President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Deputy William Ruto have in recent days engaged the high gear in steering next year’s election into a contest on development.
Analysts say this is a double-edged sword that could cut either way.
In 2013 when they faced crimes against humanity charges at the International Criminal Court, Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto ran a highly emotive campaign in which they projected themselves as victims of an unfair colonial system for which they needed protection at the ballot or they would be mauled.
This rallying call, which they framed as a fight for their lives at the Netherlands-based court, rather than an ordinary political contest, whipped their ethnic groups into turning out nearly to a man to vote for Jubilee.
But as August 2017 beckons, political pundits have named endemic corruption, protection and success of devolution, the implementation of President Kenyatta’s 2013 manifesto and ethnic mobilisation as the biggest issues in next year’s contest.
This time last year, President Kenyatta was on a travelling spree triggering #UhuruInKenya hashtag on Twitter.
But this year, the Jubilee leader, and his deputy, have been launching roads and other multi-billion projects across the country.
They have visited at least 12 counties in the last two weeks alone at the Coast, Central Kenya, lower Eastern and the Rift Valley.
On Friday, they were in Kericho where they launched a raft of development projects.
Today they are in neighbouring Bomet where they will unveil medical equipment at the Longisa County Hospital.
President Kenyatta has also visited Western Kenya twice in less than two weeks in November, while the DP has been in the region thrice over the same period.
The two have consistently highlighted their biggest achievements as they attempt to not only quell dissent in their regions, but also try and woo support from perceived opposition areas.
“The next election will be about how many kilometres of roads we have tarmacked and how many Kenyans we have connected to the national grid,” Mr Ruto said in Kericho on Friday.
There has been an increasing concern that the Jubilee duo’s Central Kenya and Rift Valley backyards are not as intact as they were in 2013 with reports of voter apathy in President Kenyatta’s turf and an increasing rebellion in Mr Ruto’s Rift Valley.
Many Kenyans are going through difficult economic times despite reports of growth by the Word Bank and the government.
In the Rift Valley, Bomet governor Isaac Ruto is rallying the region’s voters behind his Chama Cha Mashinani party, a campaign that has roped in Kuresoi South MP Zakayo Cheruiyot and Emurua Dikirr’s Johana Ng’eno.
“Mashinani is a party of the Rift Valley. It replaced URP,” Governor Ruto told the Saturday Nation from Bomet.
There is also no love lost between the DP and Baringo Senator Gideon Moi, a contender for the leadership of the vast and vote rich region which was in a tight grip of his father for decades.
The President and his deputy are also alive to the possibility of facing a united opposition.
So real is the possibility that the President has reacted to it, terming the opposition chiefs “self-seekers interested in big jobs”.
But the opposition has laughed off the development narrative, arguing that corruption had overshadowed the projects and “brought the economy to its knees”.
“The 2017 election is not going to be won or lost on strength of launched projects. It will be based on the fight against corruption and the many failed and undelivered projects by Jubilee,” Ford Kenya deputy party leader Boni Khalwale said.
The government is keen to use additional police equipment, free maternity care at all public hospitals and the improvement of electricity connection to get their votes in the next elections.
But all these will be contrasted with what they promised in their manifesto in the last polls.
In 2013, the Jubilee duo, who fashioned themselves as the ‘digital’ team, had among other things promised a double digit economic growth, creation of one million jobs annually, irrigation of one million hectares, laptops for all class one pupils and many more.
Jubilee critics have pointed out that most of them had either delayed, been thrown into disarray over corruption or had not even been started.
“The war on graft, handling of matters health and political will on electoral reforms will take centre stage in 2017,” said Makueni Senator Mutula Kilonzo Junior.
University of Nairobi’s Prof Winnie Mitullah explained that corruption and the poor economy had pushed the President and his deputy to intensify their shuttle around the country to convince citizens to back Jubilee.
Mukurwe-ini MP Kabando wa Kabando insisted that the Head of State was on the right track.
“The President is working with the people, connecting with the citizens and unveiling the transformative Jubilee agenda,” Mr Kabando said.
The exclusion of the ICC agenda after the withdrawal of cases facing Kenyans, analysts said, will make the 2017 poll “emotion-free.”
“Jubilee came to power under an emotional campaign of victimhood that resonated well with voters in 2013,” explained Dr Adams Oloo of the University of Nairobi.
Prof Mitullah says the ethnic identities of the candidates will still be the big decider.
However, devolution and fight against corruption will also play a major role.
“Those that remain will now look at the services and corruption to shape their decisions,” said Prof Mitullah.
The scholar also argued that in the Rift Valley, the absence of the ICC factor in 2017 could open a window for a split of the region’s vote.
“The region no longer feels the need to protect the DP. If the opposition pushes the agenda that Jubilee’s service delivery is wanting, they might manage to pull a surprise of splitting the Rift vote,” Prof Mitullah argued.
But Dr Joyce Laboso, the MP for Sotik and an aspirant for the Bomet governor’s seat, said the fact that Deputy President William Ruto “was on the cusp of the ascending to the country’s top seat” will be enough to galvanise the region’s vote behind Jubilee.