Kenya's former Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s presidential bid is expected to pick up steam this weekend, with President Uhuru Kenyatta having joined the front line of campaigns for his preferred successor.
President Kenyatta for the first time last week told his supporters at a meeting dubbed Sagana three that Mr Odinga was the most qualified politician to take over from him.
The two leaders will on Saturday lead their respective political parties – Jubilee and ODM – in declaring support for Mr Odinga’s candidature under the Azimio La Umoja coalition during concurrent national delegates’ conventions in Nairobi ahead of a joint appearance at a campaign rally at the historic Kamukunji grounds the next day. The President is also believed to be close to getting a deal between Azimio and the One Kenya Alliance (OKA), which is led by former vice-president Kalonzo Musyoka, over the line.
Mr Odinga’s campaign strategists see Mr Musyoka, who enjoys a considerable following in the country’s Lower Eastern region, as the final piece of the jigsaw in building a winning coalition against Deputy President William Ruto’s Kenya Kwanza Alliance in the August 9 elections.
President Kenyatta on Wednesday set the tone for the weekend meetings with his public endorsement of the veteran opposition leader while speaking to a group of local leaders from his native Mt Kenya region at the Sagana state lodge in Nyeri.
His speech at Sagana, dubbed a tell-all session on the messy fallouts in the ruling Jubilee Party in its build-up, sought to portray Mr Ruto as the wrong man to succeed him while bigging up Mr Odinga as a pair of safe hands. He also used the meeting to try to counter widespread perceptions fanned by Mr Ruto’s local allies that the Jubilee administration had neglected the region in the distribution of government projects.
Local politicians affiliated to Mr Ruto’s breakaway United Democratic Alliance party are keen to neutralise President Kenyatta’s influence in his traditional support base and limit his ability flip sway voters in Mr Odinga’s favour.
The region has overwhelmingly voted against Mr Odinga in each of his past four presidential bids, underlining the magnitude of the challenge ahead for the President as he embarks on his audacious campaigns for the Azimio coalition’s presumptive candidate there. As part of the campaign strategy, his loyalists have stepped up activities in recent weeks to rebrand the ruling party, re-energise its grassroots support base and have it produce Mr Odinga’s running mate.
The Saturday national delegates’ convention is, among other things, expected to elect a new set of officials, with President Kenyatta retaining his position as party leader. In Nairobi, President Kenyatta will be seeking to quell similar political fires fanned by the ruling party rebels, especially among traders who have found themselves on the receiving end of his administration.