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Kenya’s 2022 General Election: Some Thoughts on Peace and Stability

8 min read.

As the August 2022 elections approach, we suggest that not only will they be relatively peaceful but also that Kenya’s history of large-scale political violence may be a thing of the past.

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Kenya’s 2022 General Election: Some Thoughts on Peace and Stability
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On the 9th of August, Kenyans will once again queue to vote in the seventh general election since the introduction of multi-party politics in 1992. The elections will also mark the third time in Kenya’s multi-party history that power will be transferred from one ruler to another through the ballot. In recent months, the question for many observers has been whether the elections and the transition process will be peaceful or violent.

Given Kenya’s recent history of political violence, this is, actually, a genuine and legitimate concern, although a casual analysis of the previous elections shows a higher propensity for the elites to use violence when the incumbent is fighting for re-election than when not. Since the incumbent, Uhuru Kenyatta, is not fighting for re-election, we should, at least, be optimistic that the 2022 elections will not result in large-scale violence.

In this article, we go further and suggest that not only will the August 2022 elections be relatively peaceful (relative to the 2007 elections) but also that Kenya’s history of large-scale political violence, may be a thing of the past. We base our prediction on the shift in the institutional and political landscape, facilitated by the political settlement that emerged out of the 2007/2008 post-election violence (PEV).

The key imperatives include the intervention by the International Criminal Court (ICC), the demobilisation of the highly charged political competition through devolution and the implicit peace commitment and political contract between Kenya’s political elites and the citizens that has considerably diffused political tensions and the febrile atmosphere that previously nurtured large-scale violence. We argue that the three factors have, to an extent, fostered a tacit agreement among Kenyans that large-scale violence is too high a price to pay for any short-term political gains.

As in other sub-Saharan African countries, Kenya’s transition to “democracy” has had confusing implications—facilitating multi-party competition and regime change through the ballot, but also fomenting political instability through violent politics. Although the root cause of political violence in Kenya has been primarily linked to the “land question” and the instrumentalization of grievances around land and resettlement, other accounts have focused on the elite fragmentation and state informalisation that began under Daniel Moi and continued under Mwai Kibaki with the inevitable diffusion of violence from the state to local gangs.

With the first two multi-party elections—in 1992 and 1997—being violent, many observers had come to expect political violence to be a natural outcome of Kenya’s elections until this conjecture was disrupted by the scale and intensity of the 2007/2008 PEV. With Kenya tottering towards anarchy, and fearing complete state collapse, the international community was forced to intervene in 2008, to not only halt the bloodletting but also engineer a major institutional reset through the 2010 constitutional change, and chaperone retributive justice via the ICC mechanism.

With Kenya approaching another election, and ten and five years respectively after the constitutional changes and the collapse of the ICC cases, we take stock of the implications of these major events on Kenya’s political landscape.

The ICC’s intervention in Kenya

First, the ICC’s intervention in Kenya was remarkable as it was the first time that attempts were made to hold the country’s political elites accountable under an institutional mechanism that they could neither intimidate nor corruptly influence.

While observers have either lamented or celebrated (depending on one’s ideological leaning) the failure of the ICC to successfully prosecute the so-called “Ocampo Six” (those the Court interdicted for their alleged planning of the 2007/2008 PEV), we argue that evaluating the performance of the ICC in the Kenyan crisis should be against its unprecedented attempt to confront the intractable impunity among the country’s political elites.

Since its post-independence birthing, Kenyan politicians had perfected the art of self-preservation through the construction of the perception that they were untouchable and above the law. The ICC, by hauling to its dock some of the big names in Kenya’s political landscape, including the current president, Uhuru Kenyatta, and his deputy William Ruto, and in so far as it has fractured the elites’ pejorative attitude towards the rule of law, the court’s intervention should be viewed as a partial success. Consider the narration of utter shame, frustration, humiliation and stigma among the “Ocampo Six” following their interdiction by the ICC, which clearly manifested their shock at being made to account under a neutral institution.

