Kenya 2022: Whose mobilising strategy will win voters?

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

By Jeff Otieno

Posted on Friday, 5 August 2022 10:15, updated on Monday, 8 August 2022 14:19
A bus drives past banners for Kenyan presidential candidates Raila Odinga, left, and William Ruto, right, on a road in the Mathare neighbourhood of Nairobi, Kenya Monday, Aug. 1, 2022. (AP Photo/Brian Inganga)

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?

On 28 July, while on a campaign trail in Nakuru county, Azimio La Umoja flagbearer Raila Odinga launched a grassroots movement dubbed Rauka na Firimbi (wakeup on the whistle call) tasked with getting out the vote for the coalition party on 9 August.

“We will have our people moving from one village to another waking up our supporters in the wee hours of the morning using a whistle to go and cast their ballot. We want to win this election in round one,” said Raila, blowing a whistle hanging around his neck.

His main rival in the presidential election, Deputy President William Ruto, also responded by unveiling a door-to-door mobilisation programme in his strongholds to ensure a high voter turnout on D-day.

“We will have groups in our strongholds of Mt Kenya region and Rift Valley facilitating the movement of our supporters to various polling stations. We are leaving nothing to chance,” said Ruto’s running mate Rigathi Gachagua at a Kenya Kwanza alliance rally in Nyeri on 30 July.

Youth and women lobby groups 

Youth and women lobby groups allied to the Azimio coalition and the Kenya Kwanza alliance have already begun mobilising supporters ahead of the polls.

Ronald Njoroge, a resident of Nairobi’s Mathare slum, is one of the many voters who have been visited by members of lobby groups campaigning for the two presidential contenders.

“They came to confirm whether I am a registered voter and where my polling station is. They took my details and gave me some party merchandise and money to buy food,” says Njoroge, who declined to reveal the candidate he will vote for.

A billboard asking Kenyans to vote for Kenyan presidential candidate Raila Odinga, referred to affectionately as “Baba”, the Swahili word for “father”, and his running mate Martha Karua, rises above shacks in the Mathare neighbourhood of Nairobi, Kenya Friday, July 29, 2022. (AP Photo/Brian Inganga)

The youth lobby groups for Azimio are Sibanduki kwa Raila, Warembo na Raila and Young Turks for Handshake Alliance. Kenya Kwanza has Wasupa na Ruto, Queens na Ruto, Mbogi ya Hustler Nation and Partners with William Samoei Ruto.

In Nairobi and Mt Kenya region, women operating under the ‘million women for Martha’ movement are busy mobilising female voters to rally behind Raila’s running mate, Martha Karua.

“We are out in the streets and in the villages to ensure Martha gets the majority of the female vote in the Mt Kenya region. We want to make sure she breaks the gender ceiling and becomes Kenya’s first female deputy president,” says Jane Wangari on the campaign trail in Kiambu county.

However, the group will not have it easy as the United Democratic Alliance (UDA) party’s women’s league is also out in full force targeting the same female voters in the region.

“Our presidential candidate has signed a charter with the women of Kenya and stated clearly what he has in store for them. Our aim is to bring more women on board to vote for Ruto,” says Kandara MP Alice Wahome, a member of the group.

MOU with evangelicals

The deputy president is also banking on evangelical churches to get out the vote for his Kenya Kwanza alliance. In the past nine years, Ruto has developed a strong bond with the evangelicals donating millions of shillings to fund various religious activities.

He has gone further, signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with some church organisations ostensibly to lock out Raila in the vote-rich Mt Kenya region.

He (Ruto) has been a friend of the church and has assisted in the growth of Christian institutions, assisted in the translation of the Bible into many vernacular languages. We shall mobilize our faithful to vote for Ruto come August 9.

The Association of Pentecostal and Evangelical Churches (APEC) and the Federation of Evangelical and Indigenous Churches of Kenya (FEICK) through their leaders Daniel Kabono and Bishop Samuel Njiriri openly endorsed Ruto’s presidential bid after inking the deal.

A billboard for Kenyan presidential candidate William Ruto is seen in the Mathare neighbourhood of Nairobi, Kenya Friday, July 29, 2022. (AP Photo/Brian Inganga)

“He (Ruto) has been a friend of the church and has assisted in the growth of Christian institutions, assisted in the translation of the Bible into many vernacular languages. We shall mobilize our faithful to vote for Ruto come August 9,” says Kabono.

According to the cleric, the MOU between his association and Ruto will see among others the establishment of the office of the Registrar for Christian affairs, establishment of church courts and appointment of clergy in the county and national governments.

However, some religious leaders have criticised the MOU, insisting that the church must always remain neutral in politics.

“Church leaders do not and cannot take partisan positions nor endorse any specific candidate. Instead, we pray for and work with whoever comes to power,” says David Oginde, the former presiding Bishop of Christ is the Answer Ministry (CITAM).

Constitutional lawyer  Bobby Mkangi also faults the deal noting the constitution clearly states that Kenya is a secular state.

“Such an MOU is so particular to a Pentecostal and Evangelical church and even leaves behind other denominations hence there would be opposition from the church itself,” observes Mkangi.

Music caravans and foreign artists

The well-funded Azimio coalition, on the other hand, is using music caravans to spread the get-out-and-vote message. The project which is co-sponsored by the Royal Media Services is attracting large crowds in various counties due to the inclusion of popular local musicians who not only entertain but also campaign for Raila.

