Party politics, tribal arithmetic to decide Nairobi Senate race winner

John Ochoti

From left: Nairobi senatorial candidates Bishop Margaret Wanjiru (United Democratic Movement), Mr Edwin Sifuna (Orange Democratic Movement and Mr John Ochoti of Kanu. 

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Party politics and tribal arithmetic are likely to be the key determinants in the battle for Nairobi senatorial seat.

The incumbent, Mr Johnson Sakaja, is eyeing the governor’s mansion.

The contest has attracted a crowded field, with 14 candidates keen to succeed Mr Sakaja.

However, ODM Secretary-General Edwin Sifuna and United Democratic Alliance (UDA) candidate Bishop Margaret Wanjiru are the front runners in the battle for the 2.41 million registered voters in the city county.

Others in the race are Mr Silas Angira (Party of Democratic Unity), Mr David Mwangi Gichuru (Safina), Mr Abdikadir Ahmed Jamaa (Usawa kwa Wote Party), Mr William Wahome Kabera (Democratic Party of Kenya), Ms Julie Wanjiru Kabogo (Chama Cha Kazi) and Ms Jacintah Wambui Kamau (Communist Party of Kenya).

They are also joined by Mr Victor Wanjiru Kinyua (The Service Party), Mr Bernard Makau (independent), Mr Justine Nyangwono Misoka (National Ordinary Peoples Empowerment Union), Ms Pamela Ateka Mukolwe (Democratic Action Party-Kenya), Mr John Onsomu Ochoti (Kanu) and Mr Daniel Ogwoka Ochweri (Narc-Kenya).

Do-or-die battle

The contest has, however, narrowed down to a do-or-die battle between Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition Party and Kenya Kwanza Alliance led by Mr Raila Odinga and Deputy President William Ruto, respectively.

An opinion poll by Infotrak, released on July 6, showed Mr Sifuna leading the race with a popularity rating of 44 per cent against Ms Wanjiru’s 12 per cent, although a staggering 39 per cent of those interviewed were still undecided, while five per cent refused to answer.

A month earlier, a Trends and Insights Africa (Tifa) poll put Mr Sifuna’s popularity at 27 per cent, three times that of Bishop Wanjiru who polled nine per cent. However, nearly two-thirds (64 per cent) of voters were undecided.

However, tribal arithmetic, party politics and individual track record will come into play in determining who carries the day on August 9.

Tribal arithmetic

In terms of tribes, Kikuyu, Luhya, Luo, Kamba and Kisii are the major tribes in the city, holding sway on who is elected in the capital. Most of them are coalescing around Azimio coalition.

Mr Sifuna is a Luhya and is hoping to convince his community to back his bid while also depending on other tribes in Azimio to help his course.

On the other hand, Ms Wanjiru, a Kikuyu, is banking on her ethnicity to give her an edge over her rival and also bag a chunk of Luhya votes owing to Mr Musalia Mudavadi and Mr Moses Wetang’ula’s being principals in Kenya Kwanza.

In terms of party dynamics, a June Tifa poll showed ODM and Azimio as the most popular political formations in the capital city, with 30 per cent and 46 per cent support respectively. They were followed by UDA at 22 per cent and Kenya Kwanza at 24 per cent.

No strangers to Nairobi politics

The two front runners are no strangers to Nairobi politics having contested for the position, albeit unsuccessfully, in different elections.

Mr Sifuna, a lawyer by profession, made an unsuccessful run for the seat in 2017 on ODM ticket, losing to Mr Sakaja (Jubilee), who garnered more than 800,000 votes. Mr Sifuna managed to get close to 700,000 votes although he entered the race late.

The ODM SG said Nairobi needs a leader who meets the criteria set out in Chapter Six of the Constitution on personal integrity, competence and suitability.

“I believe over the past five years that I have been SG of ODM, Nairobians and Kenyans generally have seen first-hand that I possess all three, which makes me their best choice for the senator position,” said Mr Sifuna.

No pushover

On the other hand, Ms Wanjiru is no pushover in city politics having been Starehe MP between 2007 and 2012 (elected on an ODM ticket).

She had so much influence in the constituency that she beat a formidable opponent in two-term legislator Maina Kamanda.

Even after a by-election was ordered after a vote recount in 2010, Bishop Wanjiru still trounced her opponent, who was vying on a PNU ticket.

In 2013, Ms Wanjiru lost the senatorial race coming a distant second to former Nairobi governor Mike Sonko, garnering 526,437 votes against her rival’s 814,184 votes.

The former assistant minister has been rallying city voters to make a wise decision on August 9 and elect leaders with a proven track record.

“If elected to the Senate, I will ensure that I work closely with the county government and the executive to ensure that we positively change the lives of Nairobians,” said the Bishop.

Boardroom deals

There are parallels on how the two clinched their respective tickets owing to boardroom deals within Kenya Kwanza Alliance and Azimio.

With ODM and Jubilee Party being in Azimio, Mr Sifuna faced a stern test from Mr Kamanda who was also eyeing the seat in the President Uhuru Kenyatta-led party.

However, a pre-election power-sharing deal brokered by Azimio presidential candidate Raila Odinga in April saw Mr Kamanda shelve his ambitions.

Stepped down for Sakaja

On the other hand, Bishop Wanjiru found herself having to defer her gubernatorial ambitions and step down in favour of Mr Sakaja in a deal spearheaded by UDA party leader and Deputy President William Ruto.

Nairobi currently receives Sh19.24 billion in shareable revenue allocation from the national government, the biggest chunk among the 47 counties, up from Sh15.91 billion, while it collects on average Sh10 billion in own-source revenue.

The senator will, therefore, be in charge of overseeing the more than Sh30 billion annually received by Nairobi, when conditional grants are also factored in.

Get extra resources

Mr Sifuna has packaged himself as a senator who will defend Nairobi and work hard to get extra resources for the devolved unit as well as be the voice and face of Nairobi just like ‘I have been for ODM’.

“We need to get resources to stock our health facilities, pay our community health volunteers, ensure water to every home, secure our schools, clean up our city, complete the regeneration programme and return this city to a time when things used to work,” he said.

“I think overall people across Nairobi are concerned about the cost of living. The urban population is worst hit by the current inflation that has led to high fuel, electricity and food prices,” he added.

Bishop Wanjiru has been campaigning on the platform of transforming the city with focus on service delivery, urging city residents to embrace the bottom-up economic model.

“Our leader [DP Ruto] has the best model for Nairobi. Bottom-up is designed for us; most of us majorly depend on small businesses for daily upkeep.”

Several legislations

For his part, Mr Ochoti (Kanu) said he will fight to have several legislations that will see Nairobi get enough resources in order to respond to healthcare needs, education, empowering the vulnerable groups, among others.

“Once elected to office as the next senator of Nairobi, I will put in place legislation which will support apprentice programmes, employing the youth to do mega projects.”