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KENYA: Corruption, Tribalism And Politics, The Unholy Trinity

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Unholy Trinity
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Nairobi, Kenya

When you see that trading is done, not by consent, but by compulsion; when you see that in order to produce, you need to obtain permission from men who produce nothing; when you see that money is flowing to those who deal, not in goods, but in favour; when you see that men get richer by graft and by pull than by work, and your laws don’t protect you against them, but protect them against you; when you see corruption being rewarded and honesty becoming a self-sacrifice; you may know that your society is doomed. – Ayn Rand

I run a socio-political blog titled www.profmichaelwainaina.com that engages Kenyans on their political perspectives while in turn share my political perspectives with them. It has been an eye-opening experience for me, not least for its unprecedented provisions for actual interactions. The blog, as at the time of writing this article, has over 22,000 comments and over 19,000 followers on Facebook.

This interaction has given me an opportunity to map the general sentiments of Kenyans as regards their politics and politicians at the national level. From this, I have been able to reaffirm my earlier belief that corruption in Kenya is not a legal issue, nor is it an economic issue, nor is it a moral issue; it is a political issue. As in any other Kenyan political discourse, the conversations in my blog are dominated by the issue of corruption, its causes and possible solutions. The positions of the commentators will generally follow their political affiliation, which are in turn determined predominantly but not entirely by tribe.

WHO NEEDS A POLITICAL AGENDA? THIS IS KENYA

How does a political discourse on corruption, its causes and cures ultimately lead to tribally oriented engagements and tribally based solutions?

The primary purpose of political competition in Kenya is for the tribal warlords to gain power and their primary method of political mobilisation is tribe. Having ‘locked in’ a tribal voting bloc, they have no need for accountability and they do not need a progressive agenda. They only need a tribal constituency

It happens because, in Kenya, there is an unholy trinity linking tribalism, politics and corruption. There is a single political class in Kenya that comprises tribal warlords complete with identified and well-guarded ‘strongholds’ and with comparable histories of corruption, chaos and mediocrity. Their whole political ideology can be summed up in three words: Ethnicity, impunity and mediocrity. Their sole goal is to ethnicise, tyrannise politically and steal. The political class has no inspirational, modern or progressive agenda to address the malaise of poverty that affects the people or to modernise the country.

The primary purpose of political competition in Kenya is for the tribal warlords to gain power and their primary method of political mobilisation is tribe. Having ‘locked in’ a tribal voting bloc, they have no need for accountability and they do not need a progressive agenda. They only need a tribal constituency.

Currently, this largely homogenous political class is divided into two rival tribal coalitions who are tied together by the political interests and fortunes of their tribal warlords. They call themselves CORD and Jubilee.

CORD is a vehicle of three tribal warlords, strictly speaking of two warlords and a wannabe. Jubilee is a vehicle of two tribal warlords, each equally powerful. They were our only option in 2013. It was a two-horse race. One horse was the ‘bad,’ the other one was the ‘ugly.’ One of them won. I’m still not sure which one.

CORD was unable to use tribal numbers in 2013 to come to power. Jubilee pulled it off, courtesy of what has come to be known as the ‘tyranny of numbers’ They had no agenda, no plan and no strategy. They just happened to have the tribal numbers and they happened to be fugitives from international justice, having been indicted for crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court at the Hague.

The interactions in my blog will have generally three categories based on this current political configuration: Supporters of Jubilee and supporters of CORD; and a third currently minority group that thinks the supporters of either are ‘foolish Kenyans’ who will vote for their tribal kingpins regardless of their corruption and mediocrity.

MY DEVIL CAN BEAT UP YOUR DEVIL ANYTIME

The discourses on my blog seem predicated on the assumption that CORD and Jubilee are the only two options Kenya has for the 2017 election, while there is generally an agreement that both are equally tribal, corrupt and mediocre. The fact is the country is ready to elect one of them next year and unless something happens (more on this later), they will elect one of them. Those of my respondents who belong to the reality-based group claim that this ‘fact’ is unassailable. They subscribe to ‘the devil you know’ theory, with tribe being the sole determinant of ‘my’ devil.

