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Gideon's entry into presidential election stirs up the Rift Valley

By Steve Mkawale | October 3rd 2021

Baringo senator Gideon Moi waves the Kanu one-finger salute to the residents of Kabarnet town in Baringo county after presenting his nomination papers to the IEBC on May 29, 2017. [Kipsang Joseph,Standard]

Baringo Senator Gideon Moi’s entry into the 2022 race to succeed President Uhuru Kenyatta appears to have unsettled the vote-rich Rift Valley region.

On Thursday, Kanu delegates endorsed Gideon as the party's flag-bearer in an event that was attended by, among others, ODM leader Raila Odinga.

Gideon’s biggest task now is to rally the Rift Valley region behind him, taking to account that Deputy President William Ruto has for the past 20 years dominated politics in the region.

But Gideon, the youngest son of former President Daniel Moi, has been working to change the political tide, saying he wants to ensure the Kalenjin community remains politically relevant even after President Kenyatta’s exit.

His allies say the timing of his endorsement by Kanu was perfect as it thrust Gideon right into the centre of Uhuru's succession.

However, Gideon’s decision to revive and rebrand Kanu appears to have rattled the deputy president and his allies, who fear the party may chip away part of the support Ruto has been enjoying in the region.  

“We are determined in our quest to succeed Uhuru. Our first assignment is to consolidate the Rift Valley region. We have a plan in place. Watch this space,” Nick Salat, the Kanu secretary-general, told The Standard.

Elgeyo Marakwet Governor Alex Tolgos, who has been drumming up support for the Kanu chairman, said: "The writing is on the wall; it is clear who will succeed President Uhuru."

Tolgos has appealed to voters and leaders from Rift Valley to support Gideon's quest.

"As the Kalenjin community, we must agree that we will be in government after the 2022 elections. We cannot be in the opposition. And the ultimate goal for the Kalenjin community is to eventually take the top seat," the governor said.

Former Roads minister Franklin Bett said the senator's endorsement will no doubt eat into Ruto's support in Rift Valley.

"The deputy president took for granted my advice on how to consolidate support in Rift Valley. The leadership style of the DP and his allies has left some of the region’s leaders disgruntled. Such leaders will pull away from Ruto, along with their supporters," said Bett.

The former Bureti MP, using a football match analogy, said a major football team may underestimate a smaller team, only to end up losing the game.

"No politician should underrate an opponent. What I expected Ruto to do is to reach out to his opponents in the Rift Valley, and he should have done that by now, to consolidate his support base further, before venturing into other regions," said Bett.

The former Statehouse Comptroller noted Gideon's father's name may also open doors for him, but said: "I would rather he takes the name Toroitich to show us that he has come out of the shadow of his father and that he is now his own man."

Moses Esekon, a youth leader, said Gideon’s candidacy is a blow to Ruto’s efforts to consolidate his support in the region, noting the political competition between Gideon and Ruto is likely to be explosive in coming days.

"It will be rough with tough tackles going forward. Ruto must make a lot of efforts here," observed the leader of the Vijana Tuomoke Movement.

According to the 2019 national census, Rift Valley is the most populated region in the country, with 12,752,966 people. But critics say rallying the region behind the senator will be an uphill task as Ruto has already done a lot of work on the ground.

"It will not be easy for Senator Moi to win the whole of Rift Valley because he started late. In the presidential race, Ruto is viewed as a front-runner,” said Gitile Naituli, a professor of management and leadership at Multimedia University.

Prof Naituli said since the fallout between President Uhuru and his deputy, the region has witnessed a political transformation, with some politicians formerly aligned to the senator defecting to Ruto's camp.

Among them is Musa Sirma who ditched Kanu for the United Democratic Alliance (UDA), and former Bomet governor Isaac Ruto, who joined the DP's camp. 

Philip Chebunet, a political analyst and senior lecturer at the University of Eldoret said: "The reality is that DP Ruto is a very strong candidate going into the next elections."

Chebunet said all those seeking to succeed Uhuru must consolidate their backyards.

“By thrusting himself into the presidential race, the first question he will be confronted with is whether he has consolidated his backyard. And because Ruto is on the ground already, the journey may prove difficult for Gideon,” Chebunet said.

Others say Gideon’s success in penetrating the Rift Valley will depend on the political formation he will join.

Andrew Nyabuto, a political commentator, said the anti-Ruto campaign could disadvantage Gideon, as he will be seen to be fighting the DP.

“He is likely to meet resistance, especially in Rift Valley,” Nyabuto said.

Gideon's endorsement also comes after West Pokot Governor John Lonyangapuo defected from Kanu and formed his own party. Gideon may in the process lose the crucial Pokot support he has enjoyed over the years.

Additional reporting by Nikko Tanui 

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