UKUNDA, KENYA - With less than three weeks before the Kenyan presidential election, current Prime Minister Raila Odinga is vying for an outright first-round win. As election day gets closer, Odinga’s campaign is increasing its criticism of his main opponent in hopes of avoiding a run-off vote.
Odinga and Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta are Kenya’s presidential frontrunners. With eight candidates in the field, however, surveys indicate none of the contenders will win more than half the vote in the first round. That would set up a run-off election between the top two finishers.
Despite the polls, Odinga’s strategists are convinced a first-round victory is possible.
It is a massive operation. The Odinga campaign includes eight different advance teams and thousands of volunteers. Last week they organized packed rallies across the Coast province.
There, members of Odinga’s Coalition for Reforms and Democracy increased their offensive against Kenyatta, continuously reminding voters that he is under indictment by the International Criminal Court.
Kenyatta and his running mate, William Ruto, are both charged in connection with the violence that swept across Kenya after the disputed presidential election in 2007. Kenyatta repeatedly has denied the ICC charges, and said during Monday’s presidential debate the trial would not interfere with his ability to govern the country.
At a rally in Malindi, though, Odinga running mate Kalonzo Musyoka warned voters that electing Kenyatta would damage Kenya’s international reputation.
“We do not want as a people to do things that are going to bring disgrace and dishonor to this nation,” said Musyoka.
In a country with 42 different ethnic communities, tribalism in voting also is a key concern. Wafula Buke, the campaign’s field manager, said Odinga is looking to project an image of inclusiveness.
“For once, you can have 40 communities identify him as a leader that can help this nation move forward," said Buke. "Of course, in the remaining two, which is our rival’s strongholds, we have elements of support, but there they dominate.”
Buke said the campaign also will continue to focus on land redistribution, which played well in the Coast province. Odinga’s manifesto promises to address situations where communities were forcibly displaced from land.
Walter Odhiambo, who is helping run the campaign for a local member of parliament, said Odinga’s land stance was one of the main reasons his candidate joined the prime minister’s coalition.
“It’s the key reason. We need the land issue to be settled. We need the poverty to be settled," said Odhiambo. "We think if we choose CORD to govern the country, we will realize all these things.”
Following Monday’s debate, Odinga is set to return to the road. Buke said that while the campaign’s key messages are established, the schedule is flexible depending on what additional issues arise.