It was, therefore, not surprising that the accused and their enablers engaged in Machiavellian tactics, including counter-shaming strategies performed through neo-colonialism narratives, in order to delegitimise and undermine the ICC’s prosecutorial authority in Kenya and elsewhere in Africa. Whereas these strategies contributed to the inevitable collapse of the “Ocampo Six” cases, if the Court action has been successful in institutionalising fear of future intervention in Kenya as a credible threat against political mischievousness among the elites, and if it has blunted their assumed political invincibility, then the intervention should be viewed as partially successful.

The ICC’s intervention in Kenya was remarkable as it was the first time that attempts were made to hold the country’s political elites accountable.

Anecdotal evidence shows that the ICC intervention has brought Kenya’s politics to an inflection point by gravitating the country’s political discourse towards greater forbearance. This is clearly manifested by the assimilation of the “ICC” vocabulary into Kenyan public discourse, frequently invoked by ordinary Kenyans and politicians—including those who joined Uhuruto (as Kenyatta and Ruto have been popularly known) in the public vituperation of the Court—to credibly threaten those perceived to be engaging in inflammatory narratives.

Also, an empirical outcome from the ICC’s intervention has been the realisation among the Kenyan elites that accountability for inciting violence is no longer with the imagined political community of the “tribe” but, rather, on the individual politician. Consider the remarkable disposition by the elites to apologise and withdraw any inflammatory remarks attributed to themselves or to their lieutenants, something that was previously unthinkable.

A contributing factor to this “transparency” and the “politics of extenuation” has been the integration of social media in the way politics is chronicled and experienced in Kenya. The ubiquity of the smartphone, has ensured that the previous private sphere of reckless political talk and public deniability has been dissolved, as the private has become public via social media, forcing public apologies. Anybody, anywhere can now easily capture and post on social media negative political rhetoric that may yet, in the future, be used as evidence in court.

It is, therefore, not coincidental that the theatre of political violence in Kenya has recently shifted from the rural to the urban areas—with the state mostly implicated— thus blunting its association with specific ethnic groups and leaders. The ICC’s intervention in Kenya has to some extent fostered restraint against the large-scale political opportunism that was previously a feature in Kenya’s politics and responsible for the violence, ushering in a period of negative peace but with the potential of transitioning to positive peace in the future, if these imperatives can be harnessed and institutionalised.

Constitutional reset and institutional dividends 

Secondly, the 2010 institutional reset through constitutional changes has yielded significant political dividends for Kenyan political elites in the form of devolution of power and resources to counties and provided access to resources through the political party funds allocated by the exchequer.

While these outcomes have not completely eliminated the fierce electoral competition synonymous with Kenya’s elections, we think that it has to an extent toned down the competition as losers now have alternative access to power and a platform from which to articulate and implement their policies. This has recently been manifested in the political tussling over local electoral seats—in the form of zoning—as the two major coalitions, Azimio and Kenya Kwanza, attempt to craft a strategy that will ensure their dominance in the local seats in the August polls.

Previous analysis has shown that the institutional context under which elections are organised can either moderate or escalate adverse outcomes, including violence. Institutional designs that afford greater opportunities for losers through certain “sweet points”, including fair treatment of losers, may reduce tensions and appetite for political violence.

For Kenya, while the desired “sweet points” has not been fully achieved because decentralisation has widened patronage networks, it may yet provide vast “eating” opportunities for losers of presidential elections and their followers even as they wait to compete in the next polls. Likewise, losers in presidential elections may also be co-opted into the decentralised graft network through elected proxies, as some anecdotal evidence shows.

The ICC’s intervention in Kenya has to some extent fostered restraint against the large-scale political opportunism that was previously responsible for the violence.

