Fresh details are emerging on the undercurrents, exchange of cash and regional brinkmanship behind Thursday’s voting of nine Kenyans to the East African Legislative Assembly (Eala).
Accounts from lawmakers who spoke with Saturday Nation point to a feeling of alienation for Central Kenya and the castigation of Kikuyu MP Kimani Ichung’wah, who is the Majority leader of the National Assembly, over what some termed arrogance. And it appears the Mt Kenya region is savouring the “victory”.
Yesterday, Nyeri Governor Mutahi Kahiga said the results served as a warning shot from Mt Kenya leaders to the Kenya Kwanza coalition.
When President William Ruto unveiled five party-backed regional assembly nominees on Wednesday, where Central Kenya hardly featured among the top contenders, leaders from the region vowed that it had to be presented.
Immediately after the Kenya Kwanza Parliamentary Group (PG) meeting that took place at State House was concluded, Mt Kenya leaders, feeling short-changed by their Rift Valley counterparts, decided to chart a different path.
With the vote presenting an opportunity to throw the Azimio team into further chaos, especially if Parliament binned Raila Odinga’s daughter, Winnie, and Kalonzo Musyoka’s son, Kennedy, at the expense of other hopefuls, the Central leaders through their WhatsApp group agreed that they reach out to Azimio lawmakers to support their own.
The State House meeting settled on former Mombasa Senator Hassan Omar, ex-nominated MP David Sankok, ex-Nandi Woman Representative Zipporah Kering, ex-nominated senator Falhadha Iman Dekow, and former United Republican Party (URP) secretary-general Fred Muteti.
However, Mt Kenya leaders, who were after Mwangi Maina and former Igembe Central MP Cyprian Kubai Iringo, decided to approach Azimio MPs for their support, which would be reciprocated by voting for the other camp’s preferred candidates.
According to an MP from Mt Kenya, most of them felt disgruntled and short-changed by Rift Valley MPs, who decided not to support one of their own. In the lawmaker’s view, Central parliamentarians were not ready to see the region miss a slot.
“After the PG, there were murmurs among members. People felt disgruntled because there was no one from Mt Kenya and it looked intentional. We wanted to teach Rift Valley MPs a lesson because they are out to tarnish the boss’s name with what they are doing without his blessings,” said the lawmaker.
Another Mount Kenya lawmaker told Saturday Nation that when they learnt that their colleagues from Rift Valley were determined to deny the region a slot in Eala, including not voting for anyone from Central, including those from Azimio, they decided to rally behind former Kieni MP Kanini Kega to increase their slots to two out of the nine seats.
“Rift Valley MPs wanted Fatuma Gedi of Azimio and we interpreted this as a scheme to deny us a slot in Eala. We could not let this happen and they had knocked us out by rejecting Kenya Kwanza candidates from Mount Kenya and that is how we ended up supporting our own with the help of some of our Azimio colleagues,” said an MP from Mt Kenya East.
“As Mt Kenya leaders, we reached out to Azimio to vote for our own; in exchange, we also voted for Winnie Odinga and Kennedy Kalonzo.”
Saboti MP Caleb Amisi, an Azimio MP, also confirmed to Saturday Nation that Mt Kenya leaders approached them with the intention of shooting down President Ruto’s approved list. “Yes, they reached out to us to punish Ruto nominees. The enemy of your enemy is your friend, politically speaking, and that is the quid-pro-quo. Winnie and Kennedy were universally accepted from the beginning as sympathy for Raila and Kalonzo,” he said.
However, Githunguri MP Gathoni Wamuchomba, who is the chairperson of the Constitutional Implementation Oversight Committee, yesterday denied reports that Mt Kenya sought a meeting with Azimio MPs to plot defiance against the President, arguing they only lobbied for the leaders to support Mr Maina.
“There was no meeting. We just lobbied them to support a humble hustler young man, 28 years old, and they agreed,” she said.
