Kenya election 2022: Kikuyus split between Ruto and Odinga

  • Published
Supporters hold painted portraits of Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta (L), Azimio La Umoja Coalition presidential candidate Raila Odinga (C) and running mate Martha Karua during a campaign rally in Murang'a on July 23, 2022, ahead of Kenya's August 2022 general electionImage source, Getty Images

In Kenya's vote-rich Kikuyu community, opinion is sharply divided over outgoing President Uhuru Kenyatta's move to back his one-time rival Raila Odinga, rather than his deputy William Ruto, as his successor in the tightly-contested election set to take place on 9 August.

Mr Kenyatta - who has reached the constitutional limit of two terms in power - was long regarded as the community's political kingpin, with its elders proudly referring to him as "our son".

But during the BBC's visit to Nyeri county - which lies in the Kikuyu heartland of Mount Kenya - it became clear his credibility has taken a knock over his decision to endorse Mr Odinga in what he has portrayed as an attempt to forge national unity after decades of political animosity.

Lawyer Wahome Gikonyo felt Mr Kenyatta had betrayed Mr Ruto, who had helped him win two elections against Mr Odinga.

"Ruto did the donkey work in 2013 and 2017. Were it not for him Uhuru would not have become president. Is that the way to repay a friend?" Mr Gikonyo remarked, as he spoke to the BBC in his office in the county's biggest town, also known as Nyeri.

Some residents, like Pastor Hannah Kanyithere, felt Mr Kenyatta should not have become involved in the battle over his successor.

"Why is the president taking sides in this election? However bad his deputy was, he should have remained neutral," he added.

But taxi driver Hassan Kahoro was equally passionate in his defence of Mr Kenyatta, suggesting that, with ethnicity being a major fault-line in Kenyan politics, the time had come for the Luo community to produce its first president - Mr Odinga.

Image source, Peter Njoroge/BBC
Image caption,
Hassan Kahoro says the Luo community should be given a chance to govern

"We should give the Luo community a chance to lead this country. Who said the presidency should belong to the Kikuyus and the Kalenjins?" Mr Kahoro said, as he addressed a crowd gathered near the main market.

He was referring to the fact that of Kenya's four presidents since independence, three have been Kikuyus. The late Daniel arap Moi - who was the longest-serving president, ruling for 24 years - was a Kalenjin, like Mr Ruto.

Welder Jackson Maina also expressed support for Mr Kenyatta's decision to back "Baba", or " Father" as the 77-year-old Mr Odinga is referred to by his supporters.

"We are solidly behind the president and so we are behind Baba," he said while standing outside his makeshift workshop.

Nyeri town is adorned with huge campaign billboards, banners and posters as the general election nears.

Songs in support of both camps can be heard.

One song - by renowned Kenyan musician Ben Githae - says that Kenya will be safe in the hands of Mr Odinga and his running mate Martha Karua - a former justice minister and a Kikuyu who is regarded as a "daughter of the soil" of Mount Kenya.

Another song - by politician Betty Maina - urges people to turn out to vote for Mr Ruto, who has chosen a Kikuyu businessman from Nyeri county, Rigathi Gachagua, as his running mate.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Deputy President William Ruto (R) and businessman Rigathi Gachagua hope they will be making a winning combination in the poll

Although Mr Gachagua has been dogged by corruption allegations, he is a strong mobiliser and has the ear of struggling Kikuyus.

Ms Karua is a political icon beyond the Kikuyu - and is known for her passion for judicial reform and her strong stance against corruption in government.

But if the latest opinion poll by research agency Tifa is to be believed, neither she nor Mr Kenyatta have persuaded the majority of Kikuyus to vote for Mr Odinga. The poll gives Mr Ruto a commanding lead in Mount Kenya - 66% to Mr Odinga's 27%.

At a national level, the picture is different, with the poll putting Mr Odinga ahead by the narrow margin of 46.7% to 44.4% - not enough for him to secure the presidency, as the winner needs a majority of more than 50% to avoid a run-off.

So the two sides will make a big push to attract swing voters in the final days of campaigning.

Mr Kenyatta's decision to back Mr Odinga has not only divided the Kikuyu community - the largest voting block in Kenya - but his own family.

His cousin Kungu Muigai told local media that the president went against the Kikuyu elders by dishonouring a 2013 pact, requiring the community to reciprocate by supporting a Kalenjin once Mr Kenyatta's two terms ended.

