What you need to know:
- The “yellow wave” signals Ruto’s triumph in the titanic battle for the soul of the land of the Gikuyu, Embu and Meru groups (the ‘Gema Nation’).
- Ruto’s ‘Hustler Nation’ populism found fertile ground in the growing poverty among the region’s peasant households.
- UDA owes its victory to hard work, strategy and organisation. In less than a decade, Ruto managed to build a power base, literally, inside ‘enemy territory’.
A yellow fever has consumed us here in Nyeri,” lamented a senatorial candidate who lost in Kenya’s August 9, 2022, General Election.
Kenya’s election is the closest Africa comes to a “colour revolution”, the anti-regime protest movements that swept across the former Soviet empire in Eastern Europe in the 21st century.
The “yellow wave”, which has spectacularly washed over the vote-rich Mt Kenya region, refers to the overwhelming electoral victory of Deputy President William Ruto’s United Democratic Party (UDA) that has painted the whole of the region yellow.
The UDA victory in Mt Kenya carries the eerie echoes of the famous scene in the thriller, The God Father, where Don Corleone tallies the fallen giants of the mafia world after a brutal massacre: Amos Kimunya, the Leader of Majority in the National Assembly; Jeremiah Kioni, Jubilee secretary-general; Kanini Kega, the Director of Elections; Ndiritu Muriithi, the Chairman of Azimio campaign; Francis Kimemia and Kiraitu Murungi.
The “yellow wave” signals Ruto’s triumph in the titanic battle for the soul of the land of the Gikuyu, Embu and Meru groups (the ‘Gema Nation’).
The region has produced three of independent Kenya’s presidents –Jomo Kenyatta, Mwai Kibaki and Jomo’s scion, Uhuru Kenyatta.
It accounts for around six million of nearly 22.1 million voters.
But having no candidate of its own in the 2022 polls, the region had to choose between Ruto, from the Rift Valley, and Azimio presidential candidate Raila Odinga, from Nyanza.
After the 2022 election, Kenya’s largest voting bloc is now on the verge of a seismic political change.
UDA’s victory in Mt Kenya is total. It swept the majority of the positions in the region, decimating Kenyatta’s Jubilee Party, which has won only two seats in the region.
Ruto’s ‘Hustler Nation’ populism found fertile ground in the growing poverty among the region’s peasant households, intensified by the impact of Covid-19 and the Nato-Russia proxy war in Ukraine.
The Hustler narrative has rekindled the Mau Mau-era class divide between itungati (nationalist warriors) and kamatimu (homeguards) as the main fault line in regional politics.
UDA owes its victory to hard work, strategy and organisation. In less than a decade, Ruto managed to build a power base, literally, inside ‘enemy territory’.
A small but virulent ginger group of parliamentarians known as the UDA ‘dream team’ pitched camp in the region to solicit votes for Ruto’s presidential bid.
On D-Day, UDA launched an ‘adopt-a-polling-station’ campaign strategy, insisted on six-piece voting, reached out to its followers, kept vigil at polling stations and protected the UDA votes.
However, Ruto lost important mileage in voter turnout. Data available at the moment (which could be updated after all results come in), shows Raila recorded about 80 per cent voter turnout in his Nyanza base.
In contrast, voter turnout in Ruto’s Rift Valley hardly reached 70 per cent. This is a far cry from the more than 90 per cent that Mt Kenya and the Rift Valley gave President Kenyatta and Ruto in 2013 and 2017.
A low voter turnout in Mt Kenya has come as a boon to Raila. More than eight million voters did not cast their ballots on August 9.
Only 14 million registered voters (64.5 per cent) voted, way below the 80 per cent average voter turnout in 2017.
Voter turnout in Mt Kenya was lower than the national average, standing at 55 per cent. As such, nearly 45 per cent of the six million registered voters (about 2.7 million voters) did not turn out to vote.
The low voter turnout reduced the impact of the region’s nearly six million voters on a national scale, whittling down Ruto’s support base.
Numbers available at the moment show that of the approximately 3.3 million registered voters who cast their votes, about 2.54 million (77 per cent) voted for Ruto while 759,000 (23 per cent) chose Raila as their president.
Azimio wonks overplayed the ‘Martha effect’. It was assumed, rather naively, that the selection of lawyer Martha Karua, who is from Central Kenya, as Raila’s running mate, would help him win a majority in the region.
The naming of Rigathi Gachagua – also from Central Kenya and former Kenyatta’s personal aide who lacked Karua’s integrity and pro-democracy credentials – as Ruto’s running mate, unduly fuelled the ‘Martha effect’.
This gave rise to the lofty idea that Raila could secure at least 50 per cent of Mt Kenya’s votes.
In the end, the ‘Martha effect’ was, realistically, not an avalanche but a trickle that needed time to effectively stem the ‘yellow wave’.
The ‘yellow wave’ has swept away Kenyatta and his allies in Jubilee. A “Handshake” in March 2018 and the subsequent political alliance with Raila sparked protests in Mt Kenya against Kenyatta for abandoning ‘kihoto’ (the Kikuyu concept of justice) by sidelining his deputy.
The protest gradually morphed into an open rebellion. Uhuru was seen as a ‘traitor’. Mt Kenya voters revolted against being told whom to support.
The yellow may, therefore, not be an anti-Raila vote but a localised protest against Uhuru.
In this context, the “yellow wave” is perhaps the greatest revolt after Iregi, the mythical rebellion by the youth against the oligarchical rule of elders (gerontocracy) in the 1800s and the Mau Mau uprising against British colonialism.
The yellow wave in the Mountain is stirring extremist views by pundits in Raila’s Azimio camp.
“Kikuyus will gnash their teeth for electing DP Ruto,” tweeted Professor Makau Mutua.
The contrary view is that although Ruto garnered most of the votes, Raila was on an upward trajectory in the region.
His performance in the region, which was much better than it would have been a year ago, poised him to succeed Uhuru.
It will soon dawn on Mt Kenya leaders in the Kenya Kwanza Alliance that the intent and logic of the UDA leadership are not the coalition of equal partners, but ‘conquest’.
But the yellow wave is the proverbial writing on the wall for the region’s elite to go back to the drawing board to chart a new independent political path.
Prof Kagwanja is a former Government Adviser and currently Chief Executive of Africa Policy Institute and Adjunct Scholar at the University of Nairobi and the National Defence University, Kenya.