Why Raila way to Mt Kenya is through vote-rich Murang’a
Gakuu Mathenge and Rebecca Wangari
For several decades, ODM leader Raila Odinga has been branded as an enemy of the Mt Kenya region, a notion he is battling hard to shed ahead of the 2022 polls.
Raila has made several tours to the region seeking to endear himself to the locals and woo them to support his bid to become Kenya’s fifth president.
The region has perennially voted against him and it’s now seen to be gravitating towards Deputy President William Ruto who has also declared his interest in the presidency.
However, despite the Mt Kenya region having eight counties, the former Prime Minister appears to have special interest in Murang’a, where he has paid several visits.
This year alone, Raila has toured Murang’a four times, the latest being a church function in Kigumo on Sunday.
Raila’s trips have sparked debate on his special interest in Murang’a and the place of local business tycoons in his presidential contest.
The ODM leader was accompanied by media mogul SK Macharia, former Gatanga MP Peter Kenneth and nominated MP Maina Kamanda.
Besides gracing an event for musicians at Macharia’s Gatanga home, Raila on August 13 addressed members of the Kikuyu business community at the residence of the late Kiambu tycoon Nginyo Kariuki at the invitation of his son.
Macharia in 2013 threw his support behind Raila at the great risk of his business empire. Billionaire businessman Jimi Wanjigi, who backed the ODM supremo’s 2017 presidential campaign also hails from Murang’a.
According to political analyst Peter Kagwanja, it may be Raila’s thinking that if he captures Murang’a, he will easily conquer the larger Mt Kenya region.
He said Murang’a is one of the most influential counties when it comes to politics both at the national and levels.
“If you capture Murang’a and Kiambu, you have the entire Mt Kenya region. Raila only requires 40 per cent of the votes from the region and this will boost his votes from the Western, Nyanza and Nairobi where he enjoys support,” said Kagwanja.
According to Kagwanja who declared interest in the Murang’a senate seat, should Uhuru decide to back Raila, things will be easier for him pointing out the ODM leader cannot conquer the mountain alone.
In his charm offensive to the region, Raila boasts of a rich repertoire of history of liberation, old connections with heroes of the struggle and common roots in football politics in addition to his elder statesman political demeanor.
The choice of Murang’a as a base to approach the region is not accidental.
His late father and hero of Independence struggle, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, burst into the Gema political consciousness rather dramatically in mid-50s when he challenged then prominent loyalist Legislative Council (Legco) members, to publicly declare allegiance to jailed Jomo Kenyatta as the supreme leader of the Kenya natives, but whom the colonial authorities wanted alienated and isolated.
For his daring to speak Kenyatta’s name inside Parliament at a time when it was near treason, Jaramogi, made loyalist MPs from the Gema region, among them late Gikonyo Kiano, from Murang’a squirm in fear.
Raila himself would become a natural comrade in arms with second liberation heroes of the 90s, among them late Kenneth Matiba and Charles Rubia with whom he would be detained without trial for their role for organising pro-democracy rallies in defiance of State restrictions.
The head-on collision between pro-democracy forces and the State climaxed when security intelligence picked up the trio of leaders for the Forum for Restoration of Democracy in an effort to forestall a pro-democracy rally in Nairobi slated for July 7, 1990.
Some of Raila’s connections date back before he became a national political figure. It is a mark of Raila ingenuity at cobbling cross-cultural and multi-ethnic political machines to fire his presidential bids in the past, that featured prominent business and professional personalities from the Gema region
In 2007, his campaign fundraising team was led by tycoon Charles Njonjo.
In the 2013 presidential campaign, Raila roped in Macharia, who has remained a dear friend and ardent supporter todate. Macharia is a member of a select billionaire club of businessmen from Murang’a county.
Raila is credited with playing an instrumental role in getting retired President Kibaki elected in 2002.
In the ongoing vote hunt into Mt Kenya, Ndaragwa MP Jeremiah Kioni, seems to have assumed the role of chaperon of honor, walking by Raila’s side in his many tours of the region.
“The negative image about Raila in the region was created by sustained propaganda over many years when he competed with Mwai Kibaki and later with Uhuru Kenyatta. There is a lot of work to undo this.
It starts with bringing him closer to the people to engage, so they see he is not the ogre they had been made to believe he was,” Kioni said early this week.