I agree that unless something drastic happens, the Kenyan population will vote for the tribalists and thieves next year. I disagree, strongly, that they will vote for them because they are stupid. I disagree that Kenyans are tribalists and thieves in the making who only lack the opportunity

This has developed the sentiment among the third section of the respondents in my blog that the Kenyan population is made up of ignoramuses who, knowing that the CORD /Jubilee tribal political class is made up of thieves and looters, will still vote for them next year, and true to their character, the thieving and looting will continue.

I agree that unless something drastic happens, the Kenyan population will vote for the tribalists and thieves next year.

I disagree, strongly, that they will vote for them because they are stupid. I disagree that Kenyans are tribalists and thieves in the making who only lack the opportunity, as some commentators in my blog suggest. My response to the ‘voters are stupid and all of us are tribal and corrupt’ theory has always been that there is nothing wrong with Kenyans. Their behaviour is totally understandable, explainable and therefore modifiable. I call it the power of a singular narrative. Their behaviour is controlled by this narrative.

YOUR CORRUPTION IS WORSE THAN MY CORRUPTION

Politics is about narratives. Imagined narratives. The dominant narrative carries the day. In pluralistic societies, several narratives are competing for political space. The political class seeks to differentiate itself with the narratives they espouse and seek to entice the population with these narratives. The purpose of pluralism is to ensure that there is no dominant single narrative. And this is the problem with Kenya.

We have a political class with a dubious CORD /Jubilee divide but with a single narrative, and it has succeeded in making that narrative unimodal and dominant – tribe and access to state largesse using tribe. The choice is not between those who espouse the tribal narrative and others. The only choice is between which tribalist. People will always choose ‘my’ tribalist. The tribal warlords want it this way and therefore the tribal political narrative is not about to change. The political class simply cannot survive without it.

Access to state largesse and the legitimisation of corruption occurs via this narrative. It is the narrative that supports the ‘it is our time to eat’ mentality. It is also the narrative that supports the ‘we are being finished’ siege mentality. It is the basic definer of ‘political out’ and ‘political in.’ Those who are out do not complain against corruption because they would like to get rid of it, they complain because they are exempted from the eating. Corruption has become a big issue in the current political set-up because of the ‘out,’ group not because there is a consensus that it is bad. When the politicians in CORD and Jubilee were all together in the blood-soaked coalition government between 2008 and 2012, corruption was a subdued issue.

Corruption is thus a consequence of the tribal political narrative. The tribal political narrative is the instrument of choice of the tribal warlords that dominate our political space.

We will not succeed in fighting corruption unless we deal with the tribal political narrative. The question is how?

A CRISIS OF THE IMAGINATION

When President Barrack Obama came to Kenya, he said that the problem of ethnicity is a problem of the imagination. I agree. We have been bamboozled by the tribal political class into tribal cocoons. So much so that we are unable to imagine an alternative narrative. The political narrative of the current political class is ethnicise, tyrannise and steal. Jubilee are at the top of this narrative. CORD are playing catch up but doing a pretty good job. If they do win in 2017, and if how CORD-controlled counties are behaving is anything to go by, they will spin the most tribal, corrupt and wayward government this country has ever seen.

Due to lack of imagination, we feel helpless in the face of this narrative and in the grip of the tribal warlords who shout it from the top of their voices. We see all possibilities only in tribal terms and therefore only in the terms of the tribal warlords. We need imagination. Marc Gafni tells us:

The greatest crisis of our lives is neither economic, intellectual nor even what we call religious. It’s a crisis of imagination. We get stuck on our paths because we are unable to reimagine our lives differently from what they are right now. We hold on desperately to the status quo, afraid that if we let go, we will be swept away by the torrential undercurrents of our emptiness.

