Sabina Chege, the only link Uhuru has in Parliament after his sister missed out
If there is a politician in the Mt Kenya region who has emerged as calculative and smart in dealing with the August 9 General Election, it is former Murang'a woman representative Sabina Wanjiru Chege.
Without shedding a sweat or a tear or even spending a dime, she survived the United Democratic Alliance (UDA) massacre against President Uhuru Kenyatta's Jubilee Party in the region.
Her tact was simple: defy the UDA wave in Mt Kenya by campaigning against it but dare not confront it as a contestant, stay put in Azimio and win favours in it. And it worked. She has come out of the slaughterhouse unscathed and as a representative of the very people who would have rejected her had she sought their mandate.
She has been nominated to Parliament by the ruling party that only managed to win two parliamentary seats (Ol Kalou and Kinangop), nationally posting 24 MPs. For the woman rep seat, Jubilee won in Isiolo and Nyamira counties, while for the Senate seat, it posted wins in Garissa, Lamu and Isiolo.
Ms Chege now becomes the party's only nominated MP, overtaking all the other senior Jubilee officials like secretary-general Jeremiah Kioni, who lost in his Ndaragwa constituency and Majority Leader Amos Kimunya, who lost in Kipipiri, all to UDA.
Other prominent members of the Kenyatta circle who lost to the “yellow fever” wave in the Mt Kenya region included Azimio's director of campaigns Ndiritu Muriithi, whose bid for reelection as Laikipia governor went up in smoke, and Jubilee director of elections Kanini Kega, who lost in his Kieni parliamentary bid.
Ms Chege now becomes President Kenyatta's point person in Parliament and by virtue of her loyalty she will assume the role of link between the Kenyatta family and the vaults of policies. Because Jubilee is touted as more of a Mt Kenya party by virtue of its having Mr Kenyatta as its leader, Ms Chege will have more say in it in the House.
Her journey to this point started when she threw her lot with the Kenyatta and Raila Odinga handshake in March 2018.
Though her people in Mt Kenya showed raw contempt for the handshake – which marked the start of the President's loss of clout among his people – she stayed put.
When the President picked Mr Odinga as his preferred successor, making public rallies for his allies in Mt Kenya a living hell characterised by booing and name-calling, Ms Chege refused to budge.
"I am in the Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition Party and supporting Mr Odinga without any remorse. It is my choice and I am entitled to it. Belong where you want and take it home that I will never be intimidated," she told her tribesmen at a meeting in Kenol town.
This was after she had been booed by a lynch mob hurling uncouth words at her, only responding by crying.
At that time, she had declared that she was gunning for Murang'a governor to succeed Mwangi wa Iria, who had exhausted his two-term constitutional limit.
"I did not cry because of the incivility of the negativities of the crowd ... but it was in reflection of the good heart of our President, the commitment and passion he had for our community, but the UDA brigade had incited the publics against him," she said.
She told her Mt Kenya people that "you might think you have hit your road to Damascus but it shall one day be revealed about the great blunder you are about to make ... you will certainly come to your senses late in your decision".
For that act of valour, the President noted and briefed her to stick with Mr Odinga and push on.
But by the start of 2022, Ms Chege had developed cold feet in Azimio, surprisingly emerging in Kenol and issuing a hard-hitting ultimatum to Jubilee.
She gave the party a one-month ultimatum to rebrand, relaunch and issue a clear picture of its August 9 General Election plan or she would ship out.
Word went round that she had finally conceded that the ground was impenetrable for Azimio and her continued stay in it was a sure way of voluntarily binning herself politically.
She also announced that she was not sure whether she was interested in the governor’s position, or even the political formation she was in, only announcing that she was waiting for the Holy Spirit to show her the way.
She accused Jubilee of being the root cause of her flip-flops.
"We cannot engage our voters, we cannot print election materials and we cannot build contest secretariats owing to the confusion in our party," she said.
