CHEESEMAN, LYNCH & WILLIS – Who won Kenya’s ‘nominations’?

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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 (ACK), Kahariro Parish, Diocese of Murang’a South. A month later I was back, this time at Ihi-gaini in Kangema constituency for a funeral.

The ecclesiastical function attracted politicians: it had to be; they know how to sniff out such occasions and if they are not officially invited, they crush them. Ecclesiastical functions, much like funerals, are perfect platforms for politicians to demonstrate their presumed piety, generosity, and closeness to the respective clergy and bereaved family.

Well, the other reason they were there was because they had been invited by the leaders of the Church. During election time, the Church does not hesitate to exploit the ambitions of politicians: it “blackmails” them for money, because they can mobilize audiences ready for competing politicians. Politicians, on the other hand, are very willing to part with money. This quid pro quo arrangement is usually a tacit agreement between church leaders and politicians.

The church, for which funds were being raised, being in Kigumo constituency, area MP Ruth Wangari Mwaniki soon showed up. Likewise, the Member of the County Assembly Area (MCA) and of course several contenders for the seats of MP and MCA, also showed up.

Church and secular politics often rub shoulders and so, that day, local politics was the order of the day. I could not have speculated which side of the political divide the Murang’a were on, until the young man Zack Kinuthia, Chief Administrative Secretary (CAS) for Sports, Culture and Heritage, took speak at the podium.

A local boy and Uhuru Kenyatta loyalist, he completely avoided mentioning his name and his “development background” in central Kenya. Kinuthia has a habit of extolling President Uhuru’s virtues whenever he steps onto a platform and wherever he is. By the time he finished speaking, I quickly deduced that he was looking to overthrow Wangari. I wasn’t wrong; five months later, in February 2022, Kinuthia resigned from his CAS position to run for Kigumo on a National Unity Party (PNU) ticket.

He spoke briefly, faked a meeting waiting for him elsewhere, and hurriedly left, but not before donating his KSh50,000 donation. Apparently I learned later that he had been warned, in advance, that people were in no mood to listen to his eulogies on President Uhuru, the Jubilee Party, or anything like that. associated with both. Kinuthia couldn’t dare to show up at President Uhuru’s Jubilee Party. His patron-patron’s party is not desired in Murang’a.

I spent the whole day in Kandiri, talking to people, young and old, men and women, and as I left I was certain of one thing; The people of Murang’a wanted nothing to do with President Uhuru. What I wasn’t sure about was where their political sympathies lay.

I returned to Murang’a the following month, to vast Kangema – it is still huge – even after Mathioya had been separated from the larger Kangema constituency. The funeral provides a good barometer that captures people’s political sentiments and even though this funeral was not attended by politicians – a few senior officials were however present; political discourse was very present on people’s lips.

What I understood from the crowd was that President Uhuru had destroyed their livelihood, remember many shopkeepers, peddlers, tall downtown buildings and restaurants in the city of Nairobi are run and largely held by the Murang’a people. The famous Nyamakima shopping area in downtown Nairobi was run by Murang’a Kikuyus.

In 2018, their property was confiscated and declared counter-brand by the government. Many of their businesses went bankrupt, despite traders not only wholeheartedly supporting President Uhuru’s controversial re-election but also contributing generously to the presidential kitty. They couldn’t believe what was happening to them: “We voted for him to protect our businesses, instead he destroyed them. Might as well support him.

We voted for him to protect our businesses, instead he destroyed them. Might as well support him

Last week, I attended a Murang’a County caucus group meeting somewhere in Gatundu, Kiambu County. One of the clearest messages I have received from this group is that the GEMA vote in the presidential elections on August 9, 2022 is definitely anti-Uhuru Kenyatta and not necessarily pro-William Ruto.

“The Murang’a haven’t really decided yet (if they have, they’re keeping it a secret) who they’re going to vote for as president. And that is why you see Uhuru artfully wooing us with all kinds of promises, seductions and prophetic messages. Two weeks ago, President Uhuru was in Murang’a to attend a religious ceremony of the African Independent Pentecostal Church in Africa (AIPCA) in Kandara constituency.

