The race to succeed President Uhuru Kenyatta is shaping up and, as expected, it is getting crowded already, two years to the ballot.
The lack of incumbency somehow levels the ground, yet at the same time raises the stakes, hence the early strategising and jostling.
As always, the contest will come down to two factors: numbers and money — lots of it.
If recent revelations that Jubilee Party could have forked out almost Sh600 million to run a propaganda enterprise in the 2017 polls are anything to go by, the huge cost of running a presidential campaign will separate the haves and the have nots in the run-up to the 2022 polls.
But two years is a long time in politics. And even though Deputy President William Ruto is emerging as a front runner already, the field could be turned upside down by President Kenyatta should he name someone else as his preferred successor.
That, coupled with the President’s legacy battles, his political pact with Orange Democratic Movement leader Raila Odinga, the probability of coalitions, the unpredictability of traditional voting blocs and their allegiances, as well as the effects of the proposed referendum on the electorate, will shape the political narrative in the next two years.
Although Mr Odinga and President Kenyatta have insisted their deal is only meant to unite the country, and that it has no political component, it has left many, particularly in Mr Ruto’s turf, questioning whether the Head of State will renege on his promise to support his deputy in 2022.
As things stand now, among the leaders political analysts believe stand a great chance to succeed Mr Kenyatta are Mr Ruto, Mr Odinga and Amani National Congress’ Musalia Mudavadi.
The front runner at the moment is Mr Ruto, who appears to have used his years as DP to learn about the country and its people and is now reaching out to political and religious leaders to bolster his campaigns.
The former Eldoret North MP is also relatively wealthy compared to the rest of the candidates, and is therefore embarking on this battle propped up by a formidable war chest.
Should he survive the many allegations that he is quick to protect corrupt leaders and technocrats, and manage to marshal the support of Mt Kenya region, the Coast, Western and Rift Valley, he would be home and dry.
History researcher and author Godfrey Sang says Mr Ruto’s biggest advantage so far could be the handshake between President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga and the public perceptions of the whole pact since then.
“Mr Odinga has convinced his troops that Uhuru is good and Ruto bad. But the more he drums that up, and the more the state is seen, felt or thought to be frustrating the candidacy of Ruto, the more he becomes popular to the citizens,” Mr Sang says.
But Prof Odhiambo Ndege, a lecturer of politics at Moi University says, “Mr Ruto has spoiled his own chances by making assassination claims, being associated with corruption, and appearing to be too ambitious.”
“No second-in-command has exhibited such ambition before. People now believe that if he wins, we will be in a lot of problems,” Prof Ndege says.
Although he is yet to declare his aspirations for 2022, Mr Odinga has been revamping ODM, which, according to opinion polls, is Kenya’s second most popular party after Jubilee.
His Building Bridges Initiative and talk of a coming referendum indicate that Mr Odinga is nowhere near retirement.
Observers also believe his dalliance with President Kenyatta and the First Family’s key decision makers, including Mr George Muhoho, could boost his stab for the presidency.
But the former premier’s ambitions could be curtailed by the history of the Odingas, with some linking them to unannounced radical changes and fear that they will revenge against the ills, true or false, committed against them.
Mr Mudavadi, on the other hand, has been there, done that, and lost it. This time round however, he has started early by selling his brand of political gospel in central Kenya, where he hopes to bag the support the vote-rich bloc.
Going by his private meetings and the many public fundraisers he has been holding in the region, Mr Mudavadi believes he stands a chance, no matter how small, of running away with crucial votes.
On Friday, Mr Mudavadi said he is focused on succeeding Mr Kenyatta in 2022.
He was Mr Kenyatta’s running-mate in 2002 when Narc kicked Kanu from power, as well as Mr Odinga’s partner in the 2007 disputed presidential election.
But Prof Ndege says “Musalia is taken as someone who is not serious”. “He is also soft, hence can be manipulated. Kenyans don’t want such a soft person. If the support is ethnic, his Luhya background is known to be divided like no other.”
The other contender is Baringo Senator Gideon Moi, heir of the vast political empire of his father, retired President Daniel arap Moi.
