by Seth Onyango
That Deputy President William Ruto has launched an early and major campaign blitz ahead of the 2022 poll is no longer in doubt.
And even though it may come across as a random (kutanga tanga) mission to roll out Jubilee Party’s manifesto, the man who styles himself the ‘Hustler’ and President Uhuru Kenyatta’s jamaa wa mkono (handyman), Ruto has his eye firmly trained on succeeding his boss, whose second and final term ends in about four years.
The DP continues to cast his net far and wide as he crafts a formidable campaign machinery to propel him to State House in the 2022 poll.
A critical review of what is emerging as a neatly woven itinerary reveals a campaign strategy gradually getting retooled and oiled to guarantee ruthless efficiency to meet the logistical challenges and resource availability for mobilisation.
And though precise monetary figure on what the Jubilee machine used in the 2017 poll juggernaut, estimates nonetheless put it at around Sh15billion. But this figure might appreciate given that Ruto has rolled off his campaigns considerably much earlier.
A constellation of regional point-men, trusted aides, political think tanks and carefully selected Jubilee party functionaries are being assembled for an all-out onslaught as they map out a number of counties he deems crucial in determining his 2022 fate.
It is on that canvas that his itinerary has been drawn with the specific aim of ramping up the poll momentum.
Behind the façade of trips, touted as ‘inspection of government development projects” lays a well-crafted political agenda.
And last evening, one of Ruto’s staunchest allies, Aden Duale, the Garissa Town MP who is also Leader of Majority in the National Assembly said the DPP was traversing parts of the country on two grounds; implementation of Jubilee manifesto in his capacity as the President’s principal assistant and lay the ground for 2022.
“The areas you are talking about have traditionally been opposition zones, which the DP is determined to turn around. I can tell you without any doubt that Ruto will win the 2022 presidential race with over 65 per cent votes and more than 250 MPs. It is going to be the mother of all campaigns,” Duale told the People Daily.
Duale said the DP’s trips are carefully choreographed and designed to achieve the intended goal…delivering the seat in 2022.
Tellingly, Ruto’s itinerary for the past three months shows the trips have revolved around specific regions – where his handlers believe he has the potential to flip the tide.
In recent months, Ruto has made dozens of trips to Kakamega, Meru, Kilifi, Kiambu and hosted leaders from the areas in a strategy to deliberately entrench himself.
In Central Kenya, he has been aggressive in the vote-rich Kiambu county— home county of the president— where his staunchest point-men led by Governor Ferdinand Waititu and Kikuyu MP Kimani Ichung’wah appear to be leaving nothing to chance.
The courtship is also focused in Murang’a and Kirinyaga where governors Mwangi wa Iria and Anne Waiguru respectively appear to be doing his bidding. But he has also reached out to Nyeri and Nyandarua.
Not surprisingly, over the past three months alone, the DP has visited the Central region more than 20 times.
Special focus has been Kiambu, considering its potential to determine his presidential fortunes. His strategy to bag the over five million votes from Mt Kenya region include launching development projects almost every weekend, hosting MPs at his Karen home and sending massive contributions to harambees.
According to political analyst Phillip Chebunet, Ruto’s strategy in Central is to play loyalist politics as he hopes for an endorsement. “He is going out there and saying nimetumwa (I’ve been sent by the President) because he knows the advantage of being loyal,” he said.
He also argues that Ruto’s charm offensive in other regions is informed by the fact that he may not necessarily be endorsed by the President, sentiments also echoed by political analyst Kissinger Kakai.
“The President has not spoken about the endorsement and there is the Handshake and Ruto has to be prepared for any eventuality,” said Chebunet.
The leader of Minority in the National Assembly and ODM chairman John Mbadi, concurs but for different reasons. According to Mdadi, the DP’s visits are premised on fear and panic.
“It is out of fear and panic that he has started his campaigns. If you have been following the country’s politics well, and in particular President Uhuru Kenyatta’s remarks and body language, you can clearly tell that the DP is not in his succession plans,” Mbadi said.
He also claimed that Ruto heightened campaigns across the country disguised as overseeing and launching development projects, soon after the March 9 Handshake between President Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga.
“Since then, he knew quite clearly that he has to up his game to be in a position to beat Raila. But let him wait for us in 2022,” added Mbadi.
Ruto is also campaigning on the premise of well-publicised pledge that Uhuru, who he supported to win the presidency in 2013 and 2017 polls, will endorse him as successor.
