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Man in the Mirror: Echoes of Jomo in Uhuru

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Wanjala S. Nasong’o uses dialectical laws to explain why kingmakers never become kings in Kenya.

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MAN IN THE MIRROR: Echoes of Jomo in Uhuru
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Uhuru Kenyatta, the son of the founding president, Jomo Kenyatta, is now in his second and final term as President of the Republic of Kenya. He was first elected in 2013 in a hotly-contested presidential election in which he eked out a narrow victory that saw him escape a run-off between himself and his closest competitor, Raila Amolo Odinga. A critical look at Uhuru’s presidency and the manner in which he ascended to the top seat reveals some uncanny echoes from the experience of his father Jomo, which constitute three important dialectical lessons in our understanding of the essence of social change and development.

First, prior to assuming the presidency, Jomo, along with five others – Paul Ngei, Achieng Oneko, Kung’u Karumba, Fred Kubai, and Bildad Kaggia – was imprisoned in Kapenguria by the colonialists for seven years for allegedly masterminding and leading the Mau Mau war of independence. This group has since come to be known in the annals of Kenya’s political history as “The Kapenguria Six”. On his part, prior to assuming the presidency, Uhuru, along with five others – William Ruto, Francis Muthaura, Ali Hassan, Henry Kosgey, and Joshua Sang – was indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC), then headed by the Chief Prosecutor, Luis Moreno Ocampo, for allegedly masterminding and funding the 2008 post-election violence in Kenya. This group was named “The Ocampo Six”.

Second, Jomo and his Vice President, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, found common ground in advancing the cause of decolonisation. Indeed, Jaramogi was the first to politically rehabilitate Jomo by refusing to form a government while the latter was still in prison after KANU won the internal self-government elections of 1961. He argued for “Uhuru na Kenyatta” (Freedom with Kenyatta). The two, Jomo and Jaramogi, fell out over issues of ideology and national policy within the first few years of independence. On their part, Uhuru and his deputy Ruto began with falling out – they were on opposite sides when the 2008 post-election violence erupted – but found common ground once they were indicted by the ICC and partnered to save themselves by acquiring political power. Furthermore, whereas Jomo and Jaramogi were self-made icons of the nationalist struggle for independence, Uhuru and Ruto were protegés of President Daniel Toroitich arap Moi; created, perhaps, in the latter’s image and likeness.

Jomo and his Vice President, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, found common ground in advancing the cause of decolonisation. Indeed, Jaramogi was the first to politically rehabilitate Jomo by refusing to form a government while the latter was still in prison after KANU won the internal self-government elections of 1961.

Third, as president, Jomo seemed to have demonstrated greater fidelity to rule of law than Uhuru. Jomo had parliament pass an Act to allow him to pardon election offenders. This was for purposes of pardoning his friend, Paul Ngei, who was found to have committed election offences in the 1974 elections, which rendered him ineligible to contest in the subsequent by-election. The new law ensured that Ngei contested and won his seat back. Uhuru demonstrates less fidelity to the rule of law. In the face of the Supreme Court decision to nullify the August 2017 presidential election, Uhuru referred to the judges as “wakora” (thugs) who had no powers to change the “will of the people” and vowed to “revisit” their case after the repeat election. Indeed, the drastic slashing of the judiciary budget and the arraignment of Deputy Chief Justice Philomena Mwilu on corruption charges in August 2018 may be interpreted as actualization of the “revisit” threat.

Fourth, Jomo had a penchant for using obscene language against the opposition and those he did not see eye to eye with. Similarly, Uhuru has taken to using obscene and abusive language against his opponents and those he doesn’t agree with. This was particularly evident on his triumphant return from The Hague after his case was dropped when he was addressing community members in Turkana in early 2017 where he lashed out against the local County Governor, Josphat Nanok.

Fifth, at the end of Jomo’s tenure, critics noted the disintegration of the nationalist coalition that fought for independence and the inauguration of an imperial presidency. Similarly, at the end of his first term in office, critics noted Uhuru’s tendency toward authoritarianism. Civil society was being referred to as “evil society”. There were attacks on the offices of the African Centre for Open Governance (Africog) and attempted deregistration of the Kenya Human Rights Commission, ostensibly on account of their perceived support for the political opposition following the contested results of the August 2017 presidential elections.

At the end of Jomo’s tenure, critics noted the disintegration of the nationalist coalition that fought for independence and the inauguration of an imperial presidency. Similarly, at the end of his first term in office, critics noted Uhuru’s tendency toward authoritarianism.

Sixth and finally, when he eternally left the political scene through death in August 1978, Jomo left a vibrant and growing economy, albeit one characterised by one of the highest income inequalities in the world, perhaps only exceeded by Brazil and South Africa. It was an economy described by Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere as a “man-eat-man society.” At the end of his first term in office, on the other hand, Uhuru’s legacy is one of an economy literally mortgaged to China because of his government’s penchant for borrowing from the latter to finance over-priced grand projects whose single-sourcing is tied to Chinese suppliers and Chinese labour.

