KWENDO OPANGA: Raila’s tortoise leads Ruto’s hare

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Nairobi

President Kenyatta’s Jubilee Party, Odinga and the Orange Democratic Movement and Musyoka and the Wiper Democratic Movement have since 2019 vilified Ruto as the chief priest in Kenya’s temple of corruption. The mud and muck so thrown have stuck.

By Kwendo Opanga

Now that the polls commission has completed the clearance of candidates for the August 9 General Election and the twin Houses of Parliament stand dissolved, electioneering proper has, at long last, officially got underway.

However, with campaigns having started as early as 2020, most electors, at the urging of their parties and or coalitions, appear to have made up their minds about their choices for the six posts on the ballot.

RAILA ODINGA

Therefore the presidential campaign proper may be a dogfight between the protagonists for the estimated 4 million-plus undecided voters. Even if the tickets have held back hot button issues to be unleashed at the eleventh hour, these may not move the needle.

This piece looks at the current electoral scenario from six perspectives which could influence the reactions and or decisions of voters regarding the leading platforms, and how these may play out on the road to polling day.

The hare and the tortoise

Throughout 2021 and the first quarter of 2022, Deputy President William Ruto had played the hare to veteran campaigner Raila Odinga’s tortoise, with most pollsters predicting an outright win for the DP in the presidential race.

RAILA ODINGA AND MARTHA KARUA

But the tide has changed and, per this week’s polls, the pendulum has swung in Odinga’s favour. The turning point appears to have come with the presentation of Ms Martha Karua as his running mate last month.

With 60-plus days to go, pollsters suggest the momentum is with Odinga and Karua, which is why their support is on the up and up. This spells disaster for Ruto and running mate Rigathi Gachagua.

They trail by four percentage points at the wrong time. A further slide for them, or an uptick by Odinga and Karua, would translate to an Azimio landslide in August.

The running mate effect

Odinga and Karua recalls the 2007 pairing of Mr Kalonzo Musyoka and Dr Julia Ojiambo, but that is where the similarity ends. Karua has brought energy, gusto and chutzpah to the Azimio ticket and electrified the campaign like never before.

Crucially, this is not confined to the Mount Kenya region, from where she hails, or among the womenfolk, but cuts across regions and demographics. Karua has had a butterfly effect on the Azimio campaign.

DP William Ruto, President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga

Gachagua has not matched Karua’s electricity or magnetism with the crowds and especially in his native Mount Kenya region. His acceptance speech lacked the passion, history and anecdotes in Karua’s.

And, worse, critics seized on the graft case against him to paint the United Democratic Alliance (UDA) ticket, and the Kenya Kwanza Alliance, as powered by ill-gotten wealth.

Power of propaganda

President Kenyatta’s Jubilee Party, Odinga and the Orange Democratic Movement and Musyoka and the Wiper Democratic Movement have since 2019 vilified Ruto as the chief priest in Kenya’s temple of corruption. The mud and muck so thrown have stuck.

DP William Ruto, President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga during the launch of the BBI

Ruto’s refined and distilled definition of the UDA platform as anchored in uplifting Kenya’s struggling masses is a brilliant populist pitch as is bottom-up as a launch pad for integration of the downtrodden into the economy.

But, they are buried in the hisses and boos, jeers and catcalls, about thieves and thievery, hurled at Ruto and Kenya Kwanza operatives.

The situation is made worse by the fact that Ruto’s allies, such as Mr Musalia Mudavadi, a former Deputy Premier, Dr Alfred Mutua, outgoing Machakos governor and Mr Justin Muturi, outgoing House Speaker, previously tore into the person of Ruto and his policies before they joined Kenya Kwanza.

Ruto & Co are highly unlikely to win the propaganda war.

One is judged by the company one keeps

At the launch of Azimio’s manifesto at Nyayo National Stadium, leaders of the coalition’s affiliates were paraded on the podium. The line-up both awed and wowed the audience, partisan though it was.

It included Musyoka, a former V-P, Dr Mukhisa Kituyi, a former UNCTAD Secretary General, Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya, Kitui Governor Charity Ngilu, Mr Nick Salat of KANU, standing in for Gideon Moi, Mr Wafula Wamunyinyi of DAPK and Karua of NARC-Kenya, to name but a few. They form a powerful political caucus.

Strategically absent, but obviously keeping abreast of the proceedings, was President  Kenyatta. He is the chairman of the Azimio Council. Then there are his  advisors, aka the billionaires of the Mount Kenya Foundation. They back Azimio.

And there are 30-plus first and second term governors who are found more on the Azimio campaign trail than in their offices. Who are their counterweights? Kenya Kwanza’s leading lights include Ruto, Gachagua, Mudavadi, Muturi, Moses Wetang’ula, at most eight sitting governors. Then there are the fire-spitting MPs Aisha Jumwa, Moses Kuria, Ndindi Nyoro, Alice Wahome, Didmus Barasa and Oscar Sudi.

On this level, this contest is a mismatch. Confidence and experience, competence and performance, reside in Azimio.

Attraction of razzmatazz

Azimio events are carnivals. They  are eruptions of celebration; exhibitions of colour and creativity, and displays of fashion, culture and variety. They ooze organisation and extravagance.

The spectacular fireworks display that rent the Nairobi night, lit up its skyline and dazzled and rattled residents on June 6, caused many to ask: what’s going on? Azimio was celebrating the end of its four-hour-long launch of its 84-page, A4-size manifesto, and announcing the start of its electioneering proper.

The optics channelled success.

Who will the money follow?

Ask any voter who follows elections why aspirants are not spending freely and they will tell you they are tight-fisted because the last days of July and first week of August are a long way away.

President Uhuru Kenyatta- Photo/Courtesy

So it is a good bet Azimio and Kenya Kwanza or Ruto and Odinga are soliciting funds from businesses and donors to political causes to see them through the home stretch. Who will carry the day?

First, such financiers, local or foreign, regard their contributions as investments and, therefore, expect a return on their money. They will not want to back a losing horse. Second, they are likely to follow the money and that will lead them first  to the Mount Kenya Foundation.

Long story short, it will be much easier for Azimio to raise money for the final push than it will be for Ruto & Co. (At the time of writing this piece, Ruto, Odinga, Musyoka and Karua were overseas, possibly on fundraising missions.)

Prognosis

Ruto & Co have their work cut out. They have to pick themselves up, pick up the pieces and wage the war of their lives over the next two months. They have to repackage hustler politics and bottom-up economics and re-energise the troops from the grassroots up.

Ends

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