Raila Odinga, the head of the Orange Democratic Movement, this week made his biggest moves yet to harness the votes he anticipates will be the reward of his rapprochement with President Uhuru Kenyatta.
He toured Central Kenya, met and received the approval of the powerful Mt Kenya Foundation, received the President in the constituency he represented for decades, and met a number of MPs from the region.
At the meeting with the Mt Kenya Foundation, Kieni MP Kanini Kega was perhaps the most effusive in his praise for the former Prime Minister. “You started climbing the mountain yesterday,” he told the ODM Party Leader. “Ordinarily it takes seven days to climb the mountain. Yesterday you started and went halfway within one day. The next time he does it, he will be at the peak.”
With the region having the largest number of votes, and without a natural successor to President Kenyatta, it has become a favourite hunting ground of the presidential candidates.
The region – the five counties in the former Central Province plus Meru, Tharaka Nithi and Embu counties – has more than six million voters and for the first time since 1992, there is nobody from the region running for President (Jimi Wanjigi wants ODM to hand him the ticket but faces an uphill task).
The absence of a candidate has turned the region into a vote-rich swing state, and securing a substantial portion of the vote there would give a candidate significant headway.
Mr Odinga has plenty of reason to believe that he has made some good headway if not made it halfway up the mountain as stated by Kanini Kega. He appears to have the blessings of President Kenyatta, who has for long held his cards close to his chest and refused to show support for any candidate. By letting officers in his administration undermine the Deputy President and reportedly instructing MPs allied to him to back Mr Odinga, he could be said to have finally shown his hand.
Away from the Central region, Mr Odinga’s other headache would probably come from the One Kenya Alliance (OKA), which brings together Wiper’s Kalonzo Musyoka, Amani National Congress’ Musalia Mudavadi, Kanu’s Gideon Moi and Ford-Kenya’s Moses Wetang’ula.
Of that quartet, Mr Musyoka represents the biggest community whose leaders say they will not back Mr Odinga at another election. He has walked away with about one million votes. The rest have not expressly stated their preferences but each has sought to present themselves as presidential candidates. Mr Moi has already been given Kanu’s ticket while Mr Mudavadi and Mr Wetang’ula are banking on the fact that their sub-tribes across Bungoma and Trans Nzoia counties represent a substantial vote base.
The Mt Kenya Foundation was set to meet the OKA team on Friday, but that meeting was called off for unexplained reasons. The team was reportedly uncomfortable with the suggestion made earlier in the week that President Kenyatta and the Mt Kenya Foundation would pressure them to back Mr Odinga and they were unhappy that their support was taken to be a foregone conclusion.
Given that the presidency has over the past two decades has been secured through ethnic alliances, it is inevitable that the frontrunner would need to have gotten their tribal arithmetic right.
Even as he has the backing of the old hands, many of them business tycoons, Mr Odinga’s potential rivals have pointed out that the decisions will eventually be made by the electorate in the Central Kenya region, not tycoons and power brokers.
For the former premier, the question remains how he will endear himself to the voters and what he’ll do to regain the confidence of his former allies from elsewhere across the country.