At church, the president again threatened to “tell you what’s in my heart, what I believe and why.” These prophetic threats by the President to the GEMA nation, in which he threatened to show them the sign, became the butt of crude jokes among the Kikuyus.

As a corollary, President Uhuru has once again snatched Polycarp Igathe from his position as commercial director of Equity Bank to the tumultuous politics of the governor’s seat in Nairobi. The first time the bespectacled Igathe was thrown deep into Nairobi’s murky politics was in 2017, as Mike Sonko’s Deputy Governor. After six months, he threw in the towel, lamenting that Sonko couldn’t even let him breathe.

Uhuru has a tendency to (mis)use the Murang’a

“Igathe is originally 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; let alone know how it plays out. I spent time with him and confided in myself just as much. Uhuru tends to (mis)use the Murang’a. President Uhuru wants to use Igathe to control Nairobi. The saddest thing is that Igathe doesn’t have the courage to tell Uhuru the blunt fact: I’m really not interested in all this shenanigans, leave me alone. The President hopes, once again, to appease the Murang’a people, by pretending to confront Igathe. I foresee another terrible disaster that will finally befall Igathe and Uhuru.

Anyway, what I took away from this caucus, after a full day of deliberations, is that he keeps the presidential choice close to his chest. My attempts to goad some of the men and women present were unsuccessful.

The Murang’a like to remind everyone that they’re the only ones who haven’t produced a GEMA stable president yet, despite being the wealthiest. Kiambu produced two presidents from the same family, Nyeri one, President Mwai Kibaki who died on April 22. The closest Murang’a to giving the country a president was during Ken Matiba’s time in the 1990s. “But Matiba had suffered a debilitating stroke which rendered him disabled,” said one of the mzees. “It was tragic, but there was nothing we could do.”

The Murang’a like to remind everyone that they’re the only ones who haven’t produced a GEMA stable president yet, despite being the wealthiest

It is interesting to note that Jimi Wanjigi, the presidential standard bearer of the Safina party hails from Murang’a county. His family is from Wahundura, Mathioya Constituency. He and Mwangi wa Iria, the governor of Murang’a county, are the other two prominent figures from Murang’a who have thrown themselves into the presidential race. Wa Iria’s offer, announced in early 2022, seems to have stalled, while Jimi’s seems to be gaining momentum.

Are the Murang’a preparing to vote for one of their own this time? Jimi’s campaign team has crafted a two-pronged strategy that she hopes will endear Kenyans to her presidency. First, a generational paradigm shift, particularly among young people, primarily targeting post-secondary, college and university students.

“We believe that this group of voters, who are mostly between the ages of 18 and 27 and who represent more than 65% of the total registered voters, are the key to transforming this election,” said one of the members of his presidential campaign team. “What matters most is how you craft the political message to capture their attention.” Thus, by qualifying its key message as itwika, it is intended to orchestrate a break with past voting behavior that is rooted in traditional ethnic voting patterns.

The other strand of Jimi’s campaign theme is economic empowerment, as it speaks directly to the GEMA nation, especially the Murang’a Kikuyus who are renowned for their business acumen and entrepreneurial skills. “What Kikuyu cherish the most,” the team member said, “is someone who will create a favorable business environment and let Kikuyu do their job. You know, the Kikuyus live off their business, if you interfere, it’s the end of your friendship, no matter who you are.

Can Jimi reignite popular Murang’a/Matiba passion within the GEMA community and re-influence it to vote in a different direction? As all of the presidential candidates gear up this week to find out who they will eventually choose as their running mates, the GEMA community is once again shining the spotlight on itself as the most wanted ballot basket.

The Raila Odinga and William Ruto coalitions – Azimio la Umoja-One Kenya and Kenya Kwanza Alliance – must seek to impress and distress the Mount Kenya region by appointing a running mate from one of its ranks. If not, the coalitions fear losing the vote-rich area either to themselves or perhaps to a third party. Murang’a County could also become the enigma, with which the August 9 presidential race could still be unraveled and decided.

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