Jitters in Raila camp over Karua, Kioni new ‘Kamwene’ group

Raila Odinga

Raila Odinga (centre), accompanied by other Azimio leaders, addresses journalists at the Stephen Kalonzo Musyoka Command Centre in Nairobi on September 15, 2023.

Photo credit: Bonface Bogita | Nation Media Group

The newfound political partnership between Narc-Kenya party leader Martha Karua and Jubilee Secretary-General Jeremiah Kioni has sent jitters within the formation that coalesces around former Prime Minister Raila Odinga

Leading opposition figures are concerned over the duo’s lukewarm support for the bipartisan talks between teams allied to President William Ruto and Odinga. The emergence of ‘Kamwene’, an outfit associated with the two, has exacerbated tensions within Azimio La Umoja – One Kenya coalition party.  

The red flag was raised last week by Kisumu Governor Angang’ Nyong’o, who criticised those “placing thorns in the way of national healing” and urged players from both sides of the political divide to embrace the bipartisan talks at the Bomas of Kenya.  

Pointing out that his county is among those that bore the brunt of the clashes between protesters and police, Prof Nyong’o said Kenyans had come a long way as a country “from the dark moments of our history and must continue to struggle unwaveringly against all forces of obscurantism”.

Jubilee Kamwene leadership's press conference on the state of the nation

The governor hinted at “some leaders across the country” and “from both sides” who wanted the dialogue to collapse so that the country relapses back into political and economic chaos and turmoil. He warned such leaders “who have been blowing hot and cold about the talks” that Kenyans will judge them harshly should the bipartisan dialogue collapse.

“We support the dialogue and would like it to continue to a successful conclusion as per the wishes of our party leader (Raila) and appeal to the negotiators and our leaders to give the talks a chance to help resolve issues that resulted into the demonstrations,” Prof Nyong’o observed.  Kisumu was the epicenter of the nationwide mass action organised by the opposition in protests against the high cost of living and increased taxation. Besides massive destruction of public infrastructure and private property, the lakeside city recorded a huge number of deaths, some reportedly through live bullets from the police.  

During a hearing before the National Dialogue Committee (NADCO) last Wednesday, the Independent Policing Oversight Authority (Ipoa) reported that 57 Kenyans were killed as a result of police brutality. About 30 of these deaths were documented in Kisumu, 20 in Nairobi, and one each in Kakamega and Nakuru.

Ipoa’s figures may be inaccurate or altogether moderated, according Azimio-allied politicians. The opposition party, which has independently assembled the figures, puts its casualty list at 72, while human rights groups attribute 94 deaths to police brutality. The latter includes innocent children, toddlers and senior citizens who may have suffocated or chocked to death from teargas lobbied at them in residential areas.

Politicians from Mt Kenya have been fingered for demonstrating disinterest in the talks. While Kioni has come out openly to affirm this fact, others like Karua, who was also Odinga’s running mate in last year’s presidential race, has been sending mixed signals.

Other senior politicians from the region within Azimio thought to belong to this school of thought, include former Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya and former Murang’a Governor Mwangi wa Iria.

Former Laikipia Governor Nderitu Muriithi and former Nyeri Deputy Governor Caroline Karugu are thought to firmly subscribe to the position of the larger Azimio group, which fully supports dialogue.  Kioni regretted that the law enforcement officers “unfortunately opted to kill demonstrators exercising their democratic right and scores of other citizens”, a factor that is ultimately influencing the dynamics within Azimio on the merits and demerits of resumption of mass action.  

Noting that Azimio’s interim point in the standoff with the Ruto administration was addressing issue of the cost of living and increased taxation as well as dealing with police brutality, Kioni said the current focus by NADCO offered little or no hope at all to Kenyans. 

He believes the opposition party has been trapped in “meaningless talks”. Kioni feels that the talks are a ploy by the Kenya Kwanza administration to hold and confine the highly active and potentially “dangerous” Azimio to Bomas of Kenya, while the President and his allies continue to criss-cross the country in premature campaigns under the guise of prayer rallies and inspection of development projects.

With former Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka – a principal partner in Azimio – held at the Bomas talks as co-chairperson, Odinga and Karua have elected to slow down on public engagements as their main rival. Ruto, meanwhile, has escalated political activity across the country.

It is against this backdrop that Kioni and Karua are thinking about the resumption of mass action. This is the genesis of the political heat between the coalition partners, because the Karua-Kioni camp is facing roadblocks on the account that supporters from other bases other than their own will be most affected.

This argument is persuaded by the feeling that Mt Kenya Azimio supporters were not active in the demonstrations compared to those in Nyanza, Western and Eastern.      

“It is true that our supporters in Mt Kenya did not come out in large number to demonstrate. But that does not take away the reality that they are affected just like other Kenyans by the high cost of living and increased taxation rate.

Our people are pained as well and we are having a conversation on how best to involving them in the protests,” said Kioni. 

It is because of this and other reasons that Karua and Kioni are evidently leading a group from the Mt Kenya in fronting an outfit called “Kamwene”.

The group, which loosely translates to “ours” or “our own”, has been set up to organise and mobilise residents of the region against the Ruto administration.

Already the move has created jitters within the larger Azimio fraternity with critics suggesting that the duo is pulling away to create an alternative centre of power.

A two-term legislator from the Ukambani claimed that the “Kamwene” move is aimed at frustrating Musyoka’s ascendency.     

Dr Henry Wabwire, a political pundit, said opposition heavyweights from Mt Kenya are bound to view Musyoka as a stumbling block to their political matrix. The former VP’s role in the talks gives him a head start in the 2027 succession plot.

“Communities are different in perception and approach, and Kamwene is our avenue of managing our politics. We are in the process of organising a delegates’ meeting in the region for a candid conversation over some of these issues,” Kioni said.