• The DP seems to enjoy near fanatical following across the 10 counties of Kiambu, Murang’a, Nyeri, Kirinyaga, Nyandarua, Laikipia, Nakuru, Embu, Tharaka Nithi and Meru.
• His rallies and roadside meetings are usually well attended, more than any other presidential candidate.
There have been a lot of talk as to why Deputy President William Ruto is popular in the Mt Kenya region, something that ideally should be a misnomer owing to the nature of our politics.
This is even more intriguing since Ruto isn’t from the region and it is the first time since the advent of multi-party politics that this region is solidly behind a candidature of someone other than their own. In fact, a stereotype has been perpetuated that its very hard to get three things from a person from that region — money, land and a vote.
However, things seem to be different this time round and judging by recent events, the DP seems to enjoy near fanatical following across the 10 counties of Kiambu, Murang’a, Nyeri, Kirinyaga, Nyandarua, Laikipia, Nakuru, Embu, Tharaka Nithi and Meru.
His rallies and roadside meetings are usually well attended, more than any other presidential candidate. Further, most MPs are aligned to him as the the Jubilee deputy party leader. The masses have become radicalised, with some going as far as printing T-shirts and posters way ahead of the 2022 presidential campaigns.
How did this happen? How can a region whose voting pattern and allegiance has been fairly predictable take a different turn altogether to the chagrin of pundits, analysts and power brokers?
To begin with, the people of the mountain feel indebted to Ruto in the manner in which he stood with them during the International Criminal Court cases. Having been accused together with President Uhuru Kenyatta, Ruto attended many prayer meetings across the region.
Further, a lot of reconciliation meetings between the Kikuyu and the Kalenjin were held, culminating into the election of Uhuru and Ruto (UhuRuto) as President and Deputy President in 2013.
The masses feel that since coming to power, Ruto has been closer to them and stood with his boss in the first term, always visiting to launch projects across the region. He thus made crucial contacts with many opinion leaders, especially through the church administration.
In addition, Uhuru promised at Afraha Stadium when they joined hands that ‘Ni yangu kumi na ya Ruto kumi’. Voters, especially women, feel obligated to keep the promise, lest the region is accused of dishonesty. This is after other leaders who have supported the region in the past such as Kalonzo Musyoka and Raila Odinga failed to secure such currency in their subsequent bids to succeed President Mwai Kibaki in 2013.
It is also true that Raila has been demonised for more than 25 years in the region, owing to the rivalry that emanated from the political competition between his father, Jaramogi Odinga, and Founding President Jomo Kenyatta.
In fact, many voters turn out to vote against Raila rather than the presidential candidate at hand, leading to a supremacy contest between the Luos and the Kikuyus. Ruto, therefore, provides a plausible alternative to him since he stood with them again in 2017, and even further after the nullification of the presidential election when Raila petitioned the Supreme Court.
While the ‘handshake’ was initially appreciated by many from the region as a means of calming the turmoil that led to the post-election violence in 2017, it was later perceived to have a political motive to sideline Ruto, in favour of Raila, while Uhuru comes back as prime minister.
This thinking was fomented by Raila allies such as Cotu boss Francis Atwoli, who questioned the logic of Uhuru retiring while he was still "young". It is instructive to note that Uhuru will be nearly 62 years by the time he finishes his second and final term.
Ruto has visited Central Kenya countless times and is the one in touch with the elected leaders. He is accessible and has also demonstrated acumen in giving detailed account of government projects specific to the needs of the particular area he visits.
He has also created a ‘hustler nation' narrative that resonates with the masses due to his poor background — starting as ‘chicken seller’. The region feels let down by the Jubilee administration under President Kenyatta since residents had very high hopes when they elected him. A poorly performing economy owing to fiscal mismanagement, coupled with the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic hasn’t helped the situation either.
Unlike other regions, Mt Kenya decides and choses its leader independently, and moves onto another without coercion. This is what happened after 1992 when support shifted from Kenneth Matiba to Mwai Kibaki in 1997, then to Uhuru in 2013.
Ruto’s credentials of not having lost an election, his association with younger leaders who reflect and therefore resonate with the demographics of the region make the people of the mountain bank their future with him.
The jury is still at large but as things stand, Ruto is way ahead of his competitors.