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THE SUPREME COURT VERSUS THE COURT OF PUBLIC OPINION: Why Raila Odinga’s second petition matters

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Raila Wins
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For the second time in as many elections, presidential candidate Raila Odinga has taken his case to Kenya’s highest court, the Supreme Court, alleging that he was robbed of victory. Four-and-a-half years ago, he grudgingly accepted the verdict of the six judges who ruled on his petition and who dismissed every issue he raised. Their written judgement has been excoriated across the globe for its shaky reasoning and privileging of procedure over substance. So, can Raila expect the court to be any more inclined to give him a better hearing this time?

There are significant differences between the current and the 2013 Supreme Court. By 2013, the court had already lost its Deputy Chief Justice, Nancy Baraza, to an ill-advised public altercation with a security guard reportedly involving nose-grabbing and admonitions to “know people”. The obvious effect of this was the risk of a hung court, with three justices voting each way, a situation that appears unforeseen and unaddressed by our constitution. Thus this may have been a significant consideration for the relatively young court and may have contributed to the absolute unanimity of the 2013 decision.

The 2013 judgement was a kick in the teeth, not just for the Raila campaign, but for the 2010 constitution and many of the progressive principles underlying it. And, as lawyer Wachira Maina described it, the judgement was “both detailed and important, but the parts that are detailed are not important and those that are important are not detailed.”

This time, however, the full complement of seven judges is available. However, it not the same bench. Two of the judges who heard the first petition have since left the court, some of them kicking and screaming and at least one under a cloud of suspicion. Kalpana Rawal, who replaced Baraza as the Deputy Chief Justice, promptly sued her employer, the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), to try and avoid being forced to retire at the age of 70, as specified in the constitution. It became an unseemly, farcical case that made its way to the Supreme Court, where she sat as a judge and which was riddled with conflicts of interest – some of the judges were themselves due to retire; others, such as the Chief Justice Willy Mutunga, were members of the JSC.

At the same time, Justice Philip Tunoi, who was among the Supreme Court judges fighting to forestall retirement, found himself embroiled in accusations of having taken a Sh200-million bribe in a petition against the election of Nairobi Governor Evans Kidero. A tribunal appointed by President Uhuru Kenyatta (following the JSC’s recommendation) to look into Tunoi’s suitability for office, however, had to wrap up its investigations prematurely after he was compulsorily retired by the recusal of Mutunga and Justice Smokin Wanjala from the Rawal case, which left no quorum.

Further, the court’s privileging of procedural rules rather than the substance of the dispute, as when it threw out Odinga’s 800-page affidavit that contained the meat of his case, as well as its reliance on questionable precedents from Nigeria (not exactly a bastion of democracy), also represented a huge step backwards.

Although only four veterans of the 2013 petition remain, it is unclear whether the court has recovered from the largely self-inflicted wounds to its credibility. Further, there is one sense in which the Supreme Court is itself constitutionally illegitimate. And that is because its composition falls afoul of the constitutional principle that “not more than two-thirds of the members of elective or appointive bodies shall be of the same gender”. As it stands today, five of its seven judges are men, which is more than two-thirds. This, therefore, raises the question whether the court can enforce a constitution it so blatantly violates.

Another example of unconstitutional conduct by the court is the fee it has imposed for the filing of a petition. The Constitution is clear that “the State shall ensure access to justice for all persons and, if any fee is required, it shall be reasonable and shall not impede access to justice.” Yet the Supreme Court requires that anyone exercising the right to challenge the presidential election pay a fee of Sh500,000 and deposit a further Sh1 million with the court as security for costs. Although this may not be much of an inconvenience to the super-wealthy NASA principals, in a country with an average annual per capita income of Sh100,000, it clearly “impede[s] access to justice” for the vast majority of the population.

However, there is another legacy of the first court that the current one still has to overcome, and that is the legacy of the 2013 judgement itself. In many ways, if it is to deliver a credible judgement, the court will have to confront and correct the deficiencies of that judgement. As Odinga said, it is an opportunity for redemption.

The 2013 judgement was a kick in the teeth, not just for the Raila campaign, but for the 2010 constitution and many of the progressive principles underlying it. And, as lawyer Wachira Maina described it, the judgement was “both detailed and important, but the parts that are detailed are not important and those that are important are not detailed.”

Importantly, the court subverted the idea of accountability by placing onerous burdens on the petitioners, rather than on the state, to prove what went wrong. This cannot be how the constitution conceptualised citizens’ relationship to the government. It generally should be enough for citizens to show that there is good cause for them to be suspicious of the state and up to the latter to demonstrate that what it did was both legal and proper.

The constitution was the culmination of a decades-long struggle to, in the words of John Harrington and Ambreena Manji, “tame the Kenyan Leviathan”, the authoritarian colonial state that had survived independence and nearly every attempt since to reform it. Throughout, the courts had been a central pillar in protecting the state from the people, almost always deferring to the wishes of the executive. “This deference was manifest, sometimes in outright bias, more often in a resort to procedural rules, denying citizens standing to hold the authorities to account.” The 2010 constitution was meant to reverse the concentration of power in the national executive and to make it more accountable. However, “rather than taming Leviathan the tendency of the [2013] decision has been to restore several of its key features.”

