What you need to know:
- Jubilee is now a badly damaged brand, no question about it.
- I foresee Tangatanga benefiting from many more defections from Jubilee.
My verdict on the Jubilee Party's defeat in Kiambaa? Disastrous. Utterly. Tangatanga campaigners had landed with a slogan: "Jubilee died in Juja (by-election). Burial will be in Kiambaa." Though they won by the narrowest of margins, it was a complete vindication.
This by-election was one Jubilee badly, absolutely needed to win. There were no two ways about it. It was the ultimate barometer as to whether the party had lost for good its central Kenya strongholds to Tangatanga. The national implications are going to be huge. The Jubilee win in Muguga ward is no consolation, given the tiny 27-vote margin, nor will it compensate for the national shame of losing Kiambaa.
The Kiambaa defeat was made even more humiliating by the fact that Jubilee had indisputably the strongest and best known candidate in the field, Karîri Njama. This contrasted with the relatively little-known Tangatanga pick, a young newcomer called Njuguna Wanjiku. Karîri is an old hand in Kiambaa politics. He contested in 2013 and again in 2017 and in both instances came a strong second to Paul Koinange, whose death in March occasioned this by-election. It bears mentioning that Karîri had run as an independent, whereas Koinange had the TNA wave in 2013 and the Jubilee wave in 2017 behind him.
But rather than slink away after losing, Karîri remained a constant and popular presence on the ground. He's the sort who knows the nooks and crannies of his constituency and its issues in and out, and can call out by name the key locals who drive public opinion, however lowly they are.
The bottom line is that Jubilee has become a huge turn-off in its former strongholds. Frankly, the party needed Karîri more than he needed it. Many who voted for him said they were voting for Karîri the person, not the party. Notwithstanding that the Jubilee MPs dispatched to Kiambaa campaigned their hearts out, the party stood no chance. In fact Tangatanga were saying it openly that Karîri was better off running as an independent candidate, like he had done before.
Electing a leader, not a party
The different approaches of the campaigns told the story best. Where Jubilee concentrated on selling their candidate on account of his obvious strengths, Tangatanga got busy selling their new party. It worked. Njuguna was always overshadowed by Tangatanga MPs like Moses Kuria, who were constantly by his side. But the narrative of a poor "hustler" raised by a single mother somehow resonated well.
Sometimes the messaging would come across as trite and contrived. Like when the candidate and his tag-team of youthful campaigners would go about in yellow aprons (the Tangatanga colour) pushing wheelbarrows. The projects he enumerated he would launch and the timelines of their completion sounded, quite honestly unrealistic, unlike Karîri's own promises.
Equally problematic were rumours that Njuguna's campaign was fuelled by outsiders and that he himself was a foreigner from Nyeri (the truth about the latter is that he was born in Karuri ward in Kiambaa). It was even said his campaign chauffeur was imported from Mogotio in Rift Valley.
From the beginning, Karîri knew that Jubilee had a big image problem. His campaigners would stress that Kiambaa was electing a leader and not a party. He started off by keeping away to the extent possible from party bigwigs eager to reach out and campaign for him. Eventually he came to embrace the full party apparatus that was put at his disposal. That was understandable, for he sorely needed the machinery and cash. Still, he couldn't quite contain the Tangatanga onslaught, despite their own well-recorded internal fights mainly pitting Moses Kuria against Rigathi Gachagua of Nyeri.
I must credit Tangatanga with changing the dynamics of Kiambaa politics. Early on, no less than three members of the Koinange family, which since Independence has been a major mover of the politics of the constituency, lined up to inherit the seat left by their relative, Paul Koinange. The candidates included a daughter of the late Mbiyu Koinange, plus the widow of the late MP, all keen for the Jubilee nomination.
Badly damaged brand
However the party, very much alive to the "Dynasties versus Hustlers" divisions Tangatanga has unleashed, deftly chose to go with an Everyman who had the common touch, Karîri. The Koinanges quickly got the drift and, with other wealthy local families, marshalled their forces behind the Jubilee candidate. They had sensed the grave threat posed to them by the Tangatanga ideology.
Historically, Kiambaa has been the playground of two very entrenched clans: the Koinanges, of course, and Mbarî ya Kîhara. From Independence until now, the two clans have played ping-pong with the parliamentary seat – the exception being the tenure of the late Njenga Karume, who did not belong to either family. Inadvertently, Tangatanga seemed to have driven the two rival families to unite behind Karîri.
A theory persistently propagated by Jubilee campaigners in Kiambaa was that Tangatanga were roping in youths (true) while the older folk were largely Jubilee (true). According to Jubilee, youths are not avid voters. Judging from the tight race, either the youths voted quite strongly, or elder folk had many Tangatanga numbers.
Jubilee is now a badly damaged brand, no question about it. Whether it's repairable only time will tell. Meanwhile, I foresee Tangatanga benefiting from many more defections from Jubilee.
Postscript: A chastened Jubilee could move to court to ask for a vote recount after IEBC declined to open ballot boxes in three polling centres Karîri feels there was tampering. Good luck Jubilee in our weird court system!