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Drought Management in ASAL Areas: Enhancing Resilience or Fostering Vulnerability?

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Rather that jumping from project to project in search of a short-term response, there is a need to embrace practical and proactive long-term solutions to the challenges of recurring drought in the ASALs.

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Drought Management in ASAL Areas: Enhancing Resilience or Fostering Vulnerability?
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Kenya’s arid and semi-arid lands (ASALs) occupy 80 per cent of the country’s landmass and are inhabited by nearly ten million people who rely on livestock rearing and seasonal small-scale farming for their livelihoods. ASALs are known for the variable environmental conditions that result in periodic drought, floods, animal disease outbreaks, and social instability due to conflict and historical marginalisation.

In the 1970s, ASALs experienced periods of prolonged drought nearly every four years, with the government and donor agencies developing various programmes through international and local NGOs to address the crises. The focus was on humanitarian aid to enhance food security through food relief aid to vulnerable populations. But due to the temporality and inefficiency of food aid, these agencies promoted farming as an alternative to livestock production and as a means of ensuring food security.

In Isiolo County, irrigation schemes were introduced along the Waso River and in other small centres such as Malka Daka and Rapsu. However, the projects failed largely due to flooding, and also because pastoralists re-invested the proceeds from farming in livestock and abandoned farming altogether.

Irrigation scheme at Rapsu

Irrigation scheme at Rapsu

Humanitarian interventions and the food security approach were dropped in favour of livestock development projects in the 1990s. These involved the development of water infrastructure such as boreholes and water pans, the establishment of grazing blocks and the implementation of livestock restocking programmes following periods of severe drought.

Between 1990 and 2000, the Arid Lands Resource Management Projects (ALRMP) emerged as the scaffold for the management and development of the drylands. The projects ranged from water infrastructure development and rehabilitation, to early warning bulletins, contingency planning, range re-seeding, livestock feeds, and vaccination.

The National Drought Management Authority (NDMA) took over from Arid Lands Development Projects in 2005. The NDMA’s focus is predominantly on the early warning bulletin, drought intervention, contingency policies, and capacity building. Although the NDMA is not oriented towards development projects, key policies such as Ending Drought Emergencies (EDE) form a significant segment of the NDMA’s work.

Drought Response Program in Isiolo

Drought Response Program in Isiolo

Between 2009 and 2019, social protection programmes based on cash transfers—such as the Hunger Safety Net Programme (HSNP) and livestock insurance—made their appearance. The HSNP was initially implemented in Marsabit, Mandera, Turkana, and Wajir. In 2019, the programme was upscaled to include four other pastoral counties: Isiolo, Samburu, Garissa and Tana River.

In 2010, Kenya became the first African country to implement KLIP, an index-based livestock insurance programme where the government purchases the policy on behalf of the beneficiary and disburses the pay-out as a safety net to cushion against drought events. The government first piloted the programme in Marsabit County and by 2016 had expanded the scheme to Isiolo, Mandera, Wajir, Garissa, Kajiado, Turkana, Tana River and Samburu counties.

The paradigm shifted from livestock development to enhancing “resilience” through programmes such as the Drought Resilience and Sustainable Livelihoods Programme (DRSLP), the Regional Pastoral Livelihoods Resilience Project (RPLRP) and the Resilience and Economic Growth in Arid Lands (REGAL-AG) project. “Resilience” projects aimed to accelerate economic growth by promoting the development of livestock market facilities and regulatory frameworks, developing the capacities of individual and community enterprises and promoting investments in livestock value chains in five pastoral counties (Marsabit, Isiolo, Garissa, Wajir and Turkana).

Finally, the Kenya Climate-Smart Agriculture Project (KCSAP, 2017-2026) has recently taken the lead. The implementation of KCSAP in ASAL counties enmeshes improving water systems (boreholes), livelihood support, contingency emergency response, and value addition in agriculture.

Cattle watering at Dogogicha borehole (Range water infrastructure development project)

Cattle watering at Dogogicha borehole (Range water infrastructure development project)

In the period between 1970 and 2020, massive investments were made to mitigate the effects of drought in Kenya’s ASALs. What I have presented here is simply a snapshot of the billion-dollar investments made in drought management. Although some of these projects have contributed to improving the resilience of pastoralist communities, others have increased their vulnerability and inequality because of the manner in which droughts and related catastrophes are handled. Following the severe drought that affected the entire Horn of Africa, including Kenya, in 2011 a policy framework was developed to end drought emergencies. But can these continuous policy shifts and the massive investments in drought management end drought emergencies in Kenya?

End drought emergencies by 2022?

Ending Drought Emergencies (EDE) is a policy framework developed to strengthen drought management institutions and infrastructure. It emerged from the regional drought and disaster resilience summit held in Nairobi by IGAD member states and regional actors. The conference aimed to respond to the drought cataclysm that had affected the entire region resulting in an estimated US$12.1 billion in drought-related losses between 2008 and 2011.

