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.

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