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STEALING ATTENTION: Why corruption is not a campaign issue in 2017



Corruption in Elections
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Corruption is Kenya’s favorite political pastime. It is the grease that oils the machinery of the extractive colonial state and an effective stick for the opposition to whack the government with. It generates screaming headlines, dominates talk on the airwaves and in public meeting places across the country. From Chickengate to MAfyaHouse to AngloFleecing to Toa Kitu Kidogo, it has enriched the lexicon of misgovernance even as it has impoverished the people.

So why does it seem that it has been barely mentioned during the 2017 election campaigns? Its absence is in marked contrast to the attention the issue had been receiving in the pre-campaign period but is the continuation of a trend that has seen the issue relegated to the electoral back-burner despite its salience in the five years in-between elections. It is a trend that took root at the end of the Nyayo era and can be discerned in the last three election cycles.

The 2002 elections, which finally brought the curtain down on the 24-year kleptocratic dictatorship of Daniel Arap Moi, were the last to be fought on a largely anti-graft platform. The Mwai Kibaki administration was inaugurated largely based on the promise of uprooting the vice. At that time, it was clear who the bad guys were. Or at least, a little clearer than it is today. Sure, Kibaki and many of the career politicians who made up the National Rainbow Coalition had at one time or the other been in bed with Moi. Kibaki himself had been Moi’s loyal Vice President for more than half of his tenure, and the rest, like Raila Odinga, who dissolved his National Democratic Party to join KANU in 2002, had either been part of Moi’s government or had eaten his ugali at one time or another and had consequently sung his song.

The Mwai Kibaki administration was inaugurated largely based on the promise of uprooting the vice. At that time, it was clear who the bad guys were. Or at least, a little clearer than it is today.

Still, in the popular imagination, Moi was the personification of everything that was wrong with Kenya and corruption was at the top of the list. In comparison to him, the others were veritable knights in shining armor, riding to rescue Kenyans from the dragon’s fiery keep.

It was only after Moi left the scene that the smell of sulfur lingered and Kenyans begun to cotton on to the truth. Within 3 years, the NARC government had been engulfed in a slew of corruption scandals, was condemned at home and abroad by former international allies for “eat[ing] like gluttons” and “vomit[ing] all over our shoes”. John Githongo, Kibaki’s anti-graft czar (and current Publisher of The Elephant), would be forced to flee for his life into exile in the UK from where he would make Anglo Leasing and “ngo srowry” a staple of political discussions back home.

Following the splits within NARC, which became a full divorce after he successfully campaigned for the rejection of a new constitution in the 2005 referendum, Raila and his allies were booted out of government, which left the Kibaki side holding the corruption baby. Thus, underneath the vicious, tribalised rhetoric employed by both sides during the 2007 campaign, the narrative of corruption was present, though not in as stark a frame as in 2003.

Amid all this, given that the Prime Minister and Vice President had teamed up to run against a Deputy Prime Minister and former Minister backed by the incumbent President, corruption was always going to be an unlikely vote-winner. Who would accuse whom?

The dispute and violence that followed that election led to the formation a Government of National Unity which wasted no time getting down to the business of stealing from the people. The very first meeting of the Grand Coalition Cabinet hatched the plan for what would become the 2009 maize scandal -basically a maize subsidy scheme that, in the words of Pricewaterhouse Coopers audit report, “was from the outset designed to fail and to provide a means for considerable financial exploitation at the expense of the state.”

With 40 Ministers and 52 Assistant Ministers, drawn from nearly every significant political party in the land, the GCC was Kenya’s largest ever and encompassed nearly half of the country’s 222 MPs. One consequence of this was that by the time the 2013 election rolled around, responsibility for graft had been still further diffused among the political elite and all were pretty much equally implicated in the vice. As George Orwell writes in Animal Farm, “The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”

In any case, another issue -also a legacy of the 2008 violence- had forced itself onto the agenda. The December 2010 indictments of 6 Kenyans at the International Criminal Court, and the confirmation of charges against Uhuru Kenyatta, William Ruto and journalist, Joshua Sang, profoundly shook up the Kenyan political scene and was the glue that cemented the Jubilee Coalition. The issues of whether the two should have even been permitted to run for office in the first place, and how they would govern while battling the charges at The Hague (perhaps via Skype, as Raila helpfully suggested) took centre stage.

Amid all this, given that the Prime Minister and Vice President had teamed up to run against a Deputy Prime Minister and former Minister backed by the incumbent President, corruption was always going to be an unlikely vote-winner. Who would accuse whom?

Just as in 2005, the people left in government would shoulder pretty much all of the blame for the all-too-predictable corrupt feeding frenzy that would follow.

