The big divisions in factions’ fight for Kikuyu Council of Elders title

Kikuyu Council of Elders

Kikuyu Council of Elders chairman Wachira Kiago addresses a press conference on December 18, 2020. 

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • The region has the Kikuyu Council of Elders, chaired by Mr Wachira Kiago, and the Kiama Kia Ma, led by Captain Kung'u Muigai.
  • The two groups have mutations that come out to express different opinions on matters of national interest.
  • Since the multi-party elections in 1992, there has never been a unified body of elders.

The Bible says in Matthew 12:25 (King James Version): "And Jesus knew their thoughts, and said unto them, Every kingdom divided against itself shall be brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand.

This is the concern of the famous House of Mumbi that is the Agikuyu community now embroiled in factional wars for supremacy in the Council of Elders.

Instead of having a grouping that is unanimously recognised, the elders are seen as nothing more than village-based cocoons with myriad spokesmen reading different scripts and jostling for recognition.

In the region, there is the Kikuyu Council of Elders, chaired by Mr Wachira Kiago, and the Kiama Kia Ma, led by Captain Kung'u Muigai. The two groups have mutations that come out to express different opinions on matters of national interest, especially touching on politics and area kingship.

It has been widely said in the region that the composition of the elders and the way they come out to express themselves on issues portray them as rent-seekers instead of an apex leadership body of wisdom.

The mandate of the elders in the Agikuyu community in its unadulterated form was supposed to be the cultural pillar that coordinates rites and ritual activities, as well as act as a summit to pursue unity among the people of the area and act as a bridge to unite with other tribes.

"But the councils we have around us are only known for making political statements without public participation, demanding goats and cash from the men of the area, presiding over coronation ceremonies without unanimity and acting divided," said the chairman of the Central Region Youths Empowerment Lobby Group, Warui Gitau.

Mr Gitau lamented that "the councils demand that area men give eight goats, alcohol and cash to the elders, whereas to be fully accepted as a full Gikuyu man, one currently has to spend more than Sh300,000 with the elders".

He said "the elders do not even advise the men of the area to slaughter goats first for their parents who raised them... they conveniently demand that they slaughter goats for the elders".

He said the elders even quarrel with parents and the church over who should preside over a circumcision ritual. This was after some mainstream churches started organising camp-like circumcision rituals where initiates are given spiritual advice, but the elders insist they want cultural counsels.

Elder Joseph Kaguthi reveals that "we are already meeting to have this circumcision rite exclusively presided over by the council of elders by 2028 because circumcision is not spiritual but cultural".

In June 2015, a cross section of elders caused an uproar when then Murang'a MP Sabina Chege was coronated as a community elder in Kenol town.

This prompted the chairman of the Murang'a chapter of Council of Elders, Stanley Kinyanjui, to conduct a purging ceremony, arguing that there was no place for women elders in Agikuyu cultural practices.

Not that this is the first time the Council has been at loggerheads, there has never been a unified body of elders since the multi-party elections of 1992.

The closer the elections get, the more the elders feud. In 2022, a large section of them cast their lot with incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta to drum up support for Raila Odinga of the Azimio la Umoja One Kenya coalitionfor the presidency.

A small section of the elders led by Mr Muigai, who is former President Kenyatta's cousin, backed then Deputy President William Ruto, who won.

When Mr Kenyatta was putting together The National Alliance (TNA) for the 2013 general elections, he had called 42 council of elders spokespersons from each of the national communities to brainstorm on how to give it a national face.

The Central region comprises Kirinyaga, Nyeri, Murang'a, Nyandarua and Kiambu counties, but the elders also operate in Nairobi, Nakuru and Laikipia.

"To my disbelief, every community represented at the Bomas of Kenya forum, with the exception of the Central region, had a representative to speak on behalf of their communities," Mr Kenyatta said.

He added that "when it was Central region's turn, six men stood up and all claimed to be the real spokespersons," Mr Kenyatta, who had since won the election, told Kameme FM in 2014.

The divisions have persisted and have now turned into a full-blown war over who is the kingpin of the region, over 2027 and over who is bigger among themselves.

Immediately after Dr Ruto won the 2022 presidential election, the Kikuyu Council of Elders, through its friends in politics, moved to dethrone Mr Muigai and installed former Limuru MP Peter Mwathi as his replacement.

In 2020, a group led by Mr Kimani Maigua had come out to declare Mr Kiago an impostor of the council, insisting that he was not the chairman of the council.

"But we talked it out and made peace. What caused the rift was the visit I led to Mr Odinga's Bondo home... The Maigua group was opposed to that visit but they realised that we were acting for the greater good of the community when President Kenyatta endorsed Mr Odinga for the presidency," Mr Kiago said.

