By JUMA KWAYERA
Determined to hive off a substantial share of the central Kenya vote, Prime Minister Raila Odinga has earmarked the region as a high-value target as he seeks to consolidate his rating ahead of the presidential poll due next year.
However, to do so, the Prime Minister is under pressure to go beyond the elite and the grassroots to Prime Minister Raila Odinga (left) on a recent tour of Meru, accompanied by local leaders. [PHOTO: FILE/STANDARD]
disabuse them of perceptions and fears his presidency would be a rerun of the era under the Kanu regime.
Prime Minister Raila Odinga (left) on a recent tour of Meru, accompanied by local leaders. [PHOTO: FILE/STANDARD]
Leaders from Kenya’s most populous region are unanimous that the greatest fear in the area is marginalisation, which none of the aspirants from outside the region has specifically addressed.
The past six months or so have seen the PM make forays into region, prompting his rivals — Eldoret MP Wiliam Ruto, Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka, Gichugu MP Martha Karua and Gatanga MP Peter Kenneth — to mimic by touring the region soon after he leaves.
It is generally agreed it is premature to assess the impact of the tours that have seen some of the region’s elites and at one time sworn Raila opponents publicly declare they would back him in next year’s presidential poll.
The latest of such tours took place last weekend when he presided over a church fundraiser in Kirinyaga County at the invitation of Nairobi Metropolitan Development Minister Njeru Githae, barely a month after he did the same in Kiambu.
Githae estimates more than half a million people attended the rally at which other presidential aspirants from the greater Mt Kenya region — Kenneth, Karua, Paul Muite and Uhuru Kenyatta — were also invited. Uhuru, who was out of the country, sent an apology with a donation Sh200,000 while the rest gave the harambee a wide berth.
"So far, central Kenya has produced the highest number of candidates. Since the reintroduction of multi-party, Kibaki has been the dominant player.
The region has been voting for him since 1992. If he were to run today, he would still get support. People have realised what Kibaki has been preaching about economic and infrastructural development. We are rooting for a candidate who will sustain the tempo of economic growth," says Githae, the MP for Ndia.
The minister would not, however, say categorically whether Central Kenya would opt for the Prime Minister, who despite longstanding misgivings about his would-be presidency, cuts the image of a reformer weaned off retrogressive ethnic-driven politics.
It is likely the rest of the country would vote in a presidential candidate from outside central Kenya. A shift in power balance in the region is quietly aiding the PM’s quest to secure the region’s support.
Emergence of Karua and Kenneth, according to Gem MP Jakoyo Midiwo, has helped to demystify some perceptions about non-Kikuyu communities.
Midiwo says: "The entry of new candidates and the exit of Kibaki, is compelling voters from the region to look for other options because there is no clear frontrunner. It does not matter whether the likes of Uhuru run or not. Karua and Kenneth have helped shift politics from personality levels to issue-based.
The ordinary people now appreciate what their own kin did to them on land issues and are now questioning the propaganda they have been fed on since Independence. Central is ripe for a revolution."
Aware of the significance of regional apathy to his candidacy, the PM is not leaving anything to chance. Director of Communications in the PM’s Office Dennis Onyango says Central is targeted because of misperceptions that have cast Raila as villain and vengeful.
"The PM is seeking to address entrenched propaganda spread by successive and current leaders that he would revenge against the Kikuyu if he came to power. The PM has sought to know what wrongs the Kikuyu community has committed against him that would necessitate revenge.
The PM has also sought to clarify he has been part and parcel of the struggle of the people of central Kenya and he has worked closely with their leaders and is, therefore, a person they can trust, not a stranger," Onyango says.
It is a challenge even liberal leaders acknowledge. Businessman and co-ordinator of a lobby group consisting of young entrepreneurs from central Kenya that calls itself Kikuyus for Change, Mr Ngunjiri Ngunjiri, acknowledges the emerging reality that the voter is already fatigued by leadership from the region.
"The average voter accepts that after Kibaki, it will be difficult to have another Kikuyu whether he fairly or unfairly comes to power. By virtue of his experience and struggle for political pluralism, the Prime Minister possesses the credentials to lead the country. However, the ordinary man is still scared of him. He has not given them the assurance that he will not interfere with their economy. He sits with the Kikuyu political and economic elite, whose primary interest is to protect their wealth," Ngunjiri observes.
Up for grabs
The businessman says the fact that other aspirants have shown interest in the presidency demonstrates the region is up for grabs.
"Not even Uhuru, Kenneth and Karua are assured of support. The central Kenya voter wants an assurance their presidency would not marginalise other Kenyans to the extent Kikuyu in the Diaspora suffer the reprisals of an exclusive leadership. They are still aware of the causes of post-election violence and would not want a repeat of the same," argues Ngunjiri.
Before he toured Kirinyaga, it was reported erstwhile Kibaki advisor Joe Wanjui, Kiambaa MP Stanley Githunguri and his predecessor Njenga Karume, among others, had switched support from Uhuru to the PM.
The PM hosted second liberation architects in August to commemorate the first anniversary of the Constitution, with a significant number from central Kenya who fought with him during the agitation for political pluralism.
They include Koigi Wamwere, Charles Rubia, Kenneth Matiba, Njehu Kathangu, Paul Muite, Wangari Maatha and Wambui Otieno (both recently deceased) and Gitobu Imanyara, among others.
According to Onyango, Raila "has pointed to his working with the likes of Matiba, Rubia, Koigi, Muite and Kibaki to bring change in Kenya. He would, therefore, have no problem working with the region. He has underscored the fact that his relationship with central Kenya has been for the long term good of the country and not short-term gains.