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Shades of rebellion: The Kenyatta succession in Mt Kenya



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It is Mark Twain who famously said that “History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme”.

Yet, the crusade by former Jubilee Party’s interim-Vice Chairman David Murathe to block Deputy President William Ruto from succeeding President Uhuru Kenyatta is widely seen as history repeating itself, rekindling memories of the “Change the Constitution Movement” by a section of Mount Kenya elite to prevent the then Vice President Daniel arap Moi from automatically ascending to the Presidency upon the death of founding President Mzee Jomo Kenyatta in the 1970s.

But the unease and disarray in the ruling Jubilee Party is deeper than the Murathe blitzes.

Jubilee’s clasped hand that symbolised unity is rapidly giving way to a clenched fist in popular imagination as the new badge of resistance in the ensuing war for the hearts, minds and soul of the Mount Kenya vote ahead of the August 9, 2022 elections.

Jubilee’s winter of rebellion in Mount Kenya did not start with the March 9, 2018 handshake between Kenyatta and Raila Odinga for peace and national cohesion.

On the contrary, its seeds were sown during the chaotic Jubilee Party nominations in April 2017.

Three political factions within Jubilee are battling for the heart and soul of the Mount Kenya region. The first faction is the “Kieleweke Group”.

It emerged in January 2018 when Nyeri Town MP Wambugu Ngunjiri fired the first shot insisting that the DP will not be Jubilee Party’s automatic candidate for presidency come 2022.

Since then, the group has attracted political veterans who blame the DP for their loss in the 2017 General Election, and who have embraced the handshake as a potential political lifeline.

The faction faults the DP on three counts. First, they see his politics as defying the President’s call to have a four-year moratorium on political campaigns for the sake of development and unity.

Second, while Uhuru gave Ruto and the Kalenjin an offer of the share of government they could not refuse in 2013, the DP has not given a similar offer to the Mount Kenya citizens in return for their support in 2022.

Third, the President, they argue, has kept all the promises he made to Ruto and has no debts or MoU to support Ruto unconditionally.

The Kieleweke crowd is giving Ruto three conditions as his pathway to power.

One, to allow President Kenyatta to complete his term in peace without pushing him prematurely to the lame-duck phase of the Presidency by permanent campaigns.

Two, to give Mount Kenya voters a political offer in return for their vote in 2022 similar to the one Kenyatta gave the Rift Valley in 2013.

Three, declare publicly that the country will remain peaceful whether or not the Mount Kenya region vote for him. This is Dr Ruto’s scorecard for 2022.

The second faction is the ‘Tanga Tanga’ group that got its name from the President’s call on DP to stop going around the country akitangatanga (roaming about).

This rebuke crystallised into a rebellion as the Tanga Tanga group of youthful lawmakers, mainly greenhorns, joined the DP in whirlwind tours and fundraisers across the country.

By mid 2018, one source estimated that the Tanga Tanga team was contributing at least Ksh7 million a month in Harambees!

The Tanga Tanga are armor-plated ready for war, and imagining Kenyatta succession politics as a moment of class struggle between the sons of peasants and those of the scions of aristocracy.

Their 2022 campaign rests on three strategic planks. One is the narrative of class revolution against dynasties and the ancient order preventing the youthful sons of the Kenyan peasantry from rising to power.

Second, and related to the class struggle, is the development narrative.

Paradoxically, Tanga Tanga’s development trope is a clear throwback to Kanu-era “Big envelop politics”. Ruto “brings development to us”, says one MP.

Spurred by this meaning of development as a return to the old client-patron politics, Tanga Tanga warriors have taken on the President in a public and palpable way, accusing him of not bringing development to Central Kenya.

Third, they see the President’s anti-corruption drive as an assault on Ruto, his allies and bastions of power and resources.

The most virulent among them are daring the President to resign or call an early election, convinced that Ruto will come to power.

Ensuring that Ruto becomes President is their business model. The third faction is the “Kesho Group” or the Futurists.

Members of this eclectic group are a halfway house in Jubilee, oscillating between the Kieleweke realists and the Tanga Tanga Machiavellians.

Their focus is the future of the presidency. While they have no problem with Kenyatta remaining in power in one form or the other, they are also busy working on backup plans, anticipating a messy divorce in Jubilee marriage.

They have registered new outfits or revived and refurbished old ones.

Despite this rebellion, Jubilee’s night of the long knives is yet to come. The anti-Ruto group is coalescing around three strategies to block his candidature in 2022.

One is a move to weaponise the court in the succession battle by seeking an advisory from the Supreme Court to declare the DP unfit to run for the Presidency after serving as the DP for two terms in a joint presidency with Uhuru Kenyatta.

Second, using the proposed referendum to manoeuvre him out of power in 2022. Third is a mass walkout from Jubilee leading to a broad-based political formation comprising political heavy-weights.

And Odinga and the Nasa team, like patient hunters, are keenly watching the unravelling in Mount Kenya politics.

Professor Peter Kagwanja is a former Government Adviser and currently Chief Executive of Africa Policy Institute (Kenya)