For example, the standard of proof established in the decision was onerously high. As Manji and Harrington stated, “All told, the Court has presented petitioners in presidential cases with almost insuperable obstacles of proof. The judgment casts them in the role, not of concerned citizens pursuing good governance, but as hostile prosecutors, charging the executive with culpable incompetence or serious criminal conduct and required to prove all elements of their case to the highest standard more or less… The effect of Court’s ruling in the immediate context is to insulate both the IEBC [Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission] and the candidate which it declares to have won on the first round from effective challenge in almost all cases.”

The court also appeared to require that Odinga and his fellow petitioners not only prove that there were irregularities in the election, but also that, beyond reasonable doubt, without these irregularities, he would have won. As Maina notes, “The law as borrowed from Nigeria, combined with the new standard of proof, leads to this absurd result: Mr. Odinga could show that the irregularities were so gross that everything about the election is in doubt [but that] would not necessarily be to his benefit.” If the election was so impugned that one could not prove beyond reasonable doubt who won, “the result announced by IEBC would stand. This, surely, cannot be good law.”

Importantly, the court subverted the idea of accountability by placing onerous burdens on the petitioners, rather than on the state, to prove what went wrong. This cannot be how the constitution conceptualised citizens’ relationship to the government. It generally should be enough for citizens to show that there is good cause for them to be suspicious of the state and up to the latter to demonstrate that what it did was both legal and proper.

Odinga will be taking his case to the people, whose judgement will matter much more than that of the judges. There, burdens will be reversed. It will be the IEBC and Kenyatta on trial; they will have to demonstrate the propriety of their actions and, thus, of their claim to legitimacy.

Further, the court’s privileging of procedural rules rather than the substance of the dispute, as when it threw out Odinga’s 800-page affidavit that contained the meat of his case, as well as its reliance on questionable precedents from Nigeria (not exactly a bastion of democracy), also represented a huge step backwards.

Even the delivery of the judgement itself was wanting, with Chief Justice Mutunga opting not to read all of it in open court but rather delivering the verdict with a promise to avail the reasoning behind it within a fortnight. It thus seemed like either the judgement was too embarrassing to read out in its entirety or that the verdict came first and the reasoning later. The seeming privileging of unanimity also meant that the judges did not contribute individual judgements and thus we were unable to interrogate their individual reasons for coming to the conclusions that they did.

The rub of it is that, if followed, the precedent set by the 2013 decision virtually guarantees that the court will never reverse the IEBC’s declaration of a winner in the presidential election, especially not if that declaration is made in the first round. It is thus exceedingly unlikely, though obviously not impossible, that the second Odinga petition will fare any better than the first. However, that does not mean it is an exercise in futility. For there is another, much more important court he will be presenting his evidence to.

If the last time is anything to go by, every word of the proceedings will be broadcast to an attentive audience of millions of Kenyans. Odinga will thus be laying out his evidence not just for the benefit of judges in the sanitised environment of a court room but also to the fervent, anxious, speculative and intensely polarised country beyond. Odinga will be taking his case to the people, whose judgement will matter much more than that of the judges. There, burdens will be reversed. It will be the IEBC and Kenyatta on trial; they will have to demonstrate the propriety of their actions and, thus, of their claim to legitimacy.

He will not only dispense with the easy and thoughtless monikers, such as “perennial loser”, but will in the process fatally undermine Kenyatta’s authority. His petition will thus provide the necessary oxygen for any campaign of civil disobedience and peaceful protest that he may be inclined to pursue in a bid to either recover his rights or to push for further reform.

Legal declarations can bequeath power, but only the people can offer legitimacy. And it cannot be coerced out of them, whether through beatings, intimidation or even murder. It can only be given voluntarily. The election is just a way of attempting to entice it out of them. But for too long, the state has violated the bargain and tried to subvert the will of the people by stealing elections. In his testimony before the Senate last year, Samuel Macharia, the owner of Royal Media Services, the country’s largest TV and radio network, said he had evidence that every presidential election in the multiparty era, except the 2002 one, had been stolen.

So, while winning the election has some value, the legitimacy it is said to confer is dubious at best. By appealing directly to the people, Odinga will be seeking their endorsement to erode Kenyatta’s. If he succeeds, regardless of whether the Supreme Court still rules against him, his legacy will be secure as “The People’s President”. He will not only dispense with the easy and thoughtless monikers, such as “perennial loser”, but will in the process fatally undermine Kenyatta’s authority. His petition will thus provide the necessary oxygen for any campaign of civil disobedience and peaceful protest that he may be inclined to pursue in a bid to either recover his rights or to push for further reform.

And even though, like his father, Odinga never got to govern the neocolonial Kenyan state, his struggle in the Supreme Court will further undermine the state’s legitimacy and bring Kenya closer to the day when it is eventually overthrown.

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Mr. Gathara is a social and political commentator and cartoonist based in Nairobi.

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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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Asylum Pact: Rwanda Must Do Some Political Housecleaning
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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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