Mt Kenya bloc tycoons back Raila’s top seat bid

Sunday October 03 2021
Mt Kenya Foundation

Raila Odinga (second left) with Mt Kenya Foundation business and professional elites led by their Vice Chair Titus Ibui, Francis Kimemia and Muhoho Kenyatta, in Nairobi. PHOTO | FILE


Kenya’s former Prime Minister Raila Odinga Tuesday picked a crucial endorsement for his presidential bid by an influential club of big campaign financiers, capping a week in which President Uhuru Kenyatta also appeared to publicly suggest support for his former political rival for the first time.

The group of rich businessmen calling itself Mount Kenya Foundation, which has backed President Uhuru Kenyatta and his predecessor Mwai Kibaki in past elections, hosted Mr Odinga at a five-star hotel in Nairobi, where speakers praised Raila’s Handshake-cum-co-operation with the incumbent and sought to portray him as a safe pair of hands.

President Kenyatta, visiting Nairobi’s Kibera slum — Mr Odinga’s Nairobi political stronghold — to launch a government hospital on Wednesday in the company of the former prime minister, hinted at an imminent endorsement, asking the crowd to make the right choice in the coming elections.

Mount Kenya Foundation’s backing is a big catch for Mr Odinga, who needs a considerable war chest to compete with the free-spending campaign of Deputy President William Ruto, the other front runner in the 2022 presidential race.

Dr Ruto’s significant outlay on early campaigns in the past four years, including generous church donations and contributions to fundraisers for youth groups in different parts of the country, has rattled opponents, who have questioned his source of wealth.

Details of the Deputy President’s personal wealth controversially disclosed by Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i in parliament last month gave a glimpse of Ruto’s campaign war chest, with five helicopters linked to him.


Helicopters have become a fixture in presidential campaign expenditure in recent Kenyan elections, with candidates buying their own or renting one or more at millions of shillings an hour to fly them to remote or rural areas.

In addition to campaign logistics, adverts, events management, printing and merchandise branding also take a chunk of a presidential campaign budget.

Candidates are not obligated to disclose the source of their funds. Just this past week, legislators killed a proposed law capping presidential campaign spending at $40 million and requiring submission of a register of donors to the electoral commission, which had been bogged down in parliament since 2017.

In Mt Kenya Foundation’s campaign financiers signalling support for Odinga’s anticipated candidature, Dr Ruto and those affiliated to his UDA party have downplayed their influence on voters.

But in private, the Ruto camp will most likely be wary of the tycoons’ resolve to dismantle UDA’s most potent campaign narrative against Mr Odinga – the notion that he is unelectable in the region.

The ‘unelectability’ tag on Mr Odinga has endured partly because of past campaigns characterising him as anti-business, citing his involvement in street protests as opposition leader, and historical political rivalry between Kikuyu and Luo ethnic communities going back to post-Independence rivalry between Oginga Odinga and Jomo Kenyatta.

Mr Odinga is Luo.

But his surprise political truce with President Kenyatta, a Kikuyu, following the disputed outcome of the 2017 election has won him unlikely supporters among the latter community’s business elite.

People familiar with presidential campaign strategies for the past elections say that a candidate needed about $50 million to mount a successful campaign.