Mr Gachagua had lamented in a Kameme TV interview on March 25, 2024 that "the way our elders are at the moment, they can't even be trusted to regulate the brewing of our traditional liquor (Muratina) because they are divided and impatient and won't even agree to wait for it to ferment for the required one week".

He said some elders, in their haste to make money and start celebrating, "will end up adding other catalysts to speed up the fermentation and increase the potency".

He said "the first task I have with these camps of elders is to unite them and make them discover unity of purpose to help them lobby for the interests of the community in all spheres".

Mr Gachagua said, "I am reaching out to these elders and their splinter groups so that we can have a conversation aimed at achieving a solid unity.

The deputy president lamented that because of the fractious nature of the elders, radical groups like Mungiki had infiltrated them, adding that "that is why we want the security organs to monitor some of these cultural activities that are taking place away from the public eye".

This is a position Mr Kiago has dismissed, saying "there is no way our cultural activities will involve security organs because we are not related".

He said every community has its cultural secrets "and we are not going to allow security people to pry into our secrets as they are not our members, officers or demands".

Mr Kiago said Mr Gachagua has since embarked on a campaign to reach out to the elders "and we see it as a godsend opportunity to thrash out long standing issues that will harness the unity of the area".

He said: "What you see in our council is democracy at work, where divergent views are welcomed and the struggle to maximise community benefits results in words and deeds that could be read as divisive, when all we have is an over-zealousness to see our community reap maximum benefits".

But while Mr Kiago is so diplomatic and philosophical in his defence of the fragmentation of area councils, another battlefront has emerged where Kiama Kia ma has written to the Director of Criminal Investigation (DCI) demanding that a splinter group within it be investigated for allegedly impersonating its officials.

The group, which claims to be led by Mr Shamte Munyua as chairman, alleges in the letter that some individuals have forged a certificate to enable them to pose as Kiama Kia Ma elders and officials.

Mr Munyua said the fraud was being perpetrated by a group of suspended individuals who were no longer recognised as members.

He said the impostors were led by Mr Ndung'u Gaithuma, who he claimed was acting illegally on behalf of the council.

"We call on the DCI to investigate the misconduct of Gaithuma and his group. They were voted out of office and therefore should not be carrying out any mandate of the Kiama Kia ma," the petition reads in part.

But Mr Gaithuma dismissed the allegations as false, unnecessary and divisive. He said: "Elders have always resolved their differences through dialogue and reconciliation, not through the police and the courts.

"That is why we are called elders... we cannot be elders and yet not resolve contentious issues affecting us amicably. We cannot be a group of elders who invite strangers to arbitrate our democratic differences," he said.

Captain Waweru Mbugua, who belongs to Mr Munyua's wing, accused the splinter groups of resorting to extortion.

"We have impersonators going around charging Sh1,000 for printing and issuing membership cards. We want them arrested and prosecuted," he said.

Mr Gaithuma says he is not afraid of the threats of arrest and prosecution, insisting that he is the genuine chairman of Kiama Kia ma, backed by the society's registration certificates and financial records.

"We held our AGM in August last year and were elected into office. We also have official financial statements that we have submitted to the Registrar as required," he said.

Mr Gaithuma said his group was charging members a fee of Sh1,000 as a way of mobilising resources.

The conflict erupted after a splinter group installed Wiper Party leader Kalonzo Musyoka as an Agikuyu elder on April 4, 2024.

Mr Muigai, who is loyal to President Ruto and serves as chairman of the board of the Kenya Cultural Centre Council, said Musyoka's coronation was null and void.

"We cannot go around installing strangers as our elders. This is cultural fraud perpetrated by impostors and blackmailers. These are the stains that we need to cleanse so that this community can regain integrity in its cultural pillars," he said.

Others who have been installed as area elders by splinter groups include Mr Odinga, former Murang'a governor Mwangi wa Iria, former Gatanga MP Peter Kenneth, Roots Party leader George Wajackoyah, former Mungiki chairman Maina Njenga and current Attorney General Justin Muturi.

According to Mr Kiago, the reigning king in the community is Mr Kenyatta as he is the one holding the instruments of that title "and until such time as another ceremony is held to install another holder in the office, he (Kenyatta) remains our collective spokesperson".

Former Mt Kenya MCA Caucus Chairman Mr Charles Mwangi says "these are normal vested interest power plays that emerge during the pitch for a general election".

Mr Mwangi said "the rifts will continue to emerge as different groups of council elders embrace different political leaders as this has been our experience in all multi-party elections so far".

Mr Mwangi said that "what Gachagua needs to do is to approach these elders in a language they can understand so that he can be installed as our regional kingpin failure of which you might hear and see them installing any of the other options around which include Kiharu MP, Ndindi Nyoro".