The split is lamented by older members of the Kikuyu community, like 100-year-old Nduhiu Njama, who welcomed us to his maisonette in Nyeri's Tetu area.

"We got independence through being united. What we are seeing currently is individualism that will cost us," he said while showing off photos from his past.

The Kikuyu people are mainly farmers. Tea and coffee plantations, as well as dairy farms, stretch across Mount Kenya.

Image caption,
Agruculture is the mainstay of the economy in Mount Kenya

Roads in rural areas are well tarmacked making it easier for farmers to transport their produce.

The BBC visited farmers near Othaya town, which was home to late President Mwai Kibaki.

While giving feed to his dairy cows, George Wambugu said he was supporting Mr Ruto.

"Ruto is a farmer like myself and when he was the minister for agriculture he brought reforms that saw tea farmers get the highest bonus ever. I know he will improve the agriculture sector," the 40-year-old father of three said, expressing a view that was shared by many farmers.

But some refused to express a preference - not surprising as the debate has been deeply polarising.

"We just want more support like manure and fertiliser from the government to improve our coffee production," said mother of four, Mercy Muthoni, as she picked coffee from her 80 bushes.

While Othaya farmers' association chairperson Gathua Nderitu said he had no favourite in this election.

"I really don't care who becomes president after 9 August, I just want better policies that will allow coffee farming to thrive," he told the BBC.

Who is in the race to run Kenya?

Learn more about Kenya’s presidential candidates

Choose a candidate to view their bio

Raila Amollo Odinga

Azimio la Umoja Coalition

  • Age: 77
  • Nicknamed “Baba”
  • Son of former vice-president
  • Trained as an engineer in what was then East Germany
  • Prime minister from 2008 to 2013 in the unity government created after post-election violence
  • Formed alliance with ex-political enemy President Uhuru Kenyatta
  • Four-time unsuccessful presidential candidate
  • Championed multiparty democracy in the one-party era.
  • Detained twice (1982-88 and 1989-91) as a political prisoner.
  • Seen as a formidable campaigner able to draw large crowds.
  • Achieve double-digit economic growth through investment in small business and manufacturing sector.
  • Provide affordable quality healthcare for all.
  • Disburse $50 (£42) a month to two million needy households.

William Samoei Ruto

Kenya Kwanza Alliance

  • Age: 55
  • Worked as a street trader as a teenager.
  • Has a PhD in plant ecology from the University of Nairobi.
  • Served as deputy president since 2013 but fell out with boss President Uhuru Kenyatta.
  • One of Kenya’s biggest maize farmers.
  • Charged by the International Criminal Court over post-election violence – charges later dropped.
  • Portrays himself as champion of the downtrodden.
  • Coined phrase “hustler nation”
  • Owns huge parcels of land but the source of his wealth is a subject of speculation.
  • Praised as an effective agriculture minister from 2008-2010.
  • Seen as a powerful orator and robust media interviewee
  • Give all Kenyans subsidised health insurance cover and a fee waiver for poor households.
  • Allocate $420m annually to support small and medium-sized enterprises.
  • Appoint a gender-balanced cabinet.

George Wajackoyah

Roots Party

  • Age: 63
  • Holds a masters in international development law from the UK’s University of Warwick.
  • Says he has 17 university degrees
  • Worked in police intelligence before he fled the country in 1990 to escape from torture
  • Gained notoriety with eye-catching policies
  • Lived on the streets of the capital as a child and was rescued by Hare Krishna worshippers
  • Partner in a law firm he established in 2018
  • Campaigns wearing a tracksuit, T-shirt and headscarf rather than a smart suit
  • Legalise the farming and production of marijuana for industrial and medical use
  • Switch to a four-day working week from Monday to Thursday
  • Invest in snake farming to extract the venom which can be exported

David Mwaure Waihiga

Agano Party

  • Age: 65
  • Practised law for more than three decades
  • Also an ordained reverend
  • Previously ran for MP, senator and county governor – losing each time
  • Founded Agano Party in 2006
  • Says he brings a “breath of fresh air” to the top of politics
  • First expressed an interest in running for president in 2013
  • Set up an asset recovery agency under the presidency to recover stolen funds
  • Slash income tax by half and get rid of it altogether for medics and police
  • Give incentives to manufacturers and entrepreneurs to create jobs
Media caption,

Kenya election: Viral TikTok content heightens political rivalries

Around the BBC