All politics is local. It is kitchen sink time ahead of the anticipated general elections in Kenya on 8 August. The two leading political outfits Jubilee and NASA are crisscrossing the country in attempt to win the hearts of people. Incumbent, President Uhuru Kenyatta snubbed the president’s debate citing it as a “waste of time” much to the chagrin of the Kenyan people. His die-hard supporters have however, defended his decision. His close competitor Raila Odinga chose to attend the debate and with the latest Infotrak showing he has a one-point lead to President Kenyatta, he will definitely be buoyed and confident going into the elections. A corresponding Ipsos poll however, shows Uhuru in the lead. Much of the campaign message after the debate has been about the decision of Uhuru to skip the debate.
Despite this spin, one interesting thing happened during NASA’s campaign in Uasin Gishu county. In an area known to be the bedrock of Jubilee support, it is largely expected that NASA will get very few votes. However, with the local ethno-demographic and political play, NASA has seen an opportunity to eat-into the Jubilee votes.
Ethno-demography in Uasin Gishu County
Incumbent governor Jackson Mandago who won the Jubilee nominations in April, 2017 is facing a tough reelection. His closest and fiercest opponent is Zedekiah Kiprop Bundotich alias Buzeki who is an independent candidate. These two had actually squared off in the Jubilee nominations with Mandago defeating Buzeki – who felt aggrieved and decamped and is now running as an independent. Buzeki is known to be wealthy and as the story goes, enjoys the support of the Deputy President William Ruto – the Rift Valley kingpin. A recent poll by Infotrak indicates that Buzeki (54%) is ahead of Mandago (42.1%) in the governor’s race. Buzeki has been gaining momentum since his decision to run as an independent.
In June, the Star Newspaper wrote an analysis of the battle-royal between the two – saying that Buzeki was no storm in a teacup. The analysis indicated that Mandago, who is an ethnic Nandi – the majority in the Kalenjin tribe is a poor orator and lacks charisma to pull crowds. The ethno-demography is further evidenced in Buzeki who is a Keiyo – another subtribe of the Kalenjin and married to a Kikuyu. The historicities of the ethnic politics in Rift Valley and Kenya are known to play a key factor in elections. Kenya’s political culture is read through ethnic mobilization and balkanization. That notwithstanding, the interplay between the Nandi-Keiyo/Kikuyu in Uasin Gishu is threatening the reelection of Mandago. Deputy President William Ruto has pleaded with Buzeki to drop his bid but Buzeki remains adamant that he wants the governorship position. Mandago has “accused” the Kikuyus in Uasin Gishu of supporting his opponent – something he says is not good for Jubilee unity. Reports indicate that a Kikuyu interest group in the county would prefer Buzeki, their in-law to safeguard their interests.
NASA Prey in Uasin Gishu
The continuing ethno-demographic mobilization in the county has enticed the opposition NASA – who like the proverbial grasshopper fight that benefits the crow. Earlier, there was talk that a Buzeki withdrawal from the rest would have forced his supporters to vote for NASA. However, with Buzeki still in the race, NASA has decided to wade in. Speaking in Eldoret, NASA leaders pledged support for Mandago. “If I was voting here in Eldoret, I would have voted for Mandago,” said NASA running mate Kalonzo Musyoka. On his part, Moses Wetangula said that he stood with Mandago because he was “oppressed”. Bomet governor Isaac Rutto also weighed in sending greetings to Mandago much to the jubilation of the crowd. The thinking of NASA is that a section of Jubilee leaders is backing Buzeki and not Mandago.
NASA game plan
NASA’s endorsement of Mandago can be analyzed in three ways. Firstly, NASA and indeed Mandago, believe that William Ruto is supporting Buzeki. They say the enemy of your enemy is your friend. Through this endorsement, NASA sees an opportunity of receiving presidential votes in Uasin Gishu from Mandagao supporters. What will it take to have Mandago supporters, who are also Jubilee supporters to vote for Raila Odinga of NASA? This remains highly unlikely. Jubilee has found it hard to sell its six-piece voting pattern especially in areas that it enjoys massive following such as in Central Kenya and in Rift Valley. However, on the ethno-demographic balance, NASA could receive rebel votes from Mandago Jubilee supporters as well as from other NASA allied tribes living in the county. The script here is again focused on 2022 succession politics of DP William Ruto – who wants to have his “men” ahead of his anticipated 2022 presidential bid.
Secondly, with the tightness of the elections as predicted by two polls Infrotrak and Ipsos, the game plan for NASA seems to also focus on a potential runoff. If Buzeki wins the race, Mandago livid and disfranchised supporters will be inclined to vote for Raila Odinga in the runoff - thus tipping the scales in favor of NASA. This is a futurist calculation which NASA hopes to cash on in the event there is a runoff.
|Governor Mandago and William Ruto|
Thirdly, NASA’s endorsement of Mandago’s is a crafty attempt to eat into Rift Valley votes having already done so with the inclusion of renegade Bomet governor Isaac Rutto. With the ethno-demographic interplay, it is expected that NASA will eat into the Jubilee stronghold of Rift Valley. Aware that the electoral dynamics change every day, it remains to be seen if the new-found NASA love for Jubilee’s Mandago will yield any success.