Mr Moi seems to have learnt from the experiences of his past and knows that, while Kanu has enjoyed a rather emotional following as the independence party, a realistic stab at 2022 would involve other parties or coalitions.
That he plays second fiddle to the Deputy President in his home turf means skill and right judgment will be critical, and he knows it.
That is why he’s working hard to strategically position himself and Kanu as the more sober candidates in a rather murky political field.
Mr Moi has also shed off the tag of a man with deep pockets but short hands by sponsoring myriad teams and funding initiatives that will come handy at the negotiation table.
Pundits believe Mr Moi is also seriously overshadowed in the Rift Valley politics by the presence of Mr Ruto, and disadvantaged by the “ills” of his father”.
A rather surprise candidature is that of Council of Governors Chairman and Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya, who is banking on the goodwill of top political leaders like Mr Odinga and President Kenyatta to turn political tables.
The ODM’s co-deputy party leader hails from the populous Kakamega County and has won accolades for his development record.
Whether that is enough to edge out Ford-Kenya leader Moses Wetang’ula, who hails from the same region, remains to be seen; but Mr Oparanya’s political clout received a boost after he was elected chairman of the 14-member Lake Region Economic Bloc (LREB) before he clinched the chairmanship of the Council of Governors.
“Everybody can see my development track record in the last six years since I was elected Kakamega Governor,” he says.
“My ambition is to translate the same to the national arena if Kenyans give me the opportunity to serve them as their fifth president. At the moment, I’m strategising on how best to go about the 2022 bid. I’m confident everything will go according to plan.”
He says he enjoys a good working relationship with President Kenyatta, Mr Ruto and Mr Odinga, whom he “consults often on key issues of national importance”.
But, should he gather the steam, Mr Oparanya could be forced to square it out with another surprise candidate who, although he has not declared any political ambition, has been rumoured to be a possible Kenyatta successor.
That candidate is Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’í, who, although lacking in political experience and muscle, is already attracting attention in his Kisii backyard as a possible replacement for former Finance Cabinet Secretary Simeon Nyachae as the community spokesman and torchbearer.
What Dr Matiang’i lacks in money and a huge tribal base he compensates with his ability to deliver when given a job.
He is one of President Kenyatta’s most trusted allies and had his star start shining bright when he was appointed to supervise the operations of various ministries.
Should he get the backing of his boss and an endorsement from a critical bloc, he would be a man to watch.
Nyamira County Woman Representative Jerusha Momanyi says the plan now is to rally local youth, women and church leaders to back Dr Matiang’i for presidency in 2022, and then sit and watch the wave gather its own momentum.
An equally surprise candidate, although not new in politics, could be United Nations Conference on Trade and Development secretary-general Mukhisa Kituyi.
Whereas he has made his name as a national leader, his fortunes in his Bungoma backyard have been a mixed bag.
Talk that he is working with former Gatanga MP Peter Kenneth and Makueni Governor Kivutha Kibwana will set tongues wagging as they front non-tribal and performance-driven politics.
But, in a country where politics and tribe engage in a macabre dance every four years, this approach would require more than just the brilliance of these three leaders if it were to succeed.
Wiper Democratic Movement leader Kalonzo Musyoka, who has been Mr Odinga’s running mate in the past two elections, is also said to be eyeing the top seat.
The Ukambani political supremo who helped stabilise President Kibaki’s wing of the Grand Coalition Government when he swiftly moved to the then PNU leader’s camp following the disputed 2007 elections, commands a huge following in eastern Kenya and favourable rating in parts of Rift Valley and the Coast.
To Prof Ndege however says that some of those purporting to go for the top seat are nothing but spoiler candidates with only a nuisance value.
They have several things in common, one being that they do not command a national clout.
He says elections are just a formality as choices are made by the interested parties, including the international community, powerful countries, the incumbent, and a small clique of powerful Kenyans.
Lawyer John Waiganjo, who is also a former Ol Joro Orok MP, notes that “apart from the trio of Ruto, Raila and Mudavadi, who are the front runners, nobody else has come out clearly to state he will contest. The others being mentioned in the race are just stooges of the three” he says.
Reporting by Lucas Barasa, Anita Chepkoech, Wycliff Kipsang and Benson Amadala