Kagwanja: How Limuru III has drawn 2027 election battle lines

 Limuru 3

 A youth holds up a placard calling for justice during the Limuru 3 meeting at Jumuia Conference Centre in Kiambu on  May 17, 2024. 

Photo credit: Wilfred Nyangaresi | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Guided by the big tent strategy, the hallmark of these conferences has been an unrelenting quest for near-absolute consensus across the region around vexing national issues.
  • For this reason, previous Limuru conferences have been the proverbial ‘Night of the Long Knives’ where presidents are made and rivals fall.

Two events on May 17, 2024 have and set the country on a frenzied race and spawned new political coalitions ahead of the next elections on August 10, 2027.

First, Azimio la Umoja Coalition leader Raila Odinga, alongside President William Ruto’s closest ally, Roads and Transport CS Kipchumba Murkomen, escorted Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni to the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport after his three-day’s State visit to the country.

Notably, Museveni had earlier been received into the Country by Prime Cabinet Minister Musalia Mudavadi and held discussions and signed several bilateral agreements with Dr. Ruto.

Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua, the topmost Mount Kenya official in Kenya Kwanza Government, was visibly missing out in this high-profile diplomatic event with Kenya’s top trading partner.

All this unfolded against the backdrop of the hyped Limuru III conference that revealed growing elite schisms, supremacy wars and succession gridlock in the mountain region. Justifiably, Limuru III attracted intense public and media attention.

Since the 1960s,Limuru has become a byword for deep politics in Mount Kenya.

The Limuru conference series has always come up with revolutionary resolutions. Here, the mountain region has made its hardest political decisions that shape the future of power in Kenya.

Guided by the big tent strategy, the hallmark of these conferences has been an unrelenting quest for near-absolute consensus across the region around vexing national issues. For this reason, previous Limuru conferences have been the proverbial ‘Night of the Long Knives’ where presidents are made and rivals fall.

The premier Limuru conference was convened in 1961 by James Gichuru, Joseph Tom Mboya, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga among others. It formed the Kenya African National Union (KANU) and settled on Jomo Kenyatta—then in detention—as its leader.

This was followed by the 1966 KANU Limuru Conference. Settled on Kenya as a ‘market socialist’ country with African characteristics at a time when nearly all African countries had moved to socialism. Odinga and the socialists were maneuvered out of KANU.

It is within the context of this traditional radical hue that I conceived and co-convened the Limuru I Conference with other in May 2010.

The forum resolved to vote for the proposed New Constitution, President Mwai Kibaki to lead the national campaign and Uhuru Kenyatta to champion the campaign in the mountain as the region’s voice.

The Limuru II fete on March 23, 2012, was even more radical. Riding against the tide of growing international pressure signified by Jonny Carson’s warning that ‘Choices have consequences,’ the forum coalesced around the International Criminal Court (ICC) ruling on Kenyatta and the ‘Hague Six’, declaring Uhuru and Ruto as candidates for the Kenyan presidency in 2013 and the ICC case as a referendum issue.

In the light of this, it was naturally expected that Limuru III would be held in March 2022 to decide on Kenyatta’s successor as regional kingpin and voice on the region in national politics ahead of the August 2022 elections. This was never the case. Uhuru failed to form consensus around his own succession at the regional level and Raila as his preferred heir nationally.

As such, the Limuru III forum reflected the effects and contradictions of the unfinished Uhuru Succession in Mount Kenya.

The 2022 defeat of Kenyatta’s Jubilee party left a vacuum in Mount Kenya community leadership, with Ruto as the de facto region kingpin. It is this vacuum that local elite are now jostling to fill.

Far from being a thunderous rumble in the mountain, the recent Limuru conference has intensified succession gridlock in Mount Kenya. In its aftermath, it heralds the perils in Uhuru’s comeback. “We already have a leader (Kingpin) in the Mt Kenya region who is Uhuru Kenyatta,” the meeting declared.

The Limuru forum signify Uhuru Kenyatta’s continued efforts to succeed himself in the region. Moreover, Limuru III has moved the unfinished Uhuru-Ruto battle for the leadership of Mount Kenya to a new dangerous level. While organizers said they had called the meeting to forge the unity of Mount Kenya, in reality is was a consolidation of an anti-Ruto coalition.

The organizers of Limuru, mainly ‘Uhuru’s Orphans’ after the 2022 defeat, cleverly used the tag of Limuru to mask what was a Jubilee party affair. The forum completes the metamorphosis of the ‘Sufuria’ wing of the Azimio protests to the Jeremiah Kion-led “Kamwene movement” and finally to Haki Coalition.

Limuru was a sole affair of the Jubilee faction aligned to former President Uhuru Kenyatta which is tapping into the radicalism and glory of the past Limuru processes.

Limuru has divided Mount Kenya and radicalised Mount Kenya politics. It has also localized the Azimio’s nationwide anti-Ruto protest relating the taxation, cost of living, the economy. In this context, the Limuru Conference sounded the death knell for Azimio as a pre-election coalition of Jubilee-allied parties and ODM, which is now informally allied to the Government.

With the exit of Raila and ODM wing of Azimio, Uhuru’s Jubilee faction is effectively the opposition. After Limuru III, the coalitions for the 2027 elections and the battle-lines are clearly marked.

A resolution of Limuru III unveiled the Haki Coalition “to safeguard the Mt Kenya interests and speak in one voice” and named Kenyatta as its leader. The Haki Coalition, is an effort to reimagine a new Gema — Gikuyu, Embu, Meru and Kamba. Limuru fingered Kalonzo Musyoka as its preferred horse to back to ouster Ruto in 2027.

Mobilising on the “one man, one vote, one shilling” platform, it has Kenyatta as the patron saint, Kalonzo as its potential Presidential candidate while Gachagua, Martha and others as its luminaries.

The Limuru forum has exacerbated divisions within the Mount Kenya leaders in the ruling Kenya Kwanza coalition, including Moses Kuria, Ndindi Nyoro and Rigathi Gachagua. In a tweet, Kuria claimed that an undisclosed UDA leader donated 10 million to sponsor the Limuru conference, which according to him was “aspired to achieve no known goal.”

Raila has warmed up to and hosted Kuria who has, in turn, supported Raila’s AU bid. A Ruto-Raila coalition with Kuria, Ndindi, Kindiki, Musalia and Wetangula as some of the luminaries is forming. Failure to spell-out a clear regional agenda is likely to spur the radicalization of politics.

After Limuru, Mount Kenya needs serious grassroots movement to forge unity and build consensus ahead of Limuru IV. Aluta continua.

Peter Kagwanja