Gatundu South MP Gabriel Kagombe shared similar sentiments, noting that those who were voted for were among the 15 candidates the party had endorsed and regional balance had been achieved. “We did not defy the President and we will never defy. The President is happy and the party is also happy. We voted for the individuals who were among the 15 candidates the party had. The President wanted Eala to be the face of Kenya and that is what we achieved,” said Mr Kagombe.
But for some Rift Valley MPs, Mt Kenya leaders ganged up against the ruling coalition’s choice by luring Azimio candidates with money. Claims are rife that the funds came from someone senior from the region.
“There is some disquiet in the coalition and that made us, youthful Rift Valley MPs, go against Kimani Ichung’wah’s choice. We feel he is arrogant and he does not listen to us. Our issues have not been represented well. Mt Kenya leaders ganged up to defy the boss (Ruto) and it seems they were helped by someone senior to bribe ODM MPs,” said a Rift Valley MP.
Other sources accused Mr Ichung’wah and Majority Whip Sylvanus Osoro of being arrogant and not in touch with reality.
But United Democratic Alliance (UDA) chairman Johnson Muthama said it is not easy to satisfy everyone when in leadership, adding that those complaining about the leadership style of Mr Ichung’wah are just exercising their democratic rights.
“No leadership gives justification to all people. Those whining are in their constitutional rights. God created us differently; how you want to be treated is different from how another person would want to be treated,” he said.
As early as 9 am on Thursday, Mt Kenya leaders were seen in groups conversing in low tones plotting how to vote for Kenya Kwanza’s Maina and Kubai. They argued that it was wrong for Mr Kubai, who supported the UDA agenda on the floor of the House in the 12th Parliament and campaigned in the run-up to the August polls, to be left out in the final list and others prioritised.
The Mt Kenya MPs also got a boost from the northern region that, sources disclosed, also wanted a favour of backing former Wajir Woman Representative Fatuma Gedi.
The Mt Kenya MPs were also buoyed by a Cabinet Secretary who had breakfast with MPs on Thursday morning, with some MPs disclosing to Saturday Nation that the issue of Mr Maina was discussed in both Azimio and Kenya Kwanza camps.
One of the Azimio MPs serving his third term admitted to Saturday Nation that the Cabinet Secretary approached him at around 9 am at the members’ lounge and urged him to vote for Mr Maina. “The CS was here and even talked briefly. I was briefed and promised to comply,” he said.
A highly placed official in Kenya Kwanza also held a separate meeting with a section of Mt Kenya leaders after the Wednesday State House meeting and told them to do “everything possible” to ensure Mr Maina, Mr Kubai and Mr Kega sail through.
In the worst-case scenario, the MPs were told to ensure at least Mr Kega and Mr Maina sail through and that they should work with Azimio in the plan and support both Ms Odinga and Mr Kalonzo.
The initial plan was that Kenya Kwanza was to vote for Ms Gedi from the Jubilee line-up to punish both Mr Kega and Mr Kioni whom they said they still had unfinished business with over their Azimio stand.
The plan, however, changed, with the Kenya Kwanza official telling MPs that they should not “punish one of us” just because of politics.
Region ‘deserves respect’
Yesterday, Governor Kahiga told the ruling coalition to respect Central Kenya MPs’ decision to back Mr Kega.
Speaking as he oversaw the swearing-in of his executives, he said the region felt sidelined, despite being part of the ruling coalition.
“Thursday’s proceedings in Parliament show that it is time for the Kenya Kwanza coalition to give us our right to represent our region,” he said, urging the Central region to unite and work together as one.
“We are not married to one person who can control us politically. Yesterday (Thursday), we realised some people are trying to play with us politically. That is why we elected Kanini Kega.”
Some MPs deemed the voting, which was done through secret ballot, the best opportunity to express their displeasure with the recent committee placements, which they termed skewed.
Speaking in Parliament immediately after the Eala vote, Mr Ichung’wah however dismissed assertions that Mr Maina was “a reject”, saying he “was a candidate just like any other and deserved to be elected”. The emerging cracks in Kenya Kwanza if not nipped in the bud from the onset, are likely to slow down Dr Ruto’s agenda just when he is settling down for work.
Additional reporting by Mercy Mwende