Two things happened this past week in a span of two days that point to the direction alliance-building is taking ahead of 2022 elections: leaders from Mt Kenya allied to President Uhuru Kenyatta on Tuesday picked Narc-Kenya leader Martha Karua to lead their push for a seat at the table.
On Thursday, leaders from the Gusii community converged in Nairobi to consolidate the interests of the region ahead of 2022 General Election.
Separate as they were, the theme and focus for both events was one: how to leverage on the ethnic group to get a place on the table after the elections. This is the current trend as politicians target to use their ethnic blocs as bargaining chips in alliance building.
Ms Karua confirmed this in a recent interview: “Our coming together is a solid voice of the mountain on issues that affect all of us. And like we have always stressed, it is not about people leaving their party or joining any other party. It is having a common agenda which all of us can take to whichever formation they get affiliated to, a wish list of things common to all of us.”
Ms Karua’s Narc is working with Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria, who is also the leader of Chama Cha Kazi (CCK) and The Party of Service (TSP) boss Mwangi Kiunjuri, to push for the unity of Mt Kenya and craft a raft of demands for presidential hopefuls.
While Kenya’s electoral politics has always been organised around regional and ethnic blocs, various reforms over the years have sought to ensure political parties have a national outlook, especially after the 2007/2008 post-election violence. The laws are meant to discourage the formation of briefcase parties with selfish interests and ensure ethic groups are not mobilised against each other. But despite politicians justifying the groupings as seeking to safeguard the rights of their communities, experts say the moves appear to be taking the country to a dangerous path of ethnic balkanisation.
According to Prof XN Iraki of the University of Nairobi, coalitions around communities are likely to take the centre-stage of the next polls with leaders coming with different means to win the big ethnic groupings.
“Lots of coalitions are coming up but it is not very easy to make them this time. In case the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) had sailed through, the big five posts could be given to communities to get maximum votes but without it, we are heading back to what happened to Jubilee and National Super Alliance (Nasa). We might have to go through coalitions first,” explained Prof Iraki.
Both DP Ruto and ODM chief Raila Odinga have launched a charm offensive targeting Mt Kenya as they seek support to strengthen their 2022 presidential bid, even as President Kenyatta goes out to manage his succession in the region which voted overwhelmingly for Jubilee administration in 2013 and 2017.
According to Ndaragwa MP Jeremiah Kioni, as the leaders from the mountain, they are interested in what the thwarted Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) was to give the region noting that they cannot accept to rely on the generosity of the next government.
“We need a solution to our problems: the loss of the additional Sh53 billion, survival of our protected constituencies, sub-division of our large constituencies and increased allocation of bursaries, – ‘one man, one vote, one shilling’. We are not saying that other regions should lose for us to gain, we want our fair share,” said Mr Kioni, who is also the chairperson of the Constitutional Implementation Oversight Committee (CIOC).
Other presidential hopefuls such as ANC’s Musalia Mudavadi, Wiper party’s Kalonzo Musyoka and Kanu’s Gideon Moi have also made half-hearted forays into the mountain.
National Assembly minority leader John Mbadi told the Sunday Nation that the ethnic mobilisation has been brought about by the fear of being marginalised once a particular candidate ascends.
“Our country has a history of exclusivity, so people are apprehensive every time we approach elections that their issues will not be handled well by the government that gets into power, that is why as ODM we are talking about the Azimio la Umoja so that we take away the notion that people have that they will be neglected,” Mr Mbadi said.
The ODM chairman said the Azimio la Umoja clarion call by the party leader Raila Odinga is meant to achieve inclusivity to cure ethnic mobilisation.
The Political Parties Act, which was to ensure that parties that are registered have a national outlook, has largely failed to achieve the objective.
Murang’a Senator Irungu Kang’ata, however, pointed out that it is the elite politicians that are pushing for the ethnic-based politics but added that the 2022 elections will be different as the salience of ethnicity will diminish as voters move towards issue-based politics.
“The Deputy President has made a good effort to change the narrative and pivot politics to issues. The nexus between ethnicity and politics is starting to wither and loosen up. There are signs of consolidation of democracy in Kenya,” Mr Kang’ata said.
Meeting ethnic groups
However, despite his messaging, the Deputy President has been meeting delegations from various ethnic groups who come with demands from their regions.
