Kenya: How Kenyatta, Ruto Fallout is Changing Nakuru Politics Ahead of Election

DP William Ruto and former Machakos Senator Johnstone Muthama address a rally after attending a church service at St Paul’s ACK Church in Athi River on September 7.
5 September 2020
opinion

If there is one part of the country that is feeling the pain of the fallout between President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto, it is Nakuru County.

And this is for a good reason; Nakuru is Jubilee's political bastion.

The county is of great political significance given its cosmopolitan nature and position as the centre of Kenya's political activities.

It was at the historic Afraha Stadium where Mr Kenyatta's TNA party and Mr Ruto's URP sealed their merger deal to form the Jubilee alliance that propelled them to power in 2013.

The choice of Afraha has never been a surprise given the great political significance the President and DP attach to it.

The two principals also held their thanksgiving rally at Afraha after being acquitted by the International Criminal Court of charges relating to the 2007/2008 post-election violence.

Further, their vote hunt ahead of the last two elections was launched at the stadium and ended at the same venue.

President Kenyatta once described Nakuru as Jubilee's 'bedroom' and the capital of Kenya's politics.

The devolved unit is considered a Jubilee stronghold, having voted overwhelmingly for him, coming second after his home turf Kiambu and delivering the highest number of votes in the 2013 and 2017 elections.

Tensions

However, the fallout between Mr Kenyatta and Dr Ruto has resulted in tension in the county with the party's targeted one million votes now split.

"Nakuru is very important to the two principals because their marriage was confirmed and affirmed there as all tribes reside there. That is very significant because Nakuru is still treated as the headquarters of the former Rift Valley province. When the political bedroom is no longer at ease, things are likely to fall apart come 2022," said Mr George Ouma, a political analyst.

Mr Ouma said the mistrust and tension between the dominant Kikuyu and Kalenjin communities, witnessed since the clamour of multi-party politics in 1992 until the post-election violence period, had been reversing until cracks started to emerge in Jubilee.

"When the two principals came together, their clarion call was 'never again' and they assured residents violence would never erupt again in the region. However, these dangerous cracks in Jubilee and the sidelining of DR Ruto may not augur well with the people in the vote-rich region," he explained.

In the last two polls, the President and DP told residents to forget the past and forge ahead.

However, it seems some of Dr Ruto's allies and supporters may be reading a different script.

"This fallout is slowly rekindling the tension that existed in the past as some of the top allies of the two principals are making reckless utterances in the guise of cooling rising political temperatures, which are a recipe for political violence," said Mr Ouma.

Political leadership in Nakuru is based on negotiated democracy, with the governor coming from the dominant Kikuyu community, and the deputy governor and woman representative from the Kalenjin community.

"The executive and senior positions in the regime of former Governor Kinuthia Mbugua and his predecessor Lee Kinyanjui are occupied by the two communities. If there will be a major fallout, the six-piece vote for Jubilee will not be repeated in 2022 and this will bring tension and hate," said Mr Ouma.

Leaders divided

Already ,the cracks have sharply divided the political leaders in the region.

The President's traditional foot soldiers such as Senator Susan Kihika and Bahati MP Kimani Ngunjiri, as well as hosts of MCAs who were in Jubilee's Kieleweke wing, have abandoned his camp for Tangatanga, which supports DP Ruto's 2022 presidential bid.

The Ruto camps in Nakuru have intensified campaigns, invited the DP to Nakuru several times and visited him at his Sugoi and Karen homes.

"Majority of the 77 MCAs in the Nakuru County Assembly are on Tangatanga's side. Taking DP Ruto's votes in Nakuru will be an uphill task," said a first time MCA who is a close ally of the DP.

Jubilee MPs including Kuria Kimani (Molo), Samuel Gachobe (Subukia), David Gikaria (Nakuru Town East), Jayne Kihara (Naivasha), Martha Wangare (Gilgil), Moses Cheboi (Kuresoi North), Joseph Tanui (Kuresoi South) and Charity Kathambi (Njoro) are also in Dr Ruto's camp.

Governor Kinyanjui and Nakuru Town West MP Samuel Arama remain the President's most trusted allies in the county.

However, the fallout might be a blessing in disguise as the minority communities in Nakuru, which support Raila Odinga's ODM party, have been sidelined in the last two regimes in terms of government appointments.

"We hope to reap big as the handshake between Raila and President Kenyatta is working well. We shall go where our party leader tells us to," said Mr Hilton Abiola, ODM's Nakuru secretary.

Mr Arama said politicians claiming President Kenyatta will not have a say in the next elections are daydreaming.

"President Kenyatta still enjoys the overwhelming support of the Kikuyus in the region and if you add the support of the minority, who are supporters of the handshake and the BBI, you will be daydreaming if you think you can win the gubernatorial seat without the blessings of President Kenyatta," said Mr Arama.

Rift Valley Council of Elders chairperson Gilbert Kabage said DP Ruto's political supporters are bitter with the political hypocrisy among Jubilee leaders.

"President Kenyatta should stop using his political emissaries such as [Cotu Secretary-General) Francis Atwoli and David Murathe to send the political message that he is tired with DP," said Mr Kabage.

"He told us on November 2, 2012, at Afraha, that their partnership would remain intact for 10 years. The President should honour this promise or ditch him officially without engaging his supporters in an endless political circus."

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