Political imagination is the combination of the deep insights that come from a good education (though not always), natural brilliance and charisma. The ability of an individual to craft this compelling alternative narrative and communicate it convincingly to the people is what this country currently lacks. I do not know what that narrative is but I do know that for it to inspire the population to vote differently, it has to be new, non-ethnic and it has to be simply but compellingly communicated. Not many people are endowed with the intellectual wherewithal and the communication ability to conceptualise and articulate such an alternative narrative. In 2013, we had eight presidential candidates and the only ones who had a narrative were the tribal kingpins. The difficulty is more so in circumstances where the dominant narrative is so overwhelming like the ethnicise, tyrannize and steal narrative of the current political class in Kenya.

Political imagination is the combination of the deep insights that come from a good education (though not always), natural brilliance and charisma. The ability of an individual to craft this compelling alternative narrative and communicate it convincingly to the people is what this country currently lacks

The response I get on my blog to my suggestion that our only hope is to imagine and articulate an alternative non-ethnic political narrative is that it is impossible, utopian, naive, unrealistic and academic.

I agree. It could be all these things, but unfortunately it is also true. The antidote to such a compelling and dominating political narrative like tribe and access to state largesse as used by the current political class is an equally compelling and dominating alternative political narrative. It is R. Burkminster who said, ‘Never change things by fighting the existing reality; to change things build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.’

We need a new model that makes the old tribal model obsolete. And this is why I disagree with the theory of the stupidity of the Kenyan voter. For us to articulate a new non-ethnic political narrative and mobilise around it, we must believe, really believe, that the people are capable of making the right choices if they have the right options. The instrument of change is the people and the argument that they are stupid undermines this fact and makes change a non-possibility.

Events around the world have proved how a message that resonates with people can cause unthinkable seismic political shifts. Brexit and the election of Donald Trump are perfect examples.

Kenya eagerly awaits gallant men and women capable of articulating a new alternative non-ethnic political narrative. Our problem is not the thieving tribal political class, it is the failure of imagination to conceive and communicate an alternative narrative. This is the greatest time of need for our country. As Charles de Gaulle said:

These are the times in which a genius would wish to live. It is not in the still calm of life, or the repose of a pacific station, that great characters are formed. The habits of a vigorous mind are formed in contending with difficulties. Great necessities call out great virtues. When a mind is raised, and animated by scenes that engage the heart, then those qualities that would otherwise die dormant, wake into life and form the character of the hero and the statesman.

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Wainaina is a prominent Kenyan blogger.

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Asylum Pact: Rwanda Must Do Some Political Housecleaning

Rwandans are welcoming, but the government’s priority must be to solve the internal political problems which produce refugees.

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The governments of the United Kingdom and Rwanda have signed an agreement to move asylum seekers from the UK to Rwanda for processing. This partnership has been heavily criticized and has been referred to as unethical and inhumane. It has also been opposed by the United Nations Refugee Agency on the grounds that it is contrary to the spirit of the Refugee Convention.

Here in Rwanda, we heard the news of the partnership on the day it was signed. The subject has never been debated in the Rwandan parliament and neither had it been canvassed in the local media prior to the announcement.

According to the government’s official press release, the partnership reflects Rwanda’s commitment to protect vulnerable people around the world. It is argued that by relocating migrants to Rwanda, their dignity and rights will be respected and they will be provided with a range of opportunities, including for personal development and employment, in a country that has consistently been ranked among the safest in the world.

A considerable number of Rwandans have been refugees and therefore understand the struggle that comes with being an asylum seeker and what it means to receive help from host countries to rebuild lives. Therefore, most Rwandans are sensitive to the plight of those forced to leave their home countries and would be more than willing to make them feel welcome. However, the decision to relocate the migrants to Rwanda raises a number of questions.