The situation changed somewhat following Kenyatta’s inauguration. The 2013 elections were the first to be held under the 2010 constitution, which prevented candidates running for multiple offices. So when Raila and Kalonzo failed, that meant they were out, not just of government, but of Parliament as well. Which also means that, just as in 2005, the people left in government would shoulder pretty much all of the blame for the all-too-predictable corrupt feeding frenzy that would follow. As the President himself famously declared while addressing Raila at the funeral of William ole Ntimama last year, “endeleeni kumeza mate lakini nyama tutakula (you keep salivating as we eat meat)”.

Of course, Raila himself wasted no time painting the Kenyatta administration as the most corrupt in Kenya’s history. This effort was greatly assisted by a massive slew of corruption scandals that seemed to follow every major project the Jubilee government undertook, from revamping the National Youth Service to building the Standard Gauge Railway, from the Eurobond issue to the Youth and Women’s Funds.

Many of the more sensational allegations appeared to whirl around the Deputy President, whom Raila quickly branded the High Priest of Corruption. The scale and brazenness of the thieving and tenderpreneuring, the unwillingness and even inability of the administration to do anything to stem it, was a big reason why Odinga was able to effectively erase Kenyatta’s lead in the polls over the last year. But now that he has caught up, why does he not appear to press the advantage?

Well, once the campaigns started, the spotlight was not just on Jubilee, but on Raila’s NASA as well. And unlike Moi in 2002, Uhuru, despite his best efforts, has not been in power so long that his corruption essentially blinds us to that of his rivals. The NASA principals, especially Moses Wetangula, came with scandals of their own and corruption was effectively taken of the table when NASA was revealed to have been funded by Jimmy Wanjigi, one of the premier tenderpreneurs of our time. But not before the coalition had scored a spectacular own goal with the release of two manifestos, one decrying easily abused, Jubilee-type megaprojects and the other detailing a number of just such projects. Further, party spokesmen seemed completely flummoxed by the question of how a NASA government would deal with corruption in its own ranks beyond enforcing the existing law on conflicts of interest and hoping that its members adhere to a pre-election code of conduct.

But, for a long time, Kenyans have understood that “political will” to be a preserve of the elite who control government, rather than stemming from the people.

With the Supreme Court annulling the presidential election and ordering a fresh one, which is now slated for October 17, there appears to be little inclination within NASA to once again introduce what should be their trump-card. With a month to go to the poll, it is somewhat disheartening that the entire body politic is so implicated in graft that the issue barely gets a mention in electoral campaigns, despite being the most important cause of Kenyan immiseration. Ironically, though, it does also present the glimmers of an opportunity, one Kenyans would be wise to grab.

John Githongo has argued that Kenya has run out of policy fixes for the orgy of corruption that is eating up the fabric of the nation. What is really required, he asserts, is the political will to actually address it. But, for a long time, Kenyans have understood that “political will” to be a preserve of the elite who control government, rather than stemming from the people.

That at this very moment, when political pressure especially around election time could bear most fruit, political realities conspired to extinguish it is an opportunity for all Kenyans to take a step back and to understand that there is no one riding to their rescue. There are no knights in shining armor. It really is up to the people to deal with this.

The struggle against graft in the late 1980s and 1990s, led by the churches and civil society groups, correctly identified reform of the state itself as critical to success and so incorporated the need for a new constitution. Yet since we handed the fight over to the politicians in 2003, we have kept going round in circles. The 2010 constitution required a conflagration that almost rent the country apart in order to become a reality. And it has tellingly had little impact on overall corruption rates.

The 2010 constitution required a conflagration that almost rent the country apart in order to become a reality. And it has tellingly had little impact on overall corruption rates.

Kenyans will need to understand that the constitution will not reform the state so long as they do not demand it. And we have been here before. At Independence, we introduced a new constitution to reform the colonial state. According to “Amending the Constitution -Learning from History”, a paper presented by our current Attorney-General, Dr. Githu Muigai, at an International Commission of Jurists conference in 1992, “The colonial order had been one monolithic edifice of power that did not rely on any set of rules for legitimization. When the Independence constitution was put into place it was completely at variance with the authoritarian administrative structures that were still kept in place by the entire corpus of public law. Part of the initial amendments therefore involved an attempt – albeit misguided – to harmonise the operations of a democratic constitution with an undemocratic and authoritarian administrative structure. Unhappily instead of the latter being amended to fit the former, the former was altered to fit the latter with the result that the constitution was effectively downgraded.”

The “authoritarian administrative structures” that held up “the mononolithic edifice of [colonial] power” were what made up the colonial state, and they endure to this day. But the Supreme Court’s annulment of the presidential election has shown that the constitution can have real teeth, if only it is allowed to work. However, if it is not to go the way of its 1962 counterpart, Kenyans must firmly stand behind it. It is their political will that matters. And it is most encouraging to know that one’s destiny is in one’s hands. Kenyans must become the masters of their own fate and not leave that to the captains of ethnic ships.

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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.



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.



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



The Murang’a Factor in the Upcoming Presidential Elections
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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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