Deputy President William Ruto is systematically executing an elaborate vote-hunting strategy to lock key Jubilee Party traditional support bases and penetrate opposition strongholds.
According to his strategists, Dr Ruto has zoned the country into three regions: red, green and battleground zones.
Red refers to Luo Nyanza, which Dr Ruto believes would be an exercise in futility in trying to win it over without a political pact with the regional supremo Raila Odinga.
He is therefore not going to waste his precious time there for now, but his strategy for the region includes securing pockets of votes in Kisii, Nyamira and Kuria in Migori County.
According to his lieutenants, some of whom spoke in confidence to the Sunday Nation, the Rift Valley and Central (green) are perceived to be behind him and all he has to do is retain support by intensifying visits and avoiding any major political blunders in the next three years.
Some experts however hold that the Central Kenya vote should not be listed as secured since there are many undercurrents.
Central support remains unpredictable with the unity of the ruling Jubilee Party and President Uhuru Kenyatta’s stand as crucial factors ahead of the next election.
The working paper further identifies Coast, Western, Ukambani and Gusiiland as battleground zones that can tilt in Dr Ruto’s favour if he bombards them continuously.
The Sunday Nation further learnt that the DP’s diary is fully packed until June next year and if need be, he will be required to address more than three counties, with fundraisers forming the bulk of the engagements every week.
“His calendar is tight until next year,” Belgut MP Nelson Koech, a member of DP’s strategy team, divulged.
Accordingly, Dr Ruto has created clusters comprising politicians on whose backs he wants to ride to market his ambition.
“Depending on how we mapped out the country, we have distinctive teams charged with areas of focus. The aim is to realise targeted messaging and to cover as much ground as possible in our development tours,” former Kakamega Senator Boni Khalwale, now a key Ruto ally from Western, said.
Out of the 19.6 million voters registered by the time the country went to the elections in 2017, the areas he targets had registered half of the total vote.
Kiambu (1.18 million), Nakuru (949,618), Kakamega (743,736), Meru (702, 480), Murang’a (587,126), Mombasa (580,223), Bungoma (559,850), Kisii (546,580) and Kilifi (508,068).
Others are Trans Nzoia (339,622), Laikipia (246,487), Nyamira (278,853), Nyeri (456,949), Nyandarua (335,634) and Kirinyaga (349,836).
In the Coast region, he has his eyes trained on Kwale (281,041), Tana River (118,327), Taita Taveta (155,716) and Lamu (69,776). There is also Tharaka Nithi (213,154) and Embu (309,468).
Even though Dr Ruto has repeatedly said he has not started campaigning, his strategists tell of a deliberate pattern in his visits at this early stage to have a head start over competitors.
Several lobbies linked to the campaign have also been formed; Inua mama lobby comprising the likes of Alice Wahome, Aisha Jumwa, Susan Kihika and Millicent Omanga has been charged with checkmating Team Embrace that is opposed to the idea of Dr Ruto succeeding President Kenyatta.
Our sources within the strategy team also said that from next year, there will be a vibrant youth wing, Vijana na Ruto, to endear younger population to his side.
In the past one year alone, the DP has made more than 350 tours to different parts of the country with more concentration in Central, Coast and Western, regions he is persuaded hold key to his State House ambition beyond his secured Rift bloc.
In Western, the thinking is that the continuing confusion with no clear unity plan presents attractive prospects.
It explains why he has many pointmen such as Senate Speaker Ken Lusaka, Majority Whip Ben Washiali and now Dr Khalwale.
On Saturday, Dr Ruto was in Mbeere, Embu County, and is today expected in Mathioya, Murang’a, for a church fundraiser.
To ensure media coverage at the events, there are occasions his communication teams are split into three and dispatched to different parts of target regions ahead of his visits.
So many had the trips become that at some point there was a standoff with the Office of the President over ballooning per diems for the staff attached to him.
Dr Ruto believes that through the church, he cannot only reach directly to voters but also cultivate the image of a God-fearing and generous leader.
This also helps fight the “corruption” tag some of his opponents have used against him.
He is betting big on endorsement by religious leaders as the race to succeed Mr Kenyatta gains momentum.
Since 2013, the DP has donated hundreds of millions to churches, sometimes attracting criticism from those who are keen to question the source of his finances at a time his boss is leading a crackdown on graft.
Energy Cabinet Secretary Charles Keter, a key cog in his strategy team, once told this writer that the DP fasts every Wednesday, as he believes that the journey he has embarked on not only requires physical and financial commitment but also divine intervention.
Early last month, he erected a prayer altar at his official residence in Karen to demonstrate to the world how serious he is in matters faith.
It also turns out that all this arsenal is being sharpened with Mr Odinga in mind as the likely challenger.
“We are well aware that our main opponent will be Mr Odinga. We are also aware that the DP remains in firm control of Rift Valley and Central, and we do not want to lose a single vote from there,” Dr Khalwale said.
Dr Ruto is so hands-on that he frequently makes conference calls to his pointmen to get feedback from around the country, sometimes weekly, sometimes fortnightly.
Most of his key field ‘agents’ are not elected representatives but ordinary citizens whom he has recruited.
The DP is alive to the risk of an echo chamber especially when dealing with ‘sycophants’.
One thing that makes the second in command stand out, some of his agents say, is his ability to take care of them.
They say he caters for their welfare sometimes with hefty rewards.
Then there is the second layer of elected representatives in all parts of the country doing his bidding: MCAs, MPs and governors.
His handlers say that going forward, he will seize every opportunity to test his war machine.
He saw one in the case of Kibra by-election. With all indications that the ruling Jubilee Party would not field a candidate, the DP arm-twisted the top party organs into giving greenhorn McDonald Mariga the ticket.
“Kibra has significance to us. Firstly, a win for us will demonstrate that Jubilee, on whose ticket DP will run, is the party of the future. Also, capturing Kibra, which is in the capital city and held by our opponents, would be a good sign of bigger things to come,” Mr Koech said.
Aware of the blow he would likely suffer were Mr Kenyatta to renege on his promise to back him in 2022, Dr Ruto decided, two years ago, to sidestep the Mt Kenya elite, a move that angered power brokers such as David Murathe, who have vowed to stop him in his tracks.
Dr Ruto believes that he can convince Central voters to reciprocate his support for their son in 2013.
The preference of his strategists for Central would be to have fringe candidates from the region to allow Dr Ruto to get a good share of the vote. One or two current governors could run as part of the game.
Kiharu MP Ndindi Nyoro says the DP only needs to sustain the momentum to get the bulk of the votes from the larger Mt Kenya region.
“You see him launching more projects and participating in harambees to remain in the minds and hearts of the voters,” Mr Nyoro said.
In public, the DP has cleverly avoided being entangled in the politics of ‘repaying the debt’ in the region.