Kenya’s rural vote to determine 2022 elections

Voting Box Kenya (photo courtesy)
Voting Box Kenya (photo courtesy)

As the country starts the countdown to the August 9th, 2022 General Elections, one can try to be curious about that big day for Kenya. Let’s talk about what we have not explored yet – the rural vote vis a viz the urban vote.

Of course, away from Nairobi, anything else is regarded as rural. So, let’s talk about rural – rural and rural- urban. Rural-rural vote is what wins elections the world over.

History has it that in Britain, the long serving Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, was very unpopular in London and a dozen other cities across the country. That aside, she always won elections each time elections were called, and with a majority of the rural vote.

In America, Donald Trump was very unpopular across American cities. In the 2016 vote he carried the day simply by exploiting the rural vote that handed to him five years of chest thumping on the White House Lawns.

In Kenya, the 1992 and 1997 elections, Nairobi and other major towns, largely voted against Moi. He however enjoyed victories in the two elections simply because of the rural Kenya vote.

The rural vote has always determined Kenya’s election outcome since we reverted to political pluralism in 1992. Urban areas, Nairobi, Mombasa especially, and Kisumu, Eldoret peripherally, always tended to go with the Opposition. I would put the rural vote at about 80 per cent of the total voter population, and there is no way that vote can be ignored.

From the year 1992, certain developments have happened which are likely to influence the voting patterns as the country progresses. The most important difference is devolution, which has dispersed resources and the middle class to the rural areas. This is a more informed population with some money and not easily manipulatable – so to speak, with small change.

Any candidate who ignores the rural vote in this election will live to regret it. The vote is huge; the dispersal of the middle class to what used to be purely rural areas has brought an element of upward, well-educated and moneyed population to these areas.

The other factor to explore is the youth vote this time round. Children born when former President Mwai Kibaki came to power in 2002, are now of age. They have not known single party rule, they are more tech savvy and have access to the latest gadgets. Rural areas now have access to electricity and other amenities and there isn’t much difference any more between what were rural towns and bigger towns today. Strategies that worked in past elections will be irrelevant this time round.

Another factor is that most decisions made after the 2010 constitution have to be endorsed by parliament. The Senate and National Assembly are critical to what the voters’ get, in more or less the same way the Presidency does.

Voters should, during this campaign period make their MCAs and MPs know that they are aware of this, and push them to commit on what they will bring home.

There were days when the big man at the State House made all the decisions. Those days are over. People should also take interest in who their next Governor is. Devolved resources are critical to the fortunes or otherwise of the rural areas.

I doubt the rural voter is aware of the kind of power they wield in determining their destiny. Voters in Central and parts of the Rift Valley already know this because they have held the Presidency. Those in Western are yet to appreciate this. But I think this is changing due to demographic shifts to a younger, better educated population.

There existed a demon called ‘Mwatasi Sindu’. This culture of handouts is truly embedded in our election cycle.

Having been going on for so long time, and all indicators show that the culture of ‘Mwatasi Sindu’ is going nowhere, it will be here for a very long time to come. It will probably play a big role this time round. But I think as the voter population gets younger the impact of this in decision making will be reduced.

Meanwhile, Nairobi voters are likely going to vote a certain way, where the Luo will vote Azimio to a man. The rest of the voting blocs will be divided, and in the case of the Kikuyu Vote, it will be divided right in the middle. This puts Ruto far much ahead in terms of numbers.

The Azimio numbers will only make sense after they break down their manifesto to Kenya’s in a language they can understand. Trouble is, to a majority voter, they don’t give a damn about the contents of any manifesto. They only care about what is coming to them at the time… even if it’s only KES 50.

By Caleb Kitui