The government argues that relocating migrants to Rwanda will address the inequalities in opportunity that push economic migrants to leave their homes. It is not clear how this will work considering that Rwanda is already the most unequal country in the East African region. And while it is indeed seen as among the safest countries in the world, it was however ranked among the bottom five globally in the recently released 2022 World Happiness Index. How would migrants, who may have suffered psychological trauma fare in such an environment, and in a country that is still rebuilding itself?

A considerable number of Rwandans have been refugees and therefore understand the struggle that comes with being an asylum seeker and what it means to receive help from host countries to rebuild lives.

What opportunities can Rwanda provide to the migrants? Between 2018—the year the index was first published—and 2020, Rwanda’s ranking on the Human Capital Index (HCI) has been consistently low. Published by the World Bank, HCI measures which countries are best at mobilising the economic and professional potential of their citizens. Rwanda’s score is lower than the average for sub-Saharan Africa and it is partly due to this that the government had found it difficult to attract private investment that would create significant levels of employment prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Unemployment, particularly among the youth, has since worsened.

Despite the accolades Rwanda has received internationally for its development record, Rwanda’s economy has never been driven by a dynamic private or trade sector; it has been driven by aid. The country’s debt reached 73 per cent of GDP in 2021 while its economy has not developed the key areas needed to achieve and secure genuine social and economic transformation for its entire population. In addition to human capital development, these include social capital development, especially mutual trust among citizens considering the country’s unfortunate historical past, establishing good relations with neighbouring states, respect for human rights, and guaranteeing the accountability of public officials.

Rwanda aspires to become an upper middle-income country by 2035 and a high-income country by 2050. In 2000, the country launched a development plan that aimed to transform it into a middle-income country by 2020 on the back on a knowledge economy. That development plan, which has received financial support from various development partners including the UK which contributed over £1 billion, did not deliver the anticipated outcomes. Today the country remains stuck in the category of low-income states. Its structural constraints as a small land-locked country with few natural resources are often cited as an obstacle to development. However, this is exacerbated by current governance in Rwanda, which limits the political space, lacks separation of powers, impedes freedom of expression and represses government critics, making it even harder for Rwanda to reach the desired developmental goals.

Rwanda’s structural constraints as a small land-locked country with no natural resources are often viewed as an obstacle to achieving the anticipated development.

As a result of the foregoing, Rwanda has been producing its own share of refugees, who have sought political and economic asylum in other countries. The UK alone took in 250 Rwandese last year. There are others around the world, the majority of whom have found refuge in different countries in Africa, including countries neighbouring Rwanda. The presence of these refugees has been a source of tension in the region with Kigali accusing neighbouring states of supporting those who want to overthrow the government by force. Some Rwandans have indeed taken up armed struggle, a situation that, if not resolved, threatens long-term security in Rwanda and the Great Lakes region. In fact, the UK government’s advice on travel to Rwanda has consistently warned of the unstable security situation near the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Burundi.

While Rwanda’s intention to help address the global imbalance of opportunity that fuels illegal immigration is laudable, I would recommend that charity start at home. As host of the 26th Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting scheduled for June 2022, and Commonwealth Chair-in-Office for the next two years, the government should seize the opportunity to implement the core values and principles of the Commonwealth, particularly the promotion of democracy, the rule of law, freedom of expression, political and civil rights, and a vibrant civil society. This would enable Rwanda to address its internal social, economic and political challenges, creating a conducive environment for long-term economic development, and durable peace that will not only stop Rwanda from producing refugees but will also render the country ready and capable of economically and socially integrating refugees from less fortunate countries in the future.

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Beyond Borders: Why We Need a Truly Internationalist Climate Justice Movement

The elite’s ‘solution’ to the climate crisis is to turn the displaced into exploitable migrant labour. We need a truly internationalist alternative.

