Central Kenyans worried as they head to historic polls divided

Azimio and Kenya Kwanza campaigns Central Kenya

Azimio leaders (left) during campaigns in Nyeri County on July 27, 2022 while Kenya Kwanza leaders campaign in Nanyuki, Laikipia County on August 5, 2022. Tomorrow’s General Election is like no other political event for Mt Kenya people.

Photo credit: Joseph Kanyi | Nation Media Group

Tomorrow’s General Election is like no other political event for Mt Kenya people, who for the first time in decades have little chance of producing the next President.

Though Mr Mwaure (whose real name is Mwaura) Waihiga is their son contesting under the Agano party, he is not one of the front-runners.

The race is seen to be between Deputy President William Ruto and former premier Raila Odinga.

The situation is akin to that of President Daniel Moi’s era from 1978-2002, when Central Kenya had to fight for what it desired from the government. Jomo Kenyatta (1963-1978), Mwai Kibaki (2002-2013) and the incumbent Uhuru Kenyatta were all from the region, making it easier for the region to get development projects.

Region not united

It worries area elders, leaders and common people that the region is not united on the eve of the big vote.

"My greatest worry is that we are going into [these elections] divided. It would have been better if we had picked one formation and belonged to it to a man so that in forming government or opposition, we go into it solidly as a block for our numbers to be respected," said career administrator Joseph Kaguthi.

His experience with government, he said, is that "it deals with organised numbers, not small groups of people in unstructured formations".

He said the outcome of the vote will give rise to Azimio and Kenya Kwanza Mt Kenyans who in the next five years will be competing against each other for political supremacy.

President Kenyatta dwelt on this issue when he addressed the region on Sunday evening on the region’s vernacular TV and radio stations.

"A people divided are easily defeated. Our people must know that for them to prosper, they must be united. During the Moi regime our people were disenfranchised for not being united,” he said.

“Those who were popular (Mwai Kibaki and Kenneth Matiba) led two formations that contested power disunited. As a result, our local economy as Mt Kenya collapsed because of our disintegration as a tribe."

Key sectors declined as leaders wrangled

Though the President avoided saying he, too, split the Mt Kenya vote in 2002 when he contested against Kibaki, he said important sectors for the area’s people – like coffee, tea, dairy, horticulture, pyrethrum and cotton – declined as area leaders wrangled.

The fear is that the same wrangles, which have made an emphatic return, will deny the region the voice to lobby for development. Without one kingpin to lead them, they will be constrained to bid for power in future elections.

The region now has two political wings that are competing to control the numbers. One is led by the President himself, who has picked Martha Karua (Mr Odinga's running mate) as a possible kingpin. Then there is Mathira MP Rigathi Gachagua, who is acting as the President's opposition in Mt Kenya, bidding for the kingpin position as Dr Ruto's running mate.

Below Ms Karua are younger political leaders like Agriculture CS Peter Munya, Murang'a Woman Rep Sabina Chege, Murang'a Governor Mwangi wa Iria and Kieni MP Kanini Kega, as well as the President's son, Njamba Muhoho. These have been identified as worth grooming for the future.

Alternative power base

Under Mr Gachagua are Kiharu MP Ndindi Nyoro, Kikuyu's Kimani Ichung'wa, Gatundu South's Moses Kuria, Mwangi Kiunjuri, Kirinyaga Governor Anne Waiguru and Tharaka Nithi Senator Kithure Kindiki, who appear all set to form alternative power bases.

But Kikuyu Council of Elders chairman Wachira Kiago and Gikuyu, Embu and Meru Association (Gema) chairman Lawi Imathiu warn that disunited, the region will miss a lot and be exposed to divide-and-rule politics.

"My worry is that we might end up being in an awkward position where we do not have our own political party and unity of purpose to channel our interests to the government of the day. Mt Kenya divided is very vulnerable," Mr Kiago said.

Mr Imathiu wonders how the region will structure itself now to pursue jobs for young people and organise itself ahead of future elections.

The President, in his speech, said the immediate worry is how the region will reactivate debate on the one man one shilling and one man one vote principles of resource and power sharing.

"That is what I was pursuing in the defunct Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) and it is unfortunate that propaganda and lies prevailed to collapse it,” he said.

“It is the greatest regret I have so far, because it denied our people a chance to receive equal share of the country's resources and accrued opportunities."

BBI campaigns

The BBI campaigns were spiritedly opposed by people like Mr Gachagua, and the courts ruled that the process was illegal.

"I still believe I will work with the incoming regime to ensure that the BBI process is revived ... I am not going anywhere. I will be around – it is just the address that I will be changing,” President Kenyatta said.

“My people will one day regret what they lost in BBI and I hope their eyes will open up and demand that the process commence if not today, yesterday."

Discard party affiliations

To be able to pursue a common agenda, Mr Kiunjuri said, MPs, senators, governors and ward reps from the region must discard their party affiliations and come together as Mt Kenya leaders.

"We need that unity like medicine now; it is not an idle fear. We must regain that unity of purpose. We must find that convergence point and collapse our Tangatanga and Kieleweke divisions and behave as Mt Kenya," he said.

With the State House dream up in smoke at least until 2027, he said, the region’s hope lies in how its leaders behave in Parliament and in devolved assemblies. He said they will need to come together and reach out to others for solidarity in lobbying for the region’s interests.

"The only way Mt Kenya will regain its unity is by starting to respect one another. Personally, I don't care if you respect me or not, I am going home. But for heaven's sake, respect one another to lead your people in a united way," President Kenyatta said.


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