Bureau Commission (IEBC) has officially declared Deputy President William Ruto of the Kenya Kwanza Alliance as the fifth president of the country.

Kenya 2022: Raila and Ruto are poaching star journalists as the independent media declines

With less than six months before one of the tightest presidential elections in Kenya’s history, the two main contenders have recruited journalists for leading roles in their campaign.

Kenya: Why does the electoral commission struggle with elections each time?

Despite being allocated billions of shillings every five years, the electoral body continues to fail the test of delivering a free, fair and verifiable presidential election leaving many voters worried about the country’s political future. Is delivering an uncontested presidential election in Kenya an impossible task? And what really happened this time round?