What you need to know:
- The sensitivity of the matter politically has put the membership and leadership of such groupings on the spot, raising questions as to whether they are becoming vulnerable to political patronage and manipulation.
The highly symbolic naming of National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi as Gikuyu, Embu and Meru Association (Gema) spokesman has ignited a nasty altercation among elders’ groups in central Kenya.
The sensitivity of the matter politically has put the membership and leadership of such groupings on the spot, raising questions as to whether they are becoming vulnerable to political patronage and manipulation.
Additionally, the choice of the venue for the naming -- the Mukurwe wa Nyagathanga shrine in Murang’a -- speaks volumes about divisions and rivalries between several groups and lobbies pursuing divergent interests in the name of the Gema community, especially as the electioneering season looms closer.
Two weeks ago, the patron of the National Council of Elders, Captain (Rtd) Kung’u Muigai, led a group of elders in a traditional cleansing ritual and ceremony at the shrine.
The ceremony was conducted by Mzee Mathenge Wa Iregi, one of the last surviving elderly priests in the Agikuyu community.
But that event was denounced by a rival lobby, the Kikuyu Council of Elders, led by Mr Wachira Kiago, and Kiama Kia Ma (the Council of Truth), led by Mr Ndung'u Gaithuma, who said the group could not have legitimately represented the Kikuyu community in the event.
Matters had been complicated after police on Tuesday declined to allow a planned cleansing of the shrine by the Kiago group following the Muturi event, citing security considerations as well as Covid-19 protocols.
However, Mr Kiago yesterday said his group had been allowed to proceed with the cleansing on Friday. Murang'a County Commissioner Frederick Dunga confirmed the meeting will go on as planned.
Significant about how vicious the war over the Muturi event has escalated is that among personalities who came out to attack Kiago and his group was Captain Muigai, a Kenyatta family elder.
On Thursday, he said the coronation happened in the home, but not in the community's holy place of worship.
"There is a theory that our opponents are advancing that Mukurwe wa Nyagathanga is a holy shrine. That facility is not the seat of God, rather, it is our home, where our first parents Gíkúyú and Múmbi lived and gave birth to the nine daughters who are the source of our nine clans," he said.
That stalemate has now become political fodder in the region, leaving the Gema more divided than united.
"Emerging three most probable scenarios out from the coronation fiasco are that the Speaker is a state project, he is just a lone ranger nuisance pursuing self-actualisation as captured in the Maslow hierarchy of needs or, he is genuine and well meaning," said political analyst Ngugi Njoroge.
“It is a function that has stirred succession politics in Mt Kenya region and dangerously rocked many political ambitions among area politicians who have been working from the shadows to emerge the Gema kingpins,” added Prof Njoroge.
Central Region Commissioner Wilfred Nyagwanga said the heavy police presence in the coronation was government duty to law and order.
"The organisers of the function notified the police a week in advance as stipulated in the law. Once police receive the notification and it is deemed to be a function not posing any social, economic or political threat, our work is to move in and provide security to the function and that is what we simply did," he said but refused to comment when Nation asked him what was odd in the request for assembly by those opposed to the coronation.
While symbolic coronation rituals have become part of Kenya’s political culture, where symbols of tribal authority such as leopard skins, three legged stools, spears and fly whisks are conferred on individuals, questions abound on their political relevance or whether the elders are mere puppets propped up by politicians to do their bidding.
So far, the councils of elders have not been able to ward off the scavenging political class ahead of the 2022 General Election, with the elderly men dishing out sacred titles, and admitting politicians from every corner of the country into their fold.
The secretary-general of the Njuri Ncheke elders, Mr Josphat Murangiri, told the Nation politics is not their cup of tea, and as key stakeholders in the community, all they want to do is help steer the political class in the right direction.
This also involves giving guidance on cultural and national issues by helping align cultural practices and beliefs with constitutional values.
“We also enjoy the freedom of expression and association. But that does not mean we are political. Our work is to give counsel and we must claim our space and with the obvious respect that the elders command, we’ll eventually bring the country together. The only politician we take cognizant of is the President because he is the national symbol of unity,” Mr Murangiri said.
Mr Kiago said the questions are legitimate, but traditions have to be respected.
“For instance the speaker is not to blame for what happened last Saturday,” Mr Kiago said in a press conference. “It is those behind the ceremony and the process in which it was undertaken. The ceremony now paints a picture of division between the different communities in Mt Kenya, yet the underlying responsibility is for elders to unite the people.”