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“We are not drowning, we are fighting” has become the rallying call for the Pacific Climate Warriors. From UN climate meetings to blockades of Australian coal ports, these young Indigenous defenders from twenty Pacific Island states are raising the alarm of global warming for low-lying atoll nations. Rejecting the narrative of victimisation – “you don’t need my pain or tears to know that we’re in a crisis,” as Samoan Brianna Fruean puts it – they are challenging the fossil fuel industry and colonial giants such as Australia, responsible for the world’s highest per-capita carbon emissions.

Around the world, climate disasters displace around 25.3 million people annually – one person every one to two seconds. In 2016, new displacements caused by climate disasters outnumbered new displacements as a result of persecution by a ratio of three to one. By 2050, an estimated 143 million people will be displaced in just three regions: Africa, South Asia, and Latin America. Some projections for global climate displacement are as high as one billion people.

Mapping who is most vulnerable to displacement reveals the fault lines between rich and poor, between the global North and South, and between whiteness and its Black, Indigenous and racialised others.

Globalised asymmetries of power create migration but constrict mobility. Displaced people – the least responsible for global warming – face militarised borders. While climate change is itself ignored by the political elite, climate migration is presented as a border security issue and the latest excuse for wealthy states to fortify their borders. In 2019, the Australian Defence Forces announced military patrols around Australia’s waters to intercept climate refugees.

The burgeoning terrain of “climate security” prioritises militarised borders, dovetailing perfectly into eco-apartheid. “Borders are the environment’s greatest ally; it is through them that we will save the planet,” declares the party of French far-Right politician Marine Le Pen. A US Pentagon-commissioned report on the security implications of climate change encapsulates the hostility to climate refugees: “Borders will be strengthened around the country to hold back unwanted starving immigrants from the Caribbean islands (an especially severe problem), Mexico, and South America.” The US has now launched Operation Vigilant Sentry off the Florida coast and created Homeland Security Task Force Southeast to enforce marine interdiction and deportation in the aftermath of disasters in the Caribbean.

Labour migration as climate mitigation

you broke the ocean in
half to be here.
only to meet nothing that wants you
– Nayyirah Waheed

Parallel to increasing border controls, temporary labour migration is increasingly touted as a climate adaptation strategy. As part of the ‘Nansen Initiative’, a multilateral, state-led project to address climate-induced displacement, the Australian government has put forward its temporary seasonal worker program as a key solution to building climate resilience in the Pacific region. The Australian statement to the Nansen Initiative Intergovernmental Global Consultation was, in fact, delivered not by the environment minister but by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection.

Beginning in April 2022, the new Pacific Australia Labour Mobility scheme will make it easier for Australian businesses to temporarily insource low-wage workers (what the scheme calls “low-skilled” and “unskilled” workers) from small Pacific island countries including Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Kiribati, Samoa, Tonga, and Tuvalu. Not coincidentally, many of these countries’ ecologies and economies have already been ravaged by Australian colonialism for over one hundred years.

It is not an anomaly that Australia is turning displaced climate refugees into a funnel of temporary labour migration. With growing ungovernable and irregular migration, including climate migration, temporary labour migration programs have become the worldwide template for “well-managed migration.” Elites present labour migration as a double win because high-income countries fill their labour shortage needs without providing job security or citizenship, while low-income countries alleviate structural impoverishment through migrants’ remittances.

Dangerous, low-wage jobs like farm, domestic, and service work that cannot be outsourced are now almost entirely insourced in this way. Insourcing and outsourcing represent two sides of the same neoliberal coin: deliberately deflated labour and political power. Not to be confused with free mobility, temporary labour migration represents an extreme neoliberal approach to the quartet of foreign, climate, immigration, and labour policy, all structured to expand networks of capital accumulation through the creation and disciplining of surplus populations.

The International Labour Organization recognises that temporary migrant workers face forced labour, low wages, poor working conditions, virtual absence of social protection, denial of freedom association and union rights, discrimination and xenophobia, as well as social exclusion. Under these state-sanctioned programs of indentureship, workers are legally tied to an employer and deportable. Temporary migrant workers are kept compliant through the threats of both termination and deportation, revealing the crucial connection between immigration status and precarious labour.

