President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Jubilee Party will this week be fighting rear-guard defence.
First, they will be stamping out the budding rebellion in Deputy President William Ruto home county of Uasin Gishu where Governor Jackson Mandago and MPs Oscar Sudi (Kapseret) and Alfred Keter (Nandi Hills) are threatening to rock the boat in a big way.
Uasin Gishu has degenerated to an extent where it poses rather big trouble for the President and his deputy not just locally but in the wider Rift Valley: it threatens to undermine the political comity between the Kikuyu and the Kalenjin communities.
On the other hand, Mr Raila Odinga, the Nasa candidate, is taking some time to test the President’s electoral firewall in Mr Kenyatta’s presumed strongholds of Meru and Tharaka Nithi.
The Nasa train will also visit Mr Kenyatta’s Central and Kiambu home area, where it will in all likelihood attract big crowds but probably not many votes.
But it is in the greater Meru, without whose 928,900 votes Jubilee’s path to victory becomes difficult, that party mandarins, especially Mr Kenyatta and his handlers, will be kicking themselves for mismanaging an essential part of their coalition.
After the 2013 elections, Mr Ruto’s lawyer and Tharaka Nithi Senator, Prof Kithure Kindiki, became the government’s pointman in the region after his appointment as Leader of Majority in the Senate.
Former powerman in the Kibaki governments, Senator Kiraitu Murungi of Meru was shaved of all additional responsibility — he didn’t chair even a Senate committee — and it took some years before he was rehabilitated as joint chairman of Jubilee Party.
To observers, it appeared as if Mr Kenyatta had delegated the management of Meru politics to Mr Ruto, whom local politicians complained had become the “prefect”.
While Prof Kindiki enjoyed state patronage, his political footprint never really went far beyond his native Tharaka Nithi and even there it did not go deep.
The opposition has made inroads in Tharaka Nithi and elsewhere in Meru.
Neither Governor Peter Munya of Meru, also the Party of National Unity leader, nor Mr Samuel Ragwa (Tharaka Nithi governor (now in Maendeleo Chap Chap) is defending his seat on a Jubilee ticket.
Senator Murungi is popular in one part of Meru while Governor Munya is the hero in the other half.
Mr Kenyatta’s headache is not just keeping Mr Odinga out but consolidating the vote without alienating any of the halves.
Besides, Mr Munya has declared that he will stand against Mr Ruto in 2022 for the presidency.
And so the week starts with plans for huge rallies for both the President and his main challenger.
While President Kenyatta will be spending more time in the Rift Valley and Western Kenya, Mr Odinga will be spending time in Laikipia, Central and Meru.
With 56 days to the August 8 General Election, campaign teams in the two camps clearly cranked up their operations and it will be non-stop campaigning to the end.
“Kenyans are going to make this election a referendum, to express their anger at the high cost of living and Jubilee’s mismanagement. It is a message we are telling Kenyans: We are a viable alternative,” ODM chairman John Mbadi told the Nation.
President Kenyatta will start his marathon full-week campaign schedule in Nandi, two days after pitching tent in the neighbouring Uasin Gishu County.
Top on his mind will be the threat by Mr Mandago, Mr Sudi and Mr Keter to mobilise voters to back the opposition if the party leadership does not declare its stand on independent candidates.
The region is generally restive, with some claiming that the Jubilee administration has sidelined it despite its 2013 votes.
On Sunday morning President Kenyatta and Mr Ruto met leaders from Uasin Gishu and Trans Nzoia counties running on Jubilee tickets.
Mr Mandago and Trans Nzoia Jubilee gubernatorial nominee Bissau Kakai were present.
“Let us make sure that on the day of voting every voter comes to vote because a vote has value only when it goes into the ballot box,” the President said in a meeting at the Eldoret State Lodge.
Others who attended the meeting included National Assembly Majority Leader Aden Duale.
The delegation from Uasin Gishu included: Mrs Gladys Boss Shollei (woman rep candidate), Prof Margaret Kamar (Senate candidate) and all candidates for the positions of MP and member of county assembly.
The Trans Nzoia delegation was led by Mr Kakai, who was accompanied by Mr Michael Mbito (Senate candidate) and Janet Nangabo (woman rep candidate).
President Kenyatta urged the leaders to mobilise voters to turn out in large numbers so that Jubilee wins with a decisive victory.
Governor Mandago and Mr Bissau promised to work as a team with the other candidates to ensure that all residents rally behind President Kenyatta’s re-election.
Mr Mandago last week was categorical that the party’s top leadership should draw a clear line between supporting them and entertaining independent candidates, a factor which might have forced Mr Ruto to declare his stand on Mandago’s arch rival Zedekiah Kiprop Bundotich alias Buzeki, an independent candidate.
“We will rally our supporters to cast their vote for other presidential candidates if the party relationship with independents does not end. We will ask our supporters to vote for us and make individual decisions on other seats,” Mr Mandago said.
BUZEKI VS MANDAGO
Mr Ruto appeared to heed the demands of the North Rift leaders when he asked Mr Buzeki to step down for Mandago during a rally in Mr Sudi’s Kapseret constituency on Saturday.
However, in a rejoinder, Mr Buzeki was quick to maintain that he is still in the Uasin Gishu gubernatorial race on an independent ticket, setting the stage for a bruising political battle with Mr Mandago come August 8.
“Jubilee Party has a right to rally behind their candidate. However, it is up to the people to decide who will be their next governor. My name will be on the ballot,” Mr Buzeki, who has intensified his campaigns, said.
Mr Mandago had accused the Kikuyu community in the county of supporting his rival.
On Tuesday, the Jubilee team will be in West Pokot, before heading to Busia on Wednesday and combing through Kericho on Thursday.
The team plans to tour the home turf of Bomet Governor Isaac Ruto on Friday, in their bid to campaign for Jubilee governor candidate Dr Joyce Laboso and vanquish the county chief’s efforts to hive off some Rift Valley votes for Mr Odinga.
Mr Odinga, on the other hand, is casting his net in his rival’s waters with events in Nyeri and Kiambu.
The former Prime Minister, whose campaign is now better organised, will on Friday have a town hall meeting in Nyeri after visiting Laikipia County.
On Saturday, the National Super Alliance (Nasa) team will tour Kiambu County, holding a rally in Thika town.
The Nasa week starts tomorrow with visits to Namanga and Loitoktok in Kajiado County, a place Jubilee describes as a battle zone but which Nasa claims is fully behind
Reported by Patrick Lang’at, Wycliff Kipsang, Barnabas Bii and Stanley Kimuge