Uhuru and Ruto

Deputy President William Ruto (left) and President Uhuru Kenyatta. 

| File | Nation Media Group

Kiambaa mini-polls a test of might between Uhuru and Ruto

Jubilee Party and the United Democratic Alliance (UDA) have stepped up rhetoric over the Kiambaa parliamentary by-election, which is shaping up into a contest that will test Mt Kenya’s political leaning.

The stakes are high in the constituency by-election scheduled for July 15 alongside that for the Muguga ward seat, both in Kiambu county, because it will be the first direct contest in President Kenyatta’s home county between the ruling party and the splinter group associated with Deputy President William Ruto.

Blame game

Dr Ruto’s camp is buoyed by the victory on May 18 in Juja Constituency, where People’s Empowerment Party (PEP) candidate George Koimburi, with backing from the DP, carried the day.

The defeat triggered a blame game within President Kenyatta’s Kieleweke camp and celebrations in Dr Ruto’s Tanga Tanga faction, with the Kiambaa election deemed a rematch for the rival groups.

Kiambu Governor James Nyoro, who was part of Jubilee’s bungled Juja campaigns, says “this time round, we will put our house in order and ensure that the Juja mistakes are behind us.” 

A divided campaign team and a protest vote against the ruling party are among the factors that derailed Jubilee’s quest to defend the seat.

Nakuru Governor Lee Kinyanjui has conceded that Jubilee needs revamping “to inject fresh blood and rejuvenate the dreams of its support base,” adding it’s a bitter pill that must be swallowed ahead of next year’s election.

There are calls for President Kenyatta to personally campaign in Kiambaa, to help calm party supporters who are increasingly embracing the “hustler” messaging by his deputy, with whom he has had a falling out.

But some of the President’s loyalists have played down suggestions that Dr Ruto has swayed Mt Kenya to his side, insisting that rivals who have been on prolonged campaigns seem to have gained ground only because the Head of State is concentrating on commissioning projects.    

Mathira MP Rigathi Gachagua argues the two by-elections will dismantle the long-held notion of regional kingpins.

“Unlike our competitors who are all over the political domain scheming on how to emerge Mt Kenya kingpins, including the coronation of the likes of National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi, we in hustler will be tabling the Kiambaa and Muguga agenda right in the voters’ court for them to score their own winning goal,” says Mr Gachagua.

UDA has fielded Mr John Njuguna Wanjiku to carry the hustler nation flag but it took the DP’s intervention to have PEP, associated with Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria, withdraw from the race to avoid splitting their votes.

Jubilee picked Mr Kariri Njama to run for the seat that fell vacant following the death of MP Paul Koinange. 

By 2019, the constituency had 95,871 registered voters in five wards- Ndenderu (27,099), Karuri (21,769), Kihara (18,338), Muchatha (17,583) and Cianda (11,082).

In Muguga, Jubilee’s Mr Joseph Githenji is battling it out with Mr Kamau Thumbi of UDA in the scramble for the 18,430 registered voters.

After the humiliating defeat in the Juja by election, some officials in Jubilee, however, acknowledge the hustler nation wave in the region can no longer be ignored.

Kiambu Jubilee chairman Elijah Njoroge concedes that “if we do not learn from the Juja poll mistakes, we will lose.” Mr Njoroge says Jubilee’s performance in Juja was affected by “bungled nominations, disjointed campaigns and lack of calculated messaging.”

And voters were also sending a message to Jubilee that all was not well for a party and president they have overwhelmingly voted for since 2013. 

“We sank eight boreholes during the campaign period. Did hundreds of feeder roads and promised access to ministries for more development. Yet, the voters were not impressed and in voting, they told us that Jubilee leadership was detached from the reality on the ground, projected itself as the one driving the political and economic agenda instead of ceding the authority to them. And in voting for the hustler candidate they were telling them that they matter in deciding their destiny,” Mr Njoroge observes.

Mr Koimburi won with 12,159 votes against 5,746 for Ms Susan Njeri — the widow of the immediate former MP Francis Munyua, whose death occasioned the by-election.

Jubilee also lost Rurii ward in Nyandarua County where UDA’s Francis Muraya won with 4,303 votes against Jubilee’s Peter Thinji who got 3,051 votes.

 Former Kiambu Governor William Kabogo agrees that the results of the Juja and Rurii polls were a protest vote and had nothing to do with real issues.

“The region has bought the narrative that it has been neglected by the current presidency. It might not be entirely true. But the problem with our voters is that they tend to start vowing on how to eject those they elect immediately they are declared winners,” Mr Kabogo says.

 He says voters start saying leaders are inaccessible based on considerations that might not be practical.

 “For instance, if you say you will punish a leader since he/she is not coming to the grassroots to dish out money. Where will that money come from?”

Voters, he says, make some funny decisions under the guise of punishing someone, only to regret later when they are haunted by their bad choices.

“Yes, there are those things that the President might not have done but even those in the hustler movement that are advancing that narrative also need to be tasked too, since they were voted in alongside the President. These are the perceptions that need to be corrected on the ground,” Mr Kabogo argues.

He says the major disconnect with the people is based on disillusionment about wealth creation.

“Yes, people are poor and they need emancipation fast. They also require a well-managed transition into the next government in a way that is based on regional unity. The symbol of national unity should also be the symbol of regional unity and we as the juniors in the unity accept to stand guided. The problem is that not many of us are listening and we are working at cross purposes,” Mr Kabogo says.

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