Gachagua, Wetangula
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The making of regional political chieftains

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From left: DP Rigathi Gachagua, Nyeri Governor Mutahi Kahiga, National Assembly Speaker Moses Wetang'ula, Trans Nzoia Governor George Natembeya and Kilifi North MP Owen Baya.

Photo credit: Natio Media Group

A fresh clamour for regional political dominance is shaping up in the country, with influential players leading the initiative to boost their bargaining power ahead of the 2027 elections.

Regional political control is vital for coalition deals, showing numbers in the national election, and influencing national policies.

The battle for political dominance is gaining momentum in the Mt Kenya region, where Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua is fighting for the unity of the people to have a footing in the region’s politics.

But whereas the DP insists this is a unity of purpose, President William Ruto and his allies see it as tribal mobilisation, which they note could be a recipe for chaos in the country.

“Just as we pushed for economic development through the bottom-up economic agenda, the unity we are pursuing is also bottom-up. You start from home and then move across the country.

“Any disunity in any small area will affect the unity of the country and the unity we are calling for is the unity of Kenya but must start from home because each region has unique challenges,” Gachagua said during Akorino national prayers in Nakuru on Sunday.

But President Ruto insists on “building a one united, peaceful nation devoid of tribal mobilisation.”

“Let us unite and keep peace and contribute towards one nation. Kenya ambayo kila mtu anajivunia (Kenya where every person is proud of),” President Ruto said.

The regional political mobilisation is also rife in Western Kenya, where National Assembly speaker Moses Wetang’ula and Trans Nzoia Governor George Natembeya have heightened the political temperatures in a tussle to control the region.

DP Rigathi Gachagua: I am not a tribalist

While Mr Natembeya has launched the "Tawe Movement," Mr Wetang’ula has embarked on regional meetings with local leaders across the political divide in the Western region to win their support.

Mr Wetang’ula, the Ford Kenya party leader, appears to have renewed his bid to consolidate the Western region by reaching out to opposition politicians in a series of meetings.

On Saturday, Mr Wetang’ula called on former Ford Kenya party rebels to join him to unite the region for communal progress. He asked the rebels, led by former Kanduyi Member of Parliament Wafula Wamunyinyi, to support his bid to unify the Luhya community.

"Development can't be achieved through chest-thumping and abusing one another; it can only be realised through unity," he said at Kimukung Primary School in Kanduyi Constituency during a burial ceremony.

Last week, he hosted a section of ODM Members of County Assembly (MCAs) from the region at his Bungoma home, eliciting a sharp reaction from the Raila Odinga-led party.

On January 29, Mr Wetang’ula met Western Kenya MPs drawn from across the political divide at Keekorok Lodge Maasai Mara, lifting the lid on his behind-the-scenes manoeuvres to rally the leaders around him.

Although described as a "routine" caucus of Western Kenya MPs, the meeting had political undertones after some politicians perceived to be close to Mr Mudavadi and Mr Odinga skipped it.

Tribal interests

Political analyst Mr Martin Oloo argues that Kenya is yet to leave the road of planning around regions.

“Indeed, political parties are only organised around tribal interests, then look for like-minded regions to join them. Kenya Kwanza, for instance, is essentially Mt Kenya and Rift Valley and then others joining.

“Ford Kenya is also essentially a Western party. ODM is also confined in Nyanza, Western, a bit of Nairobi and Coast but not in Central,” Mr Oloo says.

“Our politics is organised around regions and what Gachagua and others are doing is predictable and is part of our defining political moments.”

ODM Secretary General Edwin Sifuna faults Mr Gachagua of fermenting tribal politics through his Mt Kenya unity calls, arguing that as a deputy president, he ought to be a nationalist.

“It is an admission of their own inadequacies. In my community, you don’t run back to your mother’s house when the going gets tough. When your only path to power is to appeal to those you were born with then you are not a leader,” Mr Sifuna told Nation.

“If you have solid policy proposals and a heart for the nation you will never have to remind us at every turn that you are from this or that community.”

Prof David Monda, a university lecturer and political analyst, David Monda, says the DP has to placate a parochial regional ethnic constituency, but he also has to maintain the honour of his national office catering to all Kenyans.

“Gachagua has opted to remain loyal to his ethnic constituency in the one-man-one vote debate. The problem with this position is it eliminates him from the rest of Kenya outside The Mountain while making the President look bad having a DP trolling ethnic demands on a national stage,” says Prof Monda.

In October last year, Coast leaders also put aside their political differences and held talks in what they termed as chatting about a united economic front.

Kilifi North MP Owen Baya, the National Assembly Deputy Majority leader, and Kilifi County Speaker Teddy Mwambire said the meeting was convened to develop a formula to ensure Coast leaders speak in one voice.

“The meeting was not about anybody's political future. It is about the development of the coastal region. The meeting had only two agendas. Unity and how we as a region will work with the government of the day,” Mr Baya said.

In Western, Mr Wetang’ula vowed to continue uniting all elected and non-elected leaders in the region.

"Development can't be achieved through chest-thumping and abusing one another; it can only be realised through unity," he added.

He said that Bungoma County had realised several development projects during the few years in government, which were poised to transform the lives of residents.

He, however, called on leaders across the country to refrain from dividing Kenyans along tribal lines.

“Kenya under the 2010 Constitution is a unitary state that shares power between the national government and the devolved units. If someone begins to shout ‘my people, my people, my people,’ that person is an enemy of Kenyans,” said Mr Wetang'ula.