Scramble for Raila hatches series of cultural diplomacy

Inside Raila's meeting with Kikuyu elders

What you need to know:

  • The peace rituals are called horohio in Kikuyu, and the first of them, involving traditional prayers, were conducted last Monday in the Karen home of East African Legislative Assembly MP Oburu Odinga.
  • The most distinct manifestation of these divisions is in the methods Mr Odinga and Dr Ruto have chosen to use to penetrate the vote-rich region.

Intensified activities spearheaded by the Kikuyu Council of Elders (KCE) appear set to break the frosty political relationship between the Nyanza and Central Kenya regions that can be traced back to the 1960s but got worse in 2003.

Soon after the National Rainbow Coalition (Narc) ousted Kanu from power in 2002, Raila Odinga and his erstwhile ally Mwai Kibaki fell out over pre-election power sharing pacts, and the resulting unyielding mistrust, face-off and acrimony persisted in one form or another.

The latest rapproachements between the lake and the mountain have culminated in a tour of elders accompanied by the highest ranks of Gikuyu traditional priests (Agongoni) to the Bondo home of the former Prime Minister.

Read: Will it be 'fifth time lucky' for Raila in 2022 election? 

The elders and priests were yesterday expected to conduct traditional cleansing rituals to atone for past grudges,betrayals and hostile political feuds between the two most politically energised Kenyan communities.

The Sunday Nation is aware that the climax of the series of highly symbolic political power moves will be a public rally hosted by the Kikuyu Council of Elders and Central Kenya political leadership for Mr Odinga at the Kabiru-ini ASK Showground, next to Dedan Kimathi University on the outskirts of Nyeri town.

First public rally

This would be the first public rally in Central Kenya for the former PM since his surprise March 2018 Handshake with President Uhuru Kenyatta changed the political landscape. While the President and Mr Odinga have toured practically all regions to preach the virtues of their inclusivity agenda, they have tiptoed around Central Kenya, never holding a public rally there.

This is partly because some areas in the region have indicated strong support for Deputy President William Ruto and are yet to embrace the Handshake agenda — which some link to the 2022 succession politics. If sucessful, the rally is expected to open a bridge for Mr Odinga to campaign for himself and his pet project, the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI).

Read: Uhuru, Raila and Moi craft 2022 succession strategy

It is noteworthy that the Deputy President has enjoyed an interrupted headstart to cultivate the region for himself.

In the lead up to the Nyeri rally, several consultative meetings have progressed to a series of “cessation of hostilities” traditional ceremonies to mark an end of a chapter marked by fierce rivalry and competition for political power, and the beginning of another marked by co-operation, according to sources who spoke to the Sunday Nation in confidence.

The peace rituals are called horohio in Kikuyu, and the first of them, involving traditional prayers, were conducted last Monday in the Karen home of East African Legislative Assembly MP Oburu Odinga. The former PM, who is Oburu’s younger brother, was in attendance. Similar rituals and prayers were to be conducted in Bondo yesterday and Nyeri later.

The highly symbolic activities can only be conducted by recognised priests, or agongoni. The Karen event was conducted by two of the last 11 surviving elderly priests, Mzee Mathenge Wa Iregi and Kiarie Njoroge.

The events have been steered by highly guarded contacts and secret meetings between the national leadership of the Kikuyu elders, led by chairman Wachira Kiago, and top ODM leaders. 

Read: Mt Kenya leaders meet Raila, back referendum calls

The ODM delegation in Karen included Siaya Senator James Orengo, Seme MP James Nyikal, BBI secretariat official and university lecturer Adams Oloo, a representative of the Luo Council of Elders, and Rarieda MP Otiende Amolo, among others. In Mr Kiago’s delegation were his vice-chairman Muthoga Kirethi,secretary-general Rev Peter Munga,organising secretary James Nene, Kiambaa MP Paul Koinange, former Ndaragwa MP Jeremiah Kioni, former Maragua MP Elias Mbau, and former Transitional Authority head Kinuthia wa Mwangi, among others.

Cultural diplomacy

The timing of the deployment of cultural diplomacy ahead of publication of the BBI report and rising 2022 succession rhetoric has sent tongues wagging about who was behind the initiatives, between the elders and state actors.

The political sensitivity of the matter and the fear of being upstaged is such that traditional power brokers allied to the powerful Mt Kenya Foundation political lobby and Gema Cultural Association (GCA) called a press conference on Wednesday to denounce the Kikuyu elders for allegedly “misusing” the name of Gikuyu (Kikuyu) Council of Elders”.

By implication, the statement, read by BBI secretariat CEO Stephen Karau, sought to fault the Kikuyu elders’ initiative to play bridgeheads for Mr Odinga’s succession politics into Central Kenya, by-passing traditional power brokers and political gatekeepers.

“We wish to emphasise that the team of elders assembled here are the bona fide leaders of the Kikuyu Community Elders Council with full mandate to conduct the council’s affairs,” the group said.

The choice of Nyeri to host the inaugural public event for Mr Odinga itself speaks volumes about divisions and rivalries between several groups and lobbies pursuing divergent interests in the name of “community”, especially as the electioneering season looms closer.

The most distinct manifestation of these divisions is in the methods Mr Odinga and Dr Ruto have chosen to use to penetrate the vote-rich region. While Dr Ruto has clearly marked out and patronises churches as platforms of choice, Mr Odinga has chosen to ride the structures of cultural institutions of elders, in the absence of the strong grassroots personalities or parties he normally exploits to cut regional political deals.

When asked about the timing and attacks by the players associated with GCA, Mr Kiago, the KCE Chairman, said: “What is important is the people behind any person or group of persons, not the registration certificate. KCE’s position is to let every leader of any group show the people what it has done for the common good. That is what makes the difference. KCE is for peace, unity and stability of the country and posterity. Whoever assures us of these is our friend,” he said.

The critical need for the country at the moment is leadership that could deliver on the aspirations and expectations of the people, not cliques or vested interest groups, Mr Kiago added.

“The position of the KCE in the succession and BBI context is to encourage all aspiring leaders to put their ideas, their records and policies forward for people to see. It is not about entitlement. KCE will not support another MoU or pre-election pacts that have brought grief to the country in the past. All cards must be put on the table for public scrutiny.”