Through temporary labour migration programs, workers’ labour power is first captured by the border and this pliable labour is then exploited by the employer. Denying migrant workers permanent immigration status ensures a steady supply of cheapened labour. Borders are not intended to exclude all people, but to create conditions of ‘deportability’, which increases social and labour precarity. These workers are labelled as ‘foreign’ workers, furthering racist xenophobia against them, including by other workers. While migrant workers are temporary, temporary migration is becoming the permanent neoliberal, state-led model of migration.

Reparations include No Borders

“It’s immoral for the rich to talk about their future children and grandchildren when the children of the Global South are dying now.” – Asad Rehman

Discussions about building fairer and more sustainable political-economic systems have coalesced around a Green New Deal. Most public policy proposals for a Green New Deal in the US, Canada, UK and the EU articulate the need to simultaneously tackle economic inequality, social injustice, and the climate crisis by transforming our extractive and exploitative system towards a low-carbon, feminist, worker and community-controlled care-based society. While a Green New Deal necessarily understands the climate crisis and the crisis of capitalism as interconnected — and not a dichotomy of ‘the environment versus the economy’ — one of its main shortcomings is its bordered scope. As Harpreet Kaur Paul and Dalia Gebrial write: “the Green New Deal has largely been trapped in national imaginations.”

Any Green New Deal that is not internationalist runs the risk of perpetuating climate apartheid and imperialist domination in our warming world. Rich countries must redress the global and asymmetrical dimensions of climate debtunfair trade and financial agreements, military subjugation, vaccine apartheidlabour exploitation, and border securitisation.

It is impossible to think about borders outside the modern nation-state and its entanglements with empire, capitalism, race, caste, gender, sexuality, and ability. Borders are not even fixed lines demarcating territory. Bordering regimes are increasingly layered with drone surveillance, interception of migrant boats, and security controls far beyond states’ territorial limits. From Australia offshoring migrant detention around Oceania to Fortress Europe outsourcing surveillance and interdiction to the Sahel and Middle East, shifting cartographies demarcate our colonial present.

Perhaps most offensively, when colonial countries panic about ‘border crises’ they position themselves as victims. But the genocide, displacement, and movement of millions of people were unequally structured by colonialism for three centuries, with European settlers in the Americas and Oceania, the transatlantic slave trade from Africa, and imported indentured labourers from Asia. Empire, enslavement, and indentureship are the bedrock of global apartheid today, determining who can live where and under what conditions. Borders are structured to uphold this apartheid.

The freedom to stay and the freedom to move, which is to say no borders, is decolonial reparations and redistribution long due.

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The Murang’a Factor in the Upcoming Presidential Elections

The Murang’a people are really yet to decide who they are going to vote for as a president. If they have, they are keeping the secret to themselves. Are the Murang’a people prepping themselves this time to vote for one of their own? Can Jimi Wanjigi re-ignite the Murang’a/Matiba popular passion among the GEMA community and re-influence it to vote in a different direction?

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In the last quarter of 2021, I visited Murang’a County twice: In September, we were in Kandiri in Kigumo constituency. We had gone for a church fundraiser and were hosted by the Anglican Church of Kenya’s (ACK), Kahariro parish, Murang’a South diocese. A month later, I was back, this time to Ihi-gaini deep in Kangema constituency for a burial.

The church function attracted politicians: it had to; they know how to sniff such occasions and if not officially invited, they gate-crash them. Church functions, just like funerals, are perfect platforms for politicians to exhibit their presumed piousness, generosity and their closeness to the respective clergy and the bereaved family.

Well, the other reason they were there, is because they had been invited by the Church leadership. During the electioneering period, the Church is not shy to exploit the politicians’ ambitions: they “blackmail” them for money, because they can mobilise ready audiences for the competing politicians. The politicians on the other hand, are very ready to part with cash. This quid pro quo arrangement is usually an unstated agreement between the Church leadership and the politicians.