The President's men were taken aback and it is claimed that senior government officials in the Interior ministry were dispatched to rein her in.
"Within two weeks, Ms Chege's social and political life recorded a major [spruce-up]. She started hanging out with Murang'a billionaires who belong to the Mount Kenya Foundation. Her chauffeured vehicles became [a regular feature of the campaigns]. Her public talk became more mischievous as her fortunes became more exotic," said one of her aides.
On January 29, she represented Azimio at Murang'a's Ihura Stadium, where she gave Mr Odinga sports shoes to help him climb Mt Kenya.
"We mean business and you are our choice. We will help you take over the mountain. With our support, you shall conquer," she declared and in the following two months, she became a permanent feature at Mr Odinga’s side, igniting hopes that she could be named his running mate.
When she came out in the open to state her political stand in April, she was no longer interested in contesting any seat, because she had "decided to pursue more prominence in the national arena".
Her public speech became firm in Azimio and she would visit Murang'a County to spread that gospel even when it was apparent that she was convincing very few. In May, with Peter Kenneth and Martha Karua, she was interviewed for the running mate position in Azimio, a contest that Ms Karua won.
"Ms Chege confided to us that the ground was harsh to Azimio. But she also revealed to us that the President was doing all he could to clip the wings of Dr Ruto and with time, Mr Odinga would be gatecrashed into power. It was in that hope that she did bet her political fortunes," one of her aides told Nation.Africa.
Because the President was convinced that Jubilee would win in Mt Kenya, she was urged to withdraw her gubernatorial aspirations in Murang'a so that Jamleck Kamau, who was thought to be more promising in delivering the seat, could be courted.
She was now a free woman to traverse the country, escorting Mr Odinga and revealing to the outer regions that Mt Kenya had been converted into an Azimio zone.
But what struck many as odd was that she did not participate in aggressive grassroots mobilisation drives to win Azimio votes. She would appear in indoor meetings, hurriedly give a speech and address the media, where she would make declarations that the whole country was Azimio and in Mt Kenya, Mr Odinga was the clear favourite.
She appeared more at political rallies outside Mt Kenya, and back home she had information that Jubilee was headed to a great humiliation, that Mr Kenyatta had lost his influence and even their choice of Martha Karua as area kingpin in an Azimio government would lose to Rigathi Gachagua.
"But she had won the nomination slot and that is all that mattered. Her hope was that Jubilee would perform in a magnitude to make it win a nomination slot,” her aide told Nation.Africa.
“And she was also optimistic that should Azimio form the government, she could, through Mr Kenyatta, win a Cabinet slot or even her most favourite wish – Kenya envoy to America, where her last-born daughter has nationality.”
The Kenyatta family had calculated that, if the President's elder sister, Kristina Wambui Pratt, also got nominated to the Senate, she would team up with Ms Chege to serve as its eyes and ears in the national arena.
But the dismal performance of Jubilee makes Ms Pratt an automatic miss for the Senate. The party's solitary nomination slot in the Senate goes to Prof Margaret Kamar.
Ms Chege is a former radio presenter on the Kameme and Coro vernacular stations and served two terms as Murang'a woman rep.
She also featured as an actor in the TV programme “Tausi”, where she played Rehema. She also featured in the late John De Mathew's song “Njata Yakwa” (you are my heart), spreading rumours in Mt Kenya that the two were dating.
In 2015, she was controversially installed as a Kikuyu elder by some area male elders, sparking a cultural outcry. Many felt this act was a declaration of a cultural war as women were not sanctioned to be elders, many warning her accomplices that they stood in the direct fire of ancestral spirits.
She was born in Kinyona village, Murang'a County, some five decades ago, and studied at Kinyona Primary School before proceeding to Mugoiri Girls High.
She also attended the Kenya Institute of Management and the University of Nairobi, where she obtained a bachelor of education degree and an MA in communication. In Parliament, she was chair of the Education and Health committees. She is married to Maina Gathitu and is a mother of three.