By Abdikadir Sugow
Community interests have turned the Kajiado North parliamentary by-election race into a delicate balancing act for the main political parties.
After years under Prof George Saitoti, a former vice-president with roots in two of the constituency’s three largest ethnic groups, Kajiado North is scrambling to decide who fills the big man’s shoes.
Voters expected to field a presidential candidate in the General Election and perhaps get his direction on who would step in at the constituency level. That dream, however, was cruelly shattered after Saitoti died in a helicopter crash in his constituency on June 10. The contest to take over his mantle is drawing various forces into the fray.
Saitoti had planned to unveil his presidential campaign apparatus the very week he died. His death changed the dynamics of the presidential race, but has had an even more dramatic impact in Kajiado North, where he had been Member of Parliament for 24 years. It also revived ethnic jostling Saitoti had largely kept buried in the cosmopolitan constituency in the heartland of the Maasai (Maa) community.
It is no secret Saitoti (Joseph Muthengi) was a Kikuyu from Kiambu, Central Province, adopted by the Maa. His departure has seen the tribal arithmetic that dogs many other constituencies emerge in the by-election. The race is a chessboard of equations involving three major communities – the Maasai, Kikuyu and Kamba, and three main political parties – Uhuru Kenyatta’s TNA, Raila Odinga’s ODM and Kalonzo Musyoka’s Wiper. Saitoti’s PNU appears to have been relegated to the periphery, while William Ruto’s URP and Musalia Mudavadi’s UDF may just be in the race for a show.
Voters turn out
Numbers and figures (read potential votes) are being juggled by the secretariats of the main contenders and while the latest trends give TNA, an upper edge, ODM and Wiper candidates are capable of pulling off a surprise, going by the traditionally unpredictable voter turnouts in by-elections. That is why Uhuru and Raila have literally hit the ground stumping for their party candidates in the constituency. Well-placed sources within ODM have expressed their concern with calculations of their chances, but are still mounting a protracted effort to make an impact, well aware that the Kangema seat, which will hold its by-election on the same day, is probably out of their reach. ODM is also struggling to rally its forces behind its candidate Augustinho Neto in Ndhiwa following a nomination fiasco to pick Ojodeh’s successor.
The man who gave Saitoti a torrid time in the 2007, Moses ole Sakuda, has since shifted to TNA, an act which appears to have inspired a political backlash from his own Maasai kinsmen and also from his former party, which has shrewdly responded with a tactical endorsement of Peter Mositet, also a Maasai. Interestingly, but not uncommon, both are married to Kikuyu women.
During the last elections, Saitoti defeated Sakuda, prompting him to file an unsuccessful petition.
There should be some consolation though for ODM despite its strategists apprehensions regarding their candidate’s chances of causing an upset, word from the ground indicate he could be the ‘dark horse’.
As the voting time gets closer, there is apparently no clear favourite, with Mositet, Sakuda, or Wiper Democratic Party’s Solomon Kinyanjui being the next MP.