The church, which was being fund raised for, being in Kigumo constituency, the area MP Ruth Wangari Mwaniki, promptly showed up. Likewise, the area Member of the County Assembly (MCA) and of course several aspirants for the MP and MCA seats, also showed up.

Church and secular politics often sit cheek by jowl and so, on this day, local politics was the order of the day. I couldn’t have speculated on which side of the political divide Murang’a people were, until the young man Zack Kinuthia Chief Administrative Secretary (CAS) for Sports, Culture and Heritage, took to the rostrum to speak.

A local boy and an Uhuru Kenyatta loyalist, he completely avoided mentioning his name and his “development track record” in central Kenya. Kinuthia has a habit of over-extolling President Uhuru’s virtues whenever and wherever he mounts any platform. By the time he was done speaking, I quickly deduced he was angling to unseat Wangari. I wasn’t wrong; five months later in February 2022, Kinuthia resigned his CAS position to vie for Kigumo on a Party of the National Unity (PNU) ticket.

He spoke briefly, feigned some meeting that was awaiting him elsewhere and left hurriedly, but not before giving his KSh50,000 donation. Apparently, I later learnt that he had been forewarned, ahead of time, that the people were not in a mood to listen to his panegyrics on President Uhuru, Jubilee Party, or anything associated to the two. Kinuthia couldn’t dare run on President Uhuru’s Jubilee Party. His patron-boss’s party is not wanted in Murang’a.

I spent the whole day in Kandiri, talking to people, young and old, men and women and by the time I was leaving, I was certain about one thing; The Murang’a folks didn’t want anything to do with President Uhuru. What I wasn’t sure of is, where their political sympathies lay.

I returned to Murang’a the following month, in the expansive Kangema – it is still huge – even after Mathioya was hived off from the larger Kangema constituency. Funerals provide a good barometer that captures peoples’ political sentiments and even though this burial was not attended by politicians – a few senior government officials were present though; political talk was very much on the peoples’ lips.

What I gathered from the crowd was that President Uhuru had destroyed their livelihood, remember many of the Nairobi city trading, hawking, big downtown real estate and restaurants are run and owned largely by Murang’a people. The famous Nyamakima trading area of downtown Nairobi has been run by Murang’a Kikuyus.

In 2018, their goods were confiscated and declared contrabrand by the government. Many of their businesses went under, this, despite the merchants not only, whole heartedly throwing their support to President Uhuru’s controversial re-election, but contributing handsomely to the presidential kitty. They couldn’t believe what was happening to them: “We voted for him to safeguard our businesses, instead, he destroyed them. So much for supporting him.”

We voted for him to safeguard our businesses, instead, he destroyed them. So much for supporting him

Last week, I attended a Murang’a County caucus group that was meeting somewhere in Gatundu, in Kiambu County. One of the clearest messages that I got from this group is that the GEMA vote in the August 9, 2022, presidential elections is certainly anti-Uhuru Kenyatta and not necessarily pro-William Ruto.

“The Murang’a people are really yet to decide, (if they have, they are keeping the secret to themselves) on who they are going to vote for as a president. And that’s why you see Uhuru is craftily courting us with all manner of promises, seductions and prophetic messages.” Two weeks ago, President Uhuru was in Murang’a attending an African Independent Pentecostal Church of Africa (AIPCA) church function in Kandara constituency.

At the church, the president yet again threatened to “tell you what’s in my heart and what I believe and why so.” These prophecy-laced threats by the President, to the GEMA nation, in which he has been threatening to show them the sign, have become the butt of crude jokes among Kikuyus.

