As it garners support, the opposition alliance insists that it cannot lose the election unless it is stolen
There is a spring in the step of the opposition National Super Alliance (Nasa) just over four weeks before the general elections. Much of Kenya's political class concedes that the polls are looking far closer than they did six months ago; many are bracing themselves for fierce battles in the Rift Valley and at the Coast (see Map below).
After the chaos and confusion of its early days, Nasa is now running an energetic and determined campaign based on using three main tactics: personality, ethnicity and blaming the governing Jubilee alliance for high food prices and corruption. That has paid off, say the opinion surveys, despite all the caveats that accompany polling data (AC Vol 58 No 13, Opinion polls in question). Nasa's gains owe much to the new-found unity of its five principals: Raila Amolo Odinga, Moses Simiyu Wetangula, Stephen Kalonzo Musyoka, Wycliffe Musalia Mudavadi and Isaac Kiprono Ruto. The message of unity at the top of the Alliance – something quite rare in opposition formations – has energised three of their respective ethnic bastions: Luo for Raila, Luhya for Mudavadi and Wetangula, and Kamba for Kalonzo. Ruto's influence among his Kipsigis branch of the Kalenjin people is so far limited.
Nasa reckons it has locked in the Coast constituencies. According to its policy think tank, led by economist David Ndii and University of Nairobi politics lecturer Adams Oloo, these provinces (Nyanza, Western, Eastern, Coast and part of the Rift Valley) could give Nasa ten million of the 19.6 mn. votes at stake (AC Vol 58 No 10, Uhuru spends, Raila promises). 'Ten million Strong!' is now a popular slogan at Nasa rallies.
The underlying message from Raila's core constituency among the Luo is that he was cheated of victory in the 2007 and 2013 general elections but this time, people will take to the streets, come what may, should they consider the presidential poll to be rigged. Raila has repeatedly accused Jubilee of planning to rig the election, most recently in the award of a tender to print the ballots to Al Ghurair Printing and Publishing Company, from Dubai, United Arab Emirates, a firm he claims has intimate connections with the Kenyatta family (AC Vol 58 No 6, Poll calendar under pressure & Vol 58 No 9, Motorcade, treason and plot).
Alarmingly, the opposition campaign is also taking an anti-Kikuyu tone. A 23 June post on the website of the Nasa-supporting daily Star regarding the Al Ghurair contract, for instance, states that: 'All the pain and suffering Kenyans are enduring has been put to them by Kikuyus… This is why Kenyans cannot accept another Kikuyu president'.
Ndii (a Kikuyu) wrote in his Daily Nation column that 'Kikuyu culture has been bastardised… by avarice and debauchery'. More generally, ethnic nationalism on all sides is becoming dangerously reminiscent of the run-up to the 2007 elections, in which over 1,200 people lost their lives and around a third of a million people were chased from their homes. The memory of those horrors dampened down tension in the lead up to the 2013 elections but not this time.
There is, however, an electoral cost to blatantly ethnic electioneering because the winning candidate has to win support from a broad range of the country's ethnic groups. In addition to obtaining over 50% of the popular vote, a successful presidential candidate must obtain 25% of the vote in half of Kenya's 47 counties. This time, Jubilee's strategy is to defeat Nasa in enough swing counties so that its candidate fails to meet the 25% rule. The strategy is concentrated in the low-population pastoral counties. In Samburu, where herdsmen have invaded European-owned ranches and conservancies in nearby Laikipia, Jubilee has promised to address the shortage of pasture in the dry months to counter Raila's growing popularity.
In a well-publicised interview with The Times of London, Raila suggested that some of these ranches should be taken over for the benefit of the pastoralists. Ruto and Uhuru have spent much time campaigning in the Somali-populated counties of Garissa, Wajir and Mandera, and the adjoining Marsabit County, inhabited mostly by Boran, Rendille and Gabra people, who are also livestock herders. In 2013, Marsabit split its vote almost equally between Uhuru and Raila. Neighbouring Isiolo, where Raila managed some 30% of the vote in 2013, is another Jubilee target.
In the agricultural counties, the Kisii ethnic group is being energetically wooed in Kisii and Nyamira counties, where Raila obtained two-thirds of the vote in 2013. President Uhuru Kenyatta is personally popular among the Kisii but not so his Deputy President, William Ruto, whose presence brings memories of the 2008 post-election violence in which many Kisii in the Rift Valley suffered at the hands of Ruto's Kalenjin supporters.
In the Coast Province, Jubilee has been active in Lamu, where Uhuru won 40% of the vote in 2013, and in Kilifi, Mombasa and Kwale. In the two Kisii counties and at the Coast, Jubilee has an uphill struggle as Raila is seen as a defender of the country's small ethnic minorities. All these calculations and the scare caused by Nasa's rise have forced Uhuru and William Ruto to launch one of the most energetic Kenyan election campaigns in recent memory, crossing all parts of the country, with the exception so far of Raila's Luo counties.