The trend of ethnic and regional mobilisations caught up with National Treasury Cabinet Secretary Ukur Yatani, who launched his Upya Movement to target the pastoralist communities of the North Eastern region. He has been selling the Upya Movement as the vehicle for the pastoralist communities to negotiate for their space in the government that will succeed the Jubilee administration.
While congregating in Nairobi on Thursday, leaders from the Gusii community drawn from both allies of President Kenyatta, Mr Odinga and the Deputy President said they will no longer be “passengers” in the political arena but the main players. They were speaking for the “larger Gusii region”.
“We have been watching events unfolding in the political space with keen interest. It is very clear that communities are having internal conversations on how to secure their interests ahead of 2022,” the MPs said in their statement after the meeting.
Senator Sam Ongeri told the Nation: “The Gusii community is poised to take up its rightful stake in the national arena. To achieve this, it is imperative to unify behind and front one of our own to the negotiating table.”
At the Coast, Kilifi Governor Amason Kingi has already formed Pamoja African Alliance (PAA) to champion Coast unity agenda. The governor, who has since been removed as the ODM Kilifi chairman, is on record saying the interests of the Coastal people can only be served if they have their own political party.
Early this month, leaders from the Lower Eastern region led by Kitui senator Enock Wambua warned Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka against backing either the Deputy President or the ODM leader saying the interest of people of Eastern can only be best served under the new political outfit One Kenya Alliance.
They threatened to walk out en masse together with their supporters if Mr Musyoka does not heed to their demands.
“Should our party leader ever make the decision to support Mr Odinga for the presidency, we respectfully assure him of two very painful outcomes. He will walk that journey alone and the Kamba nation and the millions of his supporters across the country will never forgive him,” Mr Wambua said.
In Rift Valley, the Kalenjin-Myoot Council of Elders have moved to solidify the region behind the Deputy President after endorsing him as the community’s political kingpin.
The council led by their chairman Benjamin Kitur have asked all politicians to unite behind DP Ruto as the succession of President Kenyatta rages on putting those perceived as his ‘rebels’ in an awkward position for a possible clash with voters.
“We need all leaders from within to rally behind the candidature of Dr Ruto so that as a community, we speak with one voice for the sake of the unity of this region,” said Benjamin Kitur, the council’s chairman.
He added that: “We are just pleading with them not to go against our endorsement but if they decide to ignore us then we have no other choice but to watch them.”
The DP has put a spirited fight in the control of the region with his political nemesis Kanu chairman Gideon Moi, who enjoys President Kenyatta’s support after his falling-out with Dr Ruto.
The DP has made his intentions clear with his allies from the regional firing warning shots to those perceived as his political foes.
The shift by former Bomet Governor Isaac Ruto to his fierce critic Dr Ruto's camp early this year marked the heightened re-alignment linked to the fight for political survival as the 2022 General Election nears.
The former governor, in his speech, made no secret of the fact that he was making the strategic move "to unite the Kalenjin community".
“If the masses have decided that they will back you for the presidency, then we in Chama Cha Mashinani (CCM) have absolutely no problem with that as we will battle for the governorship and legislative positions,” said Mr Ruto.
Aldai MP Cornelius Serem disclosed that those who do not support DP’s 2022 Statehouse bid will have to face an uphill task when seeking their re-election arguing that as leaders from Rift Valley they have agreed that every leader has to drum support for Dr Ruto.
“Anyone who is not supporting the DP for presidency must know that they are heading to political oblivion,” said Mr Serem.
In Western Kenya, leaders are working hard to ensure that the unity of the region is not disintegrated because that would be the community’s victory and ticket to the political high table. In what is seen as a move to consolidate the region for the sake of next year’s polls, both Musalia Mudavadi-led party Amani National Congress (ANC) and Moses Wetang’ula’s party Ford-Kenya have agreed to work together under the One Kenya Alliance.
Mr Mudavadi stated that their intention is to work and move together to ensure that they unite the region.
The bid by Mr Mudavadi and Mr Wetang’ula to forge a united front to solidify the Western bloc appears to have unsettled the DP’s troops on the ground.
“It is a deliberate statement to the people of Mulembe Nation and Kenya at large that this region is no longer available for political experiments,” Mr Wetang’ula.
By Walter Menya, Samwel Owino and Onyango K’onyango