Kenya has barely two years, to August 2022, to prepare for general and presidential elections that will be transitional. The field is open to many would-be presidents, casting eyes everywhere to line up support as they invade and protect political “bedrooms”.
At least, two layers of political players have arisen; first and second tiers. The first or top tier is of familiar faces, featuring political heavyweights already established either through connections or hustling. The second tier comprises those who somehow are not at the top but are either coming up or slated to remain cheer leaders and support staff for those who rise. The election will be transitional in the sense that the second tier power players are likely to dominate.
In part, this is because first tier players appear tired, spent, and bereft of ideas. They also appear out of tune with the majority of Kenyans, the under 35s, who remember little of the struggles of the 1980s and 1990s and simply do not care. The top tier is led by 2007 luminaries. There are former 2007 ODM Pentagon commanders Raila Odinga, Musalia Mudavadi and William Ruto. As Raila and Ruto battle it out, Mudavadi increasingly looks solid in a Mulembe Nation “bedroom” which he shares with Moses Wetang’ula who in 2007 was in Mwai Kibaki’s PNU camp. The problem for both men is that COTU boss Francis Atwoli wants to give his in-law, Raila, access to the Mulembe “bedroom”.
Then there is Kalonzo Musyoka, having taken over from Mulu Mutisya as the Ukambani colossus. Like Raila and Ruto, Kalonzo seems to have his political “bedroom” locked up as he goes searching for “allies” to boost his 2022 numbers.
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Serious interest is in the second tier players comprising challengers to supposed political bedroom owners. Ruto has two open challengers for the “bedroom” in the Chamge nation, KANU’s Gideon Moi and Chama cha Mashinani’s Isaac Rutto. The two have gravitated to the Jubilee camp that has internal differences with Ruto; they seemingly are reaping big time political rewards at DP Ruto’s expense. While Moi is heir to Moi’s KANU network, Rutto is an entertaining ruble rouser that feels good hustling Ruto, the hustler. Although Rutto was senior to Ruto in age and in Moi’s KANU government, it was Ruto who had pulled a hustler surprise and captured retiring Moi’s nation. In doing so, Ruto displeased Moi the biological son and Rutto the Bomet troubleshooter. Both men enjoy cutting Ruto to size and consider him a “bedroom” usurper.
The happenings in the Chamge Nation compete with those in Ukambani where three second tier governors reject Kalonzo’s regional bedroom claims. These are Charity Ngilu of Kitui, Kivutha Kibwana of Makueni, and Alfred Mutua of Machakos.
Politically, Ngilu is the most senior, having plunged into active politics in 1992. She was the most exciting presidential candidate in 1997 with full support from James Orengo, Anyang Nyong’o, and Kibwana. At the time, Kibwana led a socio-political team of activists comprising Willy Mutunga, Kamau Kuria, and whistle man Davinder Lamba to make waves and seemed to take over power without being elected. This ability to mobilise the public had scared the political class into temporary unity. Members of Parliament forgot their differences and ganged up in IPPG in order, Kiraitu Murungi later wrote, to stop “revolution.” Once they derailed Kibwana, they resumed normal campaigns in which they all lost to crafty Moi.
Kibwana remained a background operator, making political calculations, and captured the Makueni governor’s seat. When MCAs gave him hard time, he silenced them by asking President Uhuru Kenyatta to dissolve Makueni county government.
Also to challenge Kalonzo’s bedroom comfort is Mutua, the PR virtuoso. Mutua fended off MCAs, a deputy governor, and Senator Johnson Muthama in supremacy battles. His declaration of interest in the presidency and the throwing of political barbs at the DP Ruto earned him notice that played in the 2017 re-election as governor. And his supposed leanings on the Katune side in the 2017 elections incurred Kalonzo’s wrath. With Uhuru slated to exit in 2022, there is uneasiness as to who might claim the Thingira in the Mountain. Although no one currently has the key, there are second tier power players on the horizon trying to show potential.
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While the most prominent are Peter Kenneth and proverb spilling Mwangi Kiunjuri, there also are Martha Karua, Peter Munya and Mwangi wa Iria. The Mountain, however, is so big there is time and space for unknown players to emerge. That possibility is source of uneasiness not just in the Mountain, but throughout Kenya’s political landscape.
-Prof Munene teaches at USIU