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Which way Nakuru come 2022? – Weekly Citizen

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With the 2022 general election fever building, Nakuru county which has for a long time been a hotbed of politics finds itself again at the crossroads, going by the unfolding political developments on the horizon. The town which was the venue for the first official reunion of Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto ahead of the 2013 elections, where they agreed to work together, finds itself at the centre of Uhuru succession where leaders are pulling in different political directions.

Lee Kinyanjui

The county was again the venue for Jubilee party campaigns final rally at Afraha Stadium, ahead of the 2017 elections, where thousands of Jubilee supporters thronged the historic stadium in a show of support and solidarity for the ruling party. It was at the rally where Uhuru stated that the choice of Nakuru was an indication that Jubilee stood for oneness since Nakuru represents the face of Kenya, having almost all communities in the country. “We started our politics – myself and Ruto) here – we came here at Afraha stadium, where we asked Kenyans to allow us to unite and through our politics, we preach peace and oneness so that in future, no Kenyan will lose their property or life in the name of politics,” the president stated while pledging to back Ruto for the presidency in 2022. But three years down the line, the county finds itself at the centre of the breakup of the marriage between Uhuru and Ruto.

Ngunjiri Kimani

Indeed, before the outbreak of the deadly coronavirus pandemic, Nakuru had braced itself for a political faceoff after allies of the president and Raila Odinga and those of Ruto pulled in different directions over a planned Building Bridges Initiative consultative rally. The allies of the second in command had threatened to take full charge of the meeting and not allow any leaders from outside the region to dictate terms of the meeting – in essence locking out Raila from his meeting. Led by former Senate majority leader Kipchumba Murkomen, they had vowed the rally would be different from other BBI meetings that had been held across the country, where they played no role, even being denied an opportunity to greet the crowds. The Nakuru forum was to bring together all Rift Valley counties, after a BBI meeting that was set to be held in Eldoret town, Uasin Gishu county was called off over security concerns, with word on the ground that Ruto supporters would have booed Raila.

Susan Kihika

As part of preparations for the rally, the president had even met and consulted governors from the Rift Valley region sympathetic to him as he tried to wrestle control of Rift Valley from the deputy president. The rally was called off following the outbreak of the coronavirus, giving relief to both Uhuru and Ruto. But even with the pandemic, the town finds itself at the centre of Uhuru succession struggle after area governor, Lee Kinyanjui, an ally of the president led Jubilee troops opposed to Ruto from taking over from Uhuru in a meeting with Central Kenya leaders, to chart a new direction. Kinyanjui who was among Gema leaders who met at a Nairobi hotel raised political temperatures in the county after he indirectly vowed to lead the region in backing Uhuru’s preferred successor for the presidency. The governor caused a storm in the county that is torn between support for Uhuru’s legacy agenda, and Ruto’s 2022 presidential ambition, by attending the high-level meeting of political leaders from the Mt Kenya region at Nairobi’s Panafric Hotel, where talk of cutting Ruto to size dominated the agenda.

Kuria Kimani

When the news of the meeting broke out, politicians allied to Ruto termed Kinyanjui’s move as an attempt to politically isolate Nakuru from the rest of the Rift Valley, which has vowed to stand with Ruto through thick and thin. Indeed, the governor’s political dalliance with Mt Kenya was a slap in the face for pro-Ruto allies who are of the view that the county should stand with other counties in the Rift Valley in their support for Ruto. By attending the meeting, Kinyanjui was setting the ground for Nakuru whose majority members are from the Kikuyu community who would again join Central Kenya in voting for a presidential candidate. Nakuru, which has pockets of Kalenjin, Luo, Luhya, Kisii, Kamba and Maasai votes is predominantly inhabited by the Kikuyu and Kalenjins as evidenced by the outcome of the elections where the Kikuyu has always had a bigger say. Historically, Nakuru has always voted together with Central Kenya. In the first multiparty elections held in 1992, the county voted almost man to man for Kenneth Matiba who stood on Ford Asili ticket before voting for Mwai Kibaki in the 1997 and 2002 general election.

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Jayne Kihara

In 2007, the county stood with Kibaki before voting for UhuRuto in the 2013 and 2017 elections. But now Kinyanjui is under fire from Ruto’s allies, led by Bahati MP Kimani Ngunjiri, an influential opinion leader among the Agikuyu in Rift Valley and a key supporter of the deputy president for attempting to divide the region’s votes. Ngunjiri while dismissing Kinyanjui’s political romance with Mt Kenya as inconsequential noted that the region was solidly behind Ruto, meaning the Kikuyus would cast their lot with the Kalenjins in the 2022 elections. Ngunjiri even lashed out at Kinyanjui accusing him of trying to make Nakuru part of Central Kenya. But before the dust could settle, Nakuru senator Susan Kihika declared that allies of deputy president in the region would oppose BBI report if it was doctored. Susan, who lost the senate chief whip slot due to her support for the DP is among the few DP’s footsoldiers in Nakuru, the others having caved in to state pressure and intimidation to denounce the second in command. Kihika who vowed to give Uhuru and Raila a tough time should they doctor the BBI report to have one that is not in the public interest appears to be the only county leader who is not scared by state’s intimidation.

David Gikaria

But as she made the remarks, days earlier, eight Nakuru legislators allied to Ruto had made a hasty retreat and vowed to support the president to realize the Jubilee party dream for a better Kenya. Their move came when Uhuru called a Jubilee national assembly parliamentary group meeting at State House in Nairobi. Apart from Ngunjiri, the others who declared they had retreated included Kuria Kimani (Molo), Charity Kathambi (Njoro), Jayne Kihara (Naivasha), David Gikaria (Nakuru East), Joseph Tunui (Kuresoi South), Liza Chelule (woman rep) and Kihika. MP Samuel Arama initially for Ruto has now joined CS Fred Matiang’i. He is MP for Nakuru Town West on Jubilee ticket. Ruto is said to have called on his supporters to drop their hardline stance and allow Uhuru to make any changes as he wished in the senate and parliament.

Liza Chelule

The eight MPs from the region, who had emerged as the face of rebellion in the ongoing party wars, appeared then to have been beaten into submission ahead of the parliamentary group meeting. The pro-Ruto MPs have found themselves on the receiving end when state apparatus moved to cut their legs. First was Ngunjiri who had to surrender his firearms after Inspector General Hilary Mutyambai issued a directive stating VIP facing crimes would have their gun licences revoked and police bodyguards withdrawn. Ngunjiri returned his guns and also confirmed that his AP bodyguard had been withdrawn. The MP is facing criminal charges of incitement. For Kihika, she was among local leaders who had turned up to receive Uhuru at the Nakuru county assembly only to be stopped by the presidential guards. For Gikaria, he has been questioned by the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission detectives over alleged misconduct and issued with a caution letter.

Samuel Arama

Gikaria was accused of initiating, funding and supporting the construction of illegal kiosks along Kipkelion road without requisite approval of the county government. He was also among leaders barred from attending a public function presided over by the president at the Rift Valley regional office. The MP and Kihika were locked out of the venue where Uhuru was issuing 68,000 titles deed to settlers in Njoro, Gilgil, Rongai and Naivasha. Later, Uhuru held a closed-door meeting with a section of local leaders at his family’s Gicheha farm where he reportedly vowed never to use the renegade leaders in his future activities in the county. But apart from Kihika and Ngunjiri, the other Kikuyu legislators appear to have given up, or alternatively they could be marking time waiting for the opportune moment to declare their support for Ruto. Only time will tell.

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