And without written on stone guarantee there will be reciprocity from Central, the DP will be hoping to keep this base excited as it may have the much-needed trump card to change his elections fortunes.
And what appears to be his Plan B, Ruto has been on a charm offensive in Western Kenya counties of Kakamega and Bungoma.
According to Kakai, Ruto will be hoping to take advantage of Western, which never votes as a bloc, and build on the sympathiser votes that Jubilee got in the last General Election. Over the past three months, he has frequented Western to nurture and marshal such support.
In the last election, Jubilee scooped eight of 33 parliamentary seats in the western region, which had been considered the backyard of the Opposition. UhuRuto made a significant improvement on the presidential votes he got from the region compared to the 2013 election results. In Kakamega, Jubilee chalked up 63,191 votes, up from the 12,469 he got in 2013.
In Bungoma, they managed 125,865 votes; an improvement from the 42,988 of 2013, while in Vihiga County UhuRuto got 18,254, up from 2,542 in 2013. They also picked 34,400 votes; up from the 8,186 they got in 2013 in Busia.
Jubilee won four parliamentary seats in Kakamega while ANC got five, ODM won two and Ford Kenya a single seat.
But the DP has faced stiff roadblocks considering the area is where Raila has enjoyed massive support in the last three elections.
Nonetheless, Ruto has remained steadfast, managing to earn the support of key leaders in the region including a once vicious critic and former Kakamega Senator BoniKhalwale.
Khalwale is now emerging as one of his point men come 2022 with speculations rife that he might join forces with Bungoma Senator and Ford-K leader Moses Wetang’ula to drum up support for the DP
Interestingly, other leaders keen to chart the political destiny of the region include Amani National Congress leader Musalia Mudavadi, Wetang’ula and Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya— all with presidential ambitions.
Ruto cannot afford to ignore Western since it is the viable alternative should Central Kenya choose not to “return the favour,” said Kakai. Subsequently, Western and Central are seen as the likely regions where Ruto could turn to for running mate.
In the former Eastern Province, the DP has been keen to consolidate support in traditionally Jubilee leaning counties of Meru, Embu and Tharaka Nithi. Over the same period, the DP has visited Meru and Embu more than six times, relying on main point men, Meru Senator Kithure Kindiki and Tharaka Nithi Governor Muthomi Njuki to do the groundwork.
At the Coast and parts of Nyanza, Ruto is keen to take advantage of the tranquil environment created courtesy of the truce between President Kenyatta and Raila to make inroads in the region.
Just last week, he was in Luo Nyanza to commission and initiate projects, something that would have created waves before the Handshake. And here too, he has identified a group of politicians he hopes to work with, including besieged Migori Governor Okoth Obado, two sitting MPs, four ex-legislators and a number of prospective 2022 aspirants.
Neighbouring Luo Nyanza, Ruto has been making inroads in Kisii and Nyamira considered swing vote areas and considering Jubilee Party got substantial votes there in the last poll.
Ruto has also been keen on the Coast region, with 1.7 million registered voters in the last election. Mombasa leads the six Coast counties with about 580,223 registered voters, followed by Kilifi, 508,068, Kwale, 281,041 and Tana River, 118,327.
Taita Taveta has 155,716 registered voters while Lamu has 69,776. Though Jubilee faired badly against ODM just like it did in 2013, it, however, made significant gains and won some seats — including two governor seats; Salim Mvurya (Kwale) and Fahim Twaha(Lamu) in the Coast.
But it is Kilifi he has made most trips and while some leaders including Governor Amason Kingi are ambivalent, Malindi MP Aisha Jumwa has been vocally supportive of the DPs 2022 bid.
In Kilifi and Mombasa, Ruto is keen to build on the warm reception he has been receiving from the erstwhile Opposition strongholds. He has got a rare welcome from MPs allied to Governors Hassan Joho (Mombasa) and Kingi (Kilifi).
But Ruto has not neglected his Rift Valley home turf, conducting a series of rallies and developmental tours to cement his grip of the region. And even with Baringo Senator Gideon Moi also setting his eyes on 2022 the widespread perception is that the DP is far ahead.
The DP has also deployed his campaign machinery in pastoralist counties including Kajiado, West Pokot, Marsabit, Narok and Samburu regions with close ethnic proximity with his Kalenjin stock.