Meanwhile, the provision of political parties’ funds by the exchequer on the basis of the parties’ performance in local elections has also created opportunities for parties that compete in elections to access alternative resources. While there is yet no evidence of the extent to which this may have impacted political competition in Kenya, we think that it has shifted the former singular attention given to national political competition to local elections. This is because political leaders have had to strategize in order to win significant seats in local elections in order to access the funds. Consider the revelation that the ODM party is owed KSh 7.5 billion by the Office of the Registrar of Political Parties (ORPP) and the protracted infighting among the former NASA coalition partners over these funds.

On a different note, the creation of various political positions by the 2010 constitution, be they governor, senate or running mate positions, has rendered coalition building in Kenya a delicate affair as major political leaders have been forced to expend their political energy, previously fundamental to the orchestration of violence, on party politics at the expense of national political organisation. The creation of these positions and the dawn of ex-ante coalition building in Kenya has unexpectedly rewired political scheming from the national to internal, as manifested by the ongoing contestation over various seats in the forthcoming elections.

Cumulatively, we think that these institutional “dividends” —including devolution, the provision of political party funds and the creation of diverse political positions—have generated diverse opportunities to be competed over by Kenyan politicians and this may yet deter the need for large-scale mobilisation of groups for political violence.

Violence fatigue 

Thirdly, findings from recent fieldwork in Burnt Forest by one of us show that there is acute fatigue among Kenyans from the recursive violence and this is fostering some degree of tolerance for, and openness to, hitherto political nemeses. The fatigue has been especially reinforced by the realisation among Kenyans that the elites’ concerns are for their own interests and self-preservation.

Consider the dissatisfaction and grumbling that accompanied the political rapprochement between Uhuru Kenyatta and his long-term rival Raila Odinga in 2018. The reconciliation, popularly known as the “handshake”, wrong-footed the support base of both leaders, who were of the opinion that the political settlement was motivated more by Kenyatta and Odinga’s narrow interest of perpetuating conditions favourable to the durability of the dynastic political order, and less by genuine national interest.

Because the rapprochement did not yield retributive justice and compensation for the victims of political violence, it gave way to despondency among ordinary Kenyans. Most have since opted for suboptimal political outcomes, especially stability, whatever the electoral outcome, aptly conceptualised by the phrase “accept and move on” to capture the inherent need to sidestep the negative externalities associated with Kenyan elections.

Recent evidence from Burnt Forest shows that violence fatigue may have fostered tolerance among local groups and made them less supportive of large-scale collective violent action, precisely because previous violence yielded asymmetric outcomes—economic and personal losses for the citizens and political gains for the political class. However, the full extent to which violence fatigue and citizen despondency may result in wholesome political stability in Kenya is something that needs further investigation.

Because the rapprochement did not yield some form of retributive justice and compensation for the victims of political violence, it gave way to despondency among ordinary Kenyans.

In conclusion, while it may be too soon to form concrete opinions on the feasibility of large-scale political violence occurring in Kenya in the upcoming elections and in the future, we have argued in this article that the ecology of events including the ICC’s intervention, institutional dividends and violence fatigue among ordinary Kenyans may yet immunize the country against large-scale political violence.

We are aware that peace spoilers may emerge and threaten violence as a way of gaining power or accessing political office through some form of political settlement, but for now it seems that Kenya is at the point of a halfway house, occupying the institutional space between negative peace and the possibility of positive peace in the long-term, if these factors are institutionalised.

As long as the threat of the ICC endures, devolution and the political party funds are maintained and the Faustian bargain between Kenyan citizens and the political elites remains stable—that is, selecting peace whatever the political outcomes—it is just possible that large-scale political violence akin to that witnessed in 2007/2008 may never again happen in Kenya.

But again, as Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine has shown, “Never Again” moments have the tendency to yield the very same conditions that were responsible for eliciting the “Never Again” statement. We, therefore, must remain hopeful but realistic that a major peace spoiler may yet emerge and usher in political disorder in Kenya.

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Dr Fredrick Ajwang is a lecturer in Political Science at King’s College, London. Dr Geoffrey Lugano is a lecturer in Political Science at Kenyatta University

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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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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“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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