By Ndung’u Wainaina
Presidential aspirants from central Kenya argue some of their political rivals are being underhanded in playing the ethnic card to undermine their prospects.
“Candidates should be judged in their individual capacity, not as members of some grouping they didn’t choose,” one aspirant says. Another says talk of communities taking turns in State House is a potentially divisive non-issue.
As Prime Minister Raila Odinga and Deputy PM Musalia Mudavadi took their pre-campaign rallies to the region, they were reminded they must beat leaders from local communities on merit, not because their communities are owed a turn at the helm.
Their rivals from central Kenya made it clear they see no reason their ethnic background should bar them from succeeding President Kibaki, saying the same barrier is not being applied to other candidates.
Several groups linked to ODM, including Kikuyus for Change, have argued that the country should not get another president from Mount Kenya communities, having lived under presidents Jomo Kenyatta and Mwai Kibaki. Proponents of this theory say to vote in another leader from the region would be “selfish”.
Initially seen as targeting Deputy PM Uhuru Kenyatta, the strongest rival to Prime Minister Raila Odinga, this argument is also being used against fellow contenders Peter Kenneth (Gatanga) and Martha Karua (Gichugu).
But the trio and their supporters contend their candidatures should not be tied to the past tenants of State House. They point out that former President Daniel Moi’s 24-year reign has not aroused similar sentiments against presidential hopefuls from the Rift Valley like Eldoret North MP William Ruto.
This may, however, become a factor should Mr Uhuru and Mr Ruto, both facing trial at the International Criminal Court, come together on one ticket. An alliance between the two is considered potent as they have strong support from their ethnic communities and could command 25 counties in Rift Valley, Central and Eastern Kenya.
UDF hopeful Musalia Mudavadi added a new twist to the matter when he called for support from the region as payback for supporting Uhuru’s unsuccessful presidential bid in 2002. Seeing this as a variant of the ODM argument, Ms Karua responded swiftly to dismiss the idea of a communal political debt.
“We don’t owe Kenyans any leadership debts just because of Kenyatta’s and Kibaki’s presidencies,” the Gichugu MP said. “They were all elected on the basis of their performance, not their tribe.”