The involvement of the media company has attracted heavy criticism from Kenya Kwanza alliance politicians who accuse the broadcast giant of bias. Media mogul Samuel Macharia, the proprietor of the company, has openly declared his support for Raila.

Azimio is not only using local musicians in its mobilisation strategy but also foreign artists. Recently the former prime minister included the Congolese songbird Mbilia Bel in his campaigns in Mt Kenya and the western region to help bolster his support.

  • In Nyeri, for example, Bel urged women to vote for ‘baba na mama’ – the nickname for the Odinga-Karua ticket – on election day.

God bless baba and mama. Vote for them because they are good people,” said Bel after entertaining the crowd with some of her popular hit songs.

In Kakamega county, Bel and Raila danced to popular Congolese music, exciting Azimio supporters who came in their thousands to see their favourite musician. Bel took the opportunity to urge her music fans to vote for the Azimio flagbearer and ensure nobody is left behind on election day.

Security officials in campaigns

To ensure his estranged deputy does not succeed him, President Uhuru Kenyatta and some of his cabinet secretaries have also hit the ground running ahead of the election day.

Internal Security Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiangi and his Principal Secretary Karanja Kibicho, for example, are meeting chiefs and county commissioners in various counties  “to enlighten them on their election responsibilities”.

“We are here to tell chiefs not to be afraid of helping voters make the right choices by telling them to critically look at the integrity of the two presidential tickets,” said Kibicho during a recent security meeting in Kisii county.

Issues of integrity have been Kenya Kwanza’s Achilles’ heel and matters became worse on  28 July after the Anti-corruption court ordered Gachagua to surrender KSh200m ($1,679,966) to the state saying the money was acquired fraudulently.

Both Ruto and Gachagua have criticised the government for ‘coercing’ chiefs to campaign for Raila promising to promote those who defy the order once they form the next government.

“Mr President, why are chiefs and other public servants being forced in secret meetings to undermine, manipulate and sabotage peaceful elections? What will it benefit you to foment conflict among innocent Kenyans? Boss, let’s not take the country in this direction,” Ruto lamented on Twitter recently.

However, Matiangi has dismissed the deputy president’s allegations, maintaining that it is their responsibility as public servants in charge of security to meet chiefs and county commissioners any day and time.

Trade unions endorsements

Both candidates have also sought the help of trade unions in their effort to increase voter turnout which some analysts fear might be low due to the economic hardships facing Kenyans.

Raila, for example, has received the backing of the Central Organization of Trade Unions (COTU), whose secretary general, Francis Atwoli, is one of the top campaigners for the Azimio flagbearer. His running mate, Karua, has also been endorsed by officials of the Kenya National Union of Teachers (KNUT) and the Kenya Union of Post Primary Education Teachers (KUPPET).

Ruto, on the other hand, has won the support of the Kenya National Union of Nurses (KNUN) led by its secretary general Seth Panyako who is also a member of the deputy president’s United Democratic Alliance (UDA) party.

However, Political Analyst John Charo says the endorsement by top officials of labour unions will have minimal impact, noting that it is difficult to rally all members behind one presidential candidate.

“Since our politics is based on personality and ethnicity both presidential candidates will still get votes from members of the mentioned trade unions despite the endorsements,” observes Charo.

Relief food in campaigns

Endorsements aside, politicians allied to the two rival camps are also exploiting the poor economic situation by dangling the relief food carrot as an enticement to deliver a high voter turnout for their coalitions.

I have received relief food, mainly maize flour and cooking oil from both Kenya Kwanza and Azimio politicians. Some even promised to pay my bus fare to the polling station,

Francis Mutinda, a resident of the Korogocho slum in the capital city has benefited from relief food distributed by politicians belonging to the two coalitions.

“I have received relief food, mainly maize flour and cooking oil from both Kenya Kwanza and Azimio politicians. Some even promised to pay my bus fare to the polling station,” says Mutinda, a staunch supporter of Kalonzo Musyoka the leader of the Wiper Democratic Movement party, one of the founding members of the Azimio coalition.

He says residents in the expansive slum have perfected the art of ‘eating’ from both camps due to the high cost of living and do not care much who wins the presidential race.

Media advertisements

Both Ruto and Raila have spent millions of shillings erecting massive billboards on strategic points, mainly along busy highways, to drive home the get-out-and-vote message.

Apart from outdoor advertisement, Raila has also splashed the cash on adverts in traditional media targeting both young and old voters.

“Remember every vote counts. Make sure you vote blue (Azimio) on August 9. Do not be left behind because change is coming,” says one advert airing on broadcast media.

It is unfortunate the campaign period is coming to an end on August 6. We have been treated like Kings by politicians because they want our votes, however after elections they will forget us for the next five years.

According to Senator Johnstone Sakaja, who was in Kenyatta’s presidential campaign team in 2013 and 2017, to mount a serious presidential race one needs more than KSh5bn ($41,999,160).

“Procuring campaign merchandise, mobilisation and hiring of agents consume the biggest chunk of campaign monies,” says Sakaja.

In the meantime, Mutinda and his colleagues are busy moving from one campaign rally to another hoping to receive relief food, money and any other goodies being dished out by the two camps.

“It is unfortunate the campaign period is coming to an end on August 6. We have been treated like Kings by politicians because they want our votes, however, after elections, they will forget us for the next five years.”

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

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?

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: 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?