On the hustings, Jubilee presents itself as a party of development in action, the builder of roads, schools and the Standard Gauge Railway between Mombasa and Nairobi. In June alone, Uhuru and Ruto addressed over 250 campaign rallies in 21 counties, including Nairobi, which they want to wrestle from Nasa. Some of the rallies were in their respective bailiwicks of the Mount Kenya region (Kikuyu, Embu and Meru) and the Rift Valley. Others have been held in swing counties and in opposition heartlands. Exploiting incumbency, they have announced new development projects, land titles and funds that would strain an already over-stretched budget.
On 30 June, Uhuru was in Kalonzo Musyoka's home county of Kitui, where he addressed six rallies and launched the construction of a dam costing 1.4 billion Kenya shillings (US$13.5 million), along with two major roads. Two days previously, he had presided over the distribution of no fewer than 7,137 land titles in Tharaka-Nithi County, an arid area that tends to vote with the Kikuyu and Meru, and which Nasa has set its sights on. On 29 June, he presided over an agreement with British brewer Diageo to build a Ksh.15 billion brewery in Raila's hometown of Kisumu.
Some projects are being completed in a rush. A Chinese-built bridge over the Nzoia River in Busia collapsed weeks after Uhuru had opened it. Undeterred, he will be launching an even bigger bridge linking the mainland in Homa Bay (a Raila stronghold) to Rusinga Island in Lake Victoria.
Kenyatta and Ruto repeatedly berate Nasa as whiners and non-performers who will add nothing new to Kenya, in contrast to what they call Jubilee's sterling development record.
By the time Kenyans went to vote in December 2007, opposition supporters were convinced that they could not lose the elections unless the results were fixed. That sentiment is already widely held as concern grows about the capacity of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission to produce a credible result, having failed to do so in both 2007 and 2013 (AC Vol 54 No 6, Credibility of the IEBC under fire).
There are parallels with Ghana's elections last December (AC Vol 57 No 25, A turning point vote for the Black Star). There, an incumbent party ran on its record of building roads and power stations while many people struggled with rising prices and joblessness. The opposition ran a barnstorming campaign focusing on that economic discontent but it also had in place a comprehensive and high-technology plan to monitor the vote from the polling station upwards. Most importantly, it had a secure system to report results via its own intranet, as well as having reliable and trained party agents at each polling station. All that was backed up by robust civil society organisations.
Nasa officials claim they have taken 'extensive measures' to protect their vote but will not elaborate. Unlike Ghana, there are areas in Kenya – strongholds of either government or opposition – where it could prove extremely difficult to get an independent and accurate tally of the vote. Without that, there is a serious prospect of trouble.
Jubilee parks tanks on Nasa's Law
President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto are taking the competition right into the heartland of the opposition National Super Alliance. In the Luhya counties of Busia, Bungoma, Kakamega and Vihiga, where Nasa leader Raila Odinga won about half the votes in 2013, the governing Jubilee alliance's intention is to cut his support to beef up its overall numbers. Jubilee has also campaigned hard in Stephen Kalonzo Musyoka's Kamba backyard, as well as in Kajiado and Narok counties (both Maasai), which split their votes equally between Raila and Uhuru in 2013. Narok will be strongly contested in a campaign that could spin out of control: the local Maasai vote is split between Nasa and Jubilee; and Isaac Ruto from neighbouring Bomet has asked Kipsigis residents in Narok to back Raila rather than Uhuru this time.
The Maasai counties are part of the Rift Valley, William Ruto's core constituency. Despite pulling off a stunning victory for his party in the Rift Valley in 2013, his influence has been waning. His relations with other Kalenjin leaders are poor and his abrasive manner is losing him support more widely.
Isaac Ruto (no relation), the top Kalenjin in Nasa, accuses the other Ruto of demeaning him and undermining his political base in Bomet. Isaac Ruto now leads a Kipsigis branch of the Kalenjin people against Jubilee and William Ruto. Given the Deputy President's access to state resources and his history of tough campaigning, it would be an extremely tough fight to push out Jubilee in that area.
Relations have also cooled markedly between William Ruto and the family of ex-President Daniel arap Moi. Moi's son Gideon Kipsielei Towett Moi is now the Senator for Baringo and sees himself as the natural rival to William Ruto. That dates back to the disputed 2008 elections, when Ruto and Moi Senior and Junior supported rival presidential candidates. Gideon and his Kenya African National Union are supporting Jubilee only because Moi père was prevailed upon by Uhuru Kenyatta's mother, Mama Ngina Kenyatta, to convince KANU to back Jubilee.
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