Although some of these projects have contributed to improving the resilience of pastoralist communities, others have increased their vulnerability and inequality.

In Kenya, EDE is a distinct part of the Vision 2030 sector plan for drought risk management with the stated aim of ending drought emergencies by 2022 (MTP III). EDE aims to prioritise inclusive economic growth and reduce poverty by integrating various pillars of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Regional Drought Disaster Resilience and Sustainability Initiative (IDIRSI). However, in September 2021, Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta declared the ongoing drought a national disaster and called for local and international interventions.

Is Kenya’s roadmap for ending drought emergencies realistic? Can Kenya achieve its vision of ending drought emergencies by 2022? The same development visions and plans that aim to integrate ASAL areas into the broader economic transformation continue to push pastoralism to the periphery. Mobility is central to how pastoralists exploit variable range resources. However, insecurity, restricted park and conservancy enclosures, and mega-development infrastructures impede pastoral mobility, fostering vulnerability among the pastoralist communities rather than enhancing their resilience.

Which way forward

Despite the massive investments in humanitarian aid, pastoral development projects, resilience building and “climate-smart” approaches to drought mitigation, pastoralists remain susceptible to shocks and stresses brought on by droughts. There are remarkable discrepancies between the value of the investments made and the results achieved in attempting to end the drought emergency.

The same development visions and plans that aim to integrate ASAL areas into the broader economic transformation continue to push pastoralism to the periphery.

Both failures and successes are evident, but there is an urgent need to close the gap between the levels of investments in drought management and the impact on vulnerability and resilience. As one research participant commented, “stop subsidising failures” and instead focus on supporting the existing institutions and infrastructures that have been put in place to counter drought events. One example is the livestock market facilities and abattoirs in the rangelands, which, according to some of my research respondents, have created “drought millionaires” but have had a limited impact on the lives of pastoralists. These failures are due to a lack of a sustainable and favourable framework. To foster resilience—the ability to withstand climatic shocks and bounce back better—there is a need for a collaborative effort by all the actors, including the state, Civil Society Organisations, international actors and the pastoralists themselves. In summary, three points are essential to reflect upon.

Recognising failures and successes

The government and humanitarian organisations have developed numerous drought management policies, programmes and projects. Handling drought emergencies requires a process of un-learning, learning, and re-learning by revisiting historical interventions and policies. This will help to uncover successes, the ramifications of drought responses, and the unintended structural conditions created by such interventions. Drought response must include considering other factors such as seasonal stress, access to resource infrastructures, and the population’s social-economic dynamics that influence how drought is perceived and managed—all these help in recognising and embracing drought as a management failure rather than as a cyclical absence of rain.

Pastoralism as a reliable profession 

Pastoralists are “reliability” professionals acting in “real time” by galvanising different networks, solidarities and resources. Sometimes, reliability is generated by negotiated access to restricted areas such as parks and conservancy areas and through adaptive mobilities and collective solidarities in the form of a moral economy. Collective solidarities help pastoralists to deal with labour deficit, insecurity, and access to resources. Although these practices of collective solidarity are sometimes stratified between people with networks, wealth, and other resources, they remain central to how diverse livestock owners navigate dry periods. External projects that aim to enhance pastoral resilience must recognise the existence of reliable institutions that help pastoralists to manage precarious conditions such as drought. Recognising pastoralists as active managers of drought crises and real-time coordination between pastoralists, state and development NGOs will enhance reliability and adaptive containment of drought emergencies.

Proactive approach

Policies that deal with drought management—such as early warning and contingency planning—are sometimes linear, progressive, and reactive. In contrast, drought events are very much unpredictable and require considerable multiple knowledge and open-ended approaches.

To contain drought emergencies, there is a need to embrace the participatory, relational, and open-ended perspective. In the words of one of my research respondents, “there is a need to move from the ‘policy’ classroom to the ‘field’ classrooms”. For instance, livestock market infrastructure is in place in most parts of the rangelands, but unfortunately, some of it is derelict. Instead of jumping from project to project in search of a short-term response, there is a need to embrace practical and proactive long-term solutions. These could provide stability in the rangelands, especially during dry periods, to help pastoralists exploit unevenly distributed resources. One suggestion could be integrating pastoralists’ safety net and the moral economy with the social protection projects in pastoral areas.

There should be a “pause” moment to rethink and reflect on how to embrace the drought emergencies and build forward better by turning the drought crisis into an opportunity for sustainable and reliable livelihoods in the ASALs and beyond.

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Tahira Shariff is a doctoral researcher at Sussex University. Her research examines how pastoralist communities in Northern Kenya evolve community safety nets and moral economies in response to livelihood uncertainties.

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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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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