Corollary, President Uhuru once again has plucked Polycarp Igathe away from his corporate perch as Equity Bank’s Chief Commercial Officer back to Nairobi’s tumultuous governor seat politics. The first time the bespectacled Igathe was thrown into the deep end of the Nairobi murky politics was in 2017, as Mike Sonko’s deputy governor. After six months, he threw in the towel, lamenting that Sonko couldn’t let him even breathe.

Uhuru has a tendency of (mis)using Murang’a people

“Igathe is from Wanjerere in Kigumo, Murang’a, but grew up in Ol Kalou, Nyandarua County,” one of the Mzees told me. “He’s not interested in politics; much less know how it’s played. I’ve spent time with him and confided in me as much. Uhuru has a tendency of (mis)using Murang’a people. President Uhuru wants to use Igathe to control Nairobi. The sad thing is that Igathe doesn’t have the guts to tell Uhuru the brutal fact: I’m really not interested in all these shenanigans, leave me alone. The president is hoping, once again, to hopefully placate the Murang’a people, by pretending to front Igathe. I foresee another terrible disaster ultimately befalling both Igathe and Uhuru.”

Be that as it may, what I got away with from this caucus, after an entire day’s deliberations, is that its keeping it presidential choice close to its chest. My attempts to goad some of the men and women present were fruitless.

Murang’a people like reminding everyone that it’s only they, who have yet to produce a president from the GEMA stable, despite being the wealthiest. Kiambu has produced two presidents from the same family, Nyeri one, President Mwai Kibaki, who died on April 22. The closest Murang’a came to giving the country a president was during Ken Matiba’s time in the 1990s. “But Matiba had suffered a debilitating stroke that incapacitated him,” said one of the mzees. “It was tragic, but there was nothing we could do.”

Murang’a people like reminding everyone that it’s only they, who have yet to produce a president from the GEMA stable, despite being the wealthiest

It is interesting to note that Jimi Wanjigi, the Safina party presidential flagbearer is from Murang’a County. His family hails from Wahundura, in Mathioya constituency. Him and Mwangi wa Iria, the Murang’a County governor are the other two Murang’a prominent persons who have tossed themselves into the presidential race. Wa Iria’s bid which was announced at the beginning of 2022, seems to have stagnated, while Jimi’s seems to be gathering storm.

Are the Murang’a people prepping themselves this time to vote for one of their own? Jimi’s campaign team has crafted a two-pronged strategy that it hopes will endear Kenyans to his presidency. One, a generational, paradigm shift, especially among the youth, targeting mostly post-secondary, tertiary college and university students.

“We believe this group of voters who are basically between the ages of 18–27 years and who comprise more than 65 per cent of total registered voters are the key to turning this election,” said one of his presidential campaign team members. “It matters most how you craft the political message to capture their attention.” So, branding his key message as itwika, it is meant to orchestrate a break from past electoral behaviour that is pegged on traditional ethnic voting patterns.

The other plunk of Jimi’s campaign theme is economic emancipation, quite pointedly as it talks directly to the GEMA nation, especially the Murang’a Kikuyus, who are reputed for their business acumen and entrepreneurial skills. “What Kikuyus cherish most,” said the team member “is someone who will create an enabling business environment and leave the Kikuyus to do their thing. You know, Kikuyus live off business, if you interfere with it, that’s the end of your friendship, it doesn’t matter who you are.”

Can Jimi re-ignite the Murang’a/Matiba popular passion among the GEMA community and re-influence it to vote in a different direction? As all the presidential candidates gear-up this week on who they will eventually pick as their running mates, the GEMA community once more shifts the spotlight on itself, as the most sought-after vote basket.

Both Raila Odinga and William Ruto coalitions – Azimio la Umoja-One Kenya and Kenya Kwanza Alliance – must seek to impress and woe Mt Kenya region by appointing a running mate from one of its ranks. If not, the coalitions fear losing the vote-rich area either to each other, or perhaps to a third party. Murang’a County, may as well, become the conundrum, with which the August 9, presidential race may yet to be unravelled and decided.

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