The Kikuyus were divided between Ruto and Odinga

Supporters hold painted portraits of Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta (L), Azimio La Umoja Coalition presidential candidate Raila Odinga (C) and running mate Martha Karua during a campaign rally in Murang'a on July 23, 2022 , ahead of Kenya's August 2022 general elections

Supporters hold painted portraits of Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta (L), Azimio La Umoja Coalition presidential candidate Raila Odinga (C) and running mate Martha Karua during a campaign rally in Murang’a on July 23, 2022 , ahead of Kenya’s August 2022 general elections

In Kenya’s vote-rich Kikuyu community, opinion is sharply divided over outgoing President Uhuru Kenyatta’s move to back his one-time rival Raila Odinga, rather than his deputy William Ruto, as his successor in the hotly contested election to be held in 9. August.

Mr Kenyatta – who has reached the constitutional limit of two terms in office – has long been seen as the community’s political kingpin, with elders proudly referring to him as “our son”.

But during the BBC’s visit to Nyeri County – which lies in the Kikuyu heartland of Mount Kenya – it became clear that his credibility has taken a hit in his decision to support Mr Odinga in what he has presented as an effort to forge national unity after from decades of political enmity.

Lawyer Wahome Gikonyo felt Mr Kenyatta had betrayed Mr Ruto, who had helped him win two elections against Mr Odinga.

“Ruto kicked ass in 2013 and 2017. If it wasn’t for him Uhuru wouldn’t have become president. Is this how you repay a friend?” Mr Gikonyo remarked as he spoke to the BBC in his office in the county’s largest town, also known as Nyeri.

Some residents, such as Pastor Hannah Kanyithere, felt that Mr Kenyatta should not have been involved in the battle for his successor.

“Why is the president taking sides in this election? As bad as his deputy was, he should have remained neutral,” he added.

But taxi driver Hassan Kahoro was equally passionate in his defense of Mr Kenyatta, suggesting that with ethnicity a major fault line in Kenyan politics, the time had come for the Luo community to produce its first president – Mr .Odinga.

“We must give the Luo community a chance to lead this country. Who said the presidency should belong to the Kikuyus and the Kalenjins?” Mr Kahoro said as he addressed a crowd gathered near the central market.

He was referring to the fact that of Kenya’s four presidents since independence, three were Kikuyu. The late Daniel arap Moi – who was the longest-serving president, ruling for 24 years – was a Kalenjin, like Mr Ruto.

Welder Jackson Maina also expressed support for Mr Kenyatta’s decision to back “Baba”, or “Father”, as the 77-year-old Mr Odinga is referred to by his supporters.

“We are firmly behind the president and so we are behind Baba,” he said while standing outside his makeshift workshop.

Nyeri town is bedecked with huge billboards, banners and posters as the general election approaches.

There are songs in support of both camps.

One song – by renowned Kenyan musician Ben Githae – says Kenya will be safe in the hands of Mr Odinga and his running mate Martha Karua – a former justice minister and a Kikuyu considered a “daughter of the soil” of Mount Kenya. .

Another song – by politician Betty Maina – urges people to turn out to vote for Mr Ruto, who has chosen a Kikuyu businessman from Nyeri County, Rigathi Gachagua, as his running mate.

Kenya's Deputy President William Ruto (R) sits next to his running mate Rigathi Gachagua at the deputy's official residence in Karen, Nairobi on May 15, 2022

Deputy President William Ruto (R) and businessman Rigathi Gachagua hope to make a winning combination in the poll

Although Mr Gachagua has been dogged by allegations of corruption, he is a powerful mobiliser and has the ear of struggling Kikuyus.

Ms Karua is a political icon beyond the Kikuyu – and is known for her passion for judicial reform and her strong stance against corruption in government.

But if the latest Tifa poll is to be believed, neither she nor Mr Kenyatta have convinced a majority of Kikuyus to vote for Mr Odinga. The poll gives Mr Ruto a commanding lead in Mount Kenya – 66% to Mr Odinga’s 27%.

Nationally, the picture is different, with the poll putting Mr Odinga ahead by a narrow margin of 46.7% to 44.4% – not enough to secure the presidency, as the winner needs a majority of more than 50% to to avoid a runoff.

So the two sides will make a big push to woo swing voters in the final days of the election campaign.

Mr Kenyatta’s decision to support Mr Odinga has not only divided the Kikuyu community but also his family.

His cousin Kungu Muigai told local media that the president had gone against Kikuyu elders by dishonoring a 2013 pact, demanding the community reciprocate by supporting a Kalenjin once Mr Kenyatta’s two terms ended.

The separation is mourned by older members of the Kikuyu community, such as 100-year-old Nduhiu Njama, who welcomed us to his maisonette in Nyeri’s Tetu district.

“We gained independence by being united. What we are seeing right now is individualism that will cost us,” he said while showing photos from his past.

The Kikuyu people are mainly farmers. Tea and coffee plantations, as well as dairy farms, are spread throughout Mt Kenya.

Roads in rural areas are well paved making it easy for farmers to transport their produce.

The BBC visited farmers near the town of Othaya, where the late president Mwai Kibaki was based.

While feeding his dairy cows, George Wambugu said he was supporting Mr Ruto.

“Ruto is a farmer like me and when he was agriculture minister he brought reforms that saw tea farmers get the highest allowance ever. I know he will improve the agricultural sector,” said the 40-year-old father of three. a view shared by many farmers.

But some refused to express a preference — not surprising, as the debate was deeply polarizing.

“We just want more support like manure and fertilizer from the government to improve our coffee production,” said mother of four, Mercy Muthoni, as she picked coffee from her 80 bushes.

While the president of the farmers’ association of Otaya, Gatua Deritu, said that he had no favorites in this election.

“I really don’t care who becomes president after August 9, I just want better policies that will allow coffee farming to thrive,” he told the BBC.

Click here to view the interactive BBC

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