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.”

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