From these six observations of similarities and differences between the old Jomo and his younger son Uhuru, we can glean three lessons based on the three laws of the dialectical method. The first dialectical law is the law of the unity and conflict of opposites. This states that the world, both social and physical, is a paradoxical terrain characterised by a unity of contradictions, a unity of opposites. For instance, in mathematics, we have the integral and the differential (plus and minus); in chemistry, we have fusion and fission (combination and dissociation) of atoms; in mechanics, we have action and reaction; in physics, we have positive and negative electricity by which we boil water and freeze it.

Similarly, in the social world, we have the haves and have-nots; the rulers and the ruled; buying and selling; in war, there is advance and retreat, victory and defeat. Even the Bible says in Galatians Chapter 6 that the human being is a bundle of contradictions – the soul is always warring against the flesh and vice versa. To fully understand phenomena, therefore, we must seek out their internal contradictions. Note the contradictions in the Uhuru vs. Ruto saga: sworn enemies on opposite sides in the post-election violence in 2008 and bosom friends in the aftermath of their ICC indictment. Note the opposite in the Jomo vs. Jaramogi saga: intimate comrades in the nationalist struggle and sworn enemies a couple of years after independence, which resulted in the house arrest of the latter in 1969.

The second dialectical law is the law of the passage of quantitative changes into qualitative changes. For instance, loss of one hair does not make one bald. But continuous loss of hair culminates in a qualitative change called baldness. At the social level, change, development, or progress is not unidirectional and unilinear, nor does it occur gradually in a smooth straight line. Sometimes one step forward is followed by two steps backwards and vice versa. Note the convoluted and messy decades-long process of democratisation in Kenya that eventually led to the promulgation of a new constitution in 2010.

Indeed, even when nothing seems to be happening, small quantitative changes are usually taking place that add up eventually to a major qualitative change. Note here the seismic ruling of the Supreme Court of Kenya that nullified the August 2017 presidential election. This was preceded by periodic changes in the personnel of the Supreme Court: the retirement of Chief Justice Willy Mutunga brought in Chief Justice David Maraga; the dismissal of Deputy Chief Justice Nancy Barasa brought in Kalpana Rawal whose retirement brought in Philomena Mwilu; the retirement of Phillip Tunoi brought in Isaac Lenaola. It is hardly to be expected that without these little quantitative changes (not to mention the protracted changes that led to the new constitution that provided for a Supreme Court), the celebrated landmark ruling nullifying the presidential election, the first in Africa, would have occurred.

The third and final dialectical law is the law of the negation of the negation. This obtains in the repetition at higher levels of certain features and properties of the lower level and the apparent return of past features. For instance, when a grain of barley is put in fertile soil, it germinates into a plant. The original grain is negated. The plant grows, flowers, and produces even more and better grains, which are harvested and processed in the making of beer – the negation is thereby also negated!

Indeed, even when nothing seems to be happening, small quantitative changes are usually taking place that add up eventually to a major qualitative change. Note here the seismic ruling of the Supreme Court of Kenya that nullified the August 2017 presidential election.

Similarly, social development is a constant struggle between form and content and content and form, resulting in the eventual shattering of the old form and the transformation of the content. Like in the grain of barley case, this is a spiral process where the movement comes back to the position it started but at a higher level. Note the earlier referenced tendency on the part of President Uhuru to authoritarianism raising fears of a return to the old KANU days – the denigration of civil society, the attack on Africog, the harassment of Maina Kiai at the airport, the threats to the Supreme Court justices, the deportation to Canada of Miguna Miguna, etc. Nevertheless, we may have spiraled back to some features of the past authoritarian order but we are at a higher level given the political and social changes that have taken place – it can never be the kind of authoritarianism of the single-party era.

The foregoing discussion amply illustrates the fact that socio-political change and progress is achieved incrementally through a series of contradictions. In instances where the previous developmental stage is negated, the negation does not imply it is wholly replaced. The new stage does not completely wipe out its predecessor stage. This reality is captured in the popular adage, “the more things change, the more they remain the same”.

Social development is a constant struggle between form and content and content and form, resulting in the eventual shattering of the old form and the transformation of the content.

Which brings us to the final consideration. As noted at the beginning, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga facilitated Jomo Kenyatta’s ascendancy to the presidency by refusing to form a government while Jomo remained in prison. Although Jomo made Jaramogi his vice president, they soon fell out and Jaramogi never succeeded Jomo. Similarly, William Ruto facilitated Uhuru Kenyatta’s ascendancy to the presidency by teaming up with him and mobilising the Rift Valley electorate to vote for Uhuru. In so doing, Ruto became deputy president. Will he, unlike Jaramogi, succeed the man he helped propel to power? Political developments following the celebrated “handshake” between Raila and Uhuru indicate that it is highly unlikely that Ruto will succeed Uhuru to the presidency come 2022. The mantra to the effect that kingmakers never become kings themselves seem to be well and alive in the Kenyan political dispensation. 

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Wanjala S. Nasong’o, Ph.D. is Professor of International Studies at Rhodes College, Memphis, Tennessee, USA.

Politics

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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Politics

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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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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Politics

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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