Gatundu, Kenya: Gatundu South could just be one of the luckiest constituencies in Kenya. It is the only constituency that has produced two presidents out of Kenya’s four leaders. The question lingering in the minds of many people and more so the Gatundu South constituents is that either by design or default voters have mostly not had a say about who represents them in the august House.
Since the time of the founding father Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, the electorate in the constituency in Kiambu County have found themselves having an MP in peculiar or controversial circumstances.
The constituency is the home to Mzee Kenyatta and his son Uhuru Kenyatta. The founding father represented the constituency in the National Assembly for 15 years — from independence — till he died on August 22, 1978. The older Kenyatta’s nephew Ngengi Muigai then took over, serving in Parliament for one decade until 1988.
Ngengi was trounced by Zachary Gakunju, a man who Ngengi had vowed would never answer a call of nature in Parliament’s rest rooms in the 1988 mlolongo elections.
Gakunju served for one term and was replaced by Kamuiru Gitau who served until 1997.
The constituency was split into two in 1997 — Gatundu North and Gatundu South — and Uhuru Kenyatta vied for the Gatundu South parliamentary seat on a Kanu ticket.
Despite his pedigree Uhuru was, however, surprisingly felled by little-known Moses Mwihia who vied on a Social Democratic Party (SDP). Word going around that time was that it was better for the people of Gatundu South to elect a politician who was not popular than elect Uhuru on a Kanu ticket because of the strong aversion to the ruling party.
Uhuru, however, captured the seat in the 2002 General Election, but failed to capture the presidency, coming second to Mwai Kibaki.
He held onto the seat for two terms until last year when he was elected the county’s fourth president. By this time, by dint of the requirements the new Constitution, a presidential candidate was not allowed to contest for a parliamentary seat.
After the 2007 elections, Uhuru was forced to join forces with Kibaki after it became apparent those allied to the Opposition would find it difficult to prevail in central Kenya.
The Kenyatta family has largely occupied the Gatundu seat, having held it for 35 years since 1963. The original Gatundu Constituency encompassed Thika town, which was ceded to Juja Constituency after Kenyatta’s death.
A scrutiny of previous elections shows that although the Gatundu (previously Gatundu and now Gatundu South) constituents have regularly gone to the polls like the rest of Kenyans, they often end up having MPs through controversial ways.
The recent entry of controversial politician Moses Kuria into Parliament unopposed has exposed pent up frustrations among some residents who feel it was time they were left to choose their representative to the August House.
Kuria, who was facing stiff competition from Kiarie Kamere of the New Democrats Party, went to Parliament unopposed after Kamere surprisingly withdrew from the race in the eleventh hour.
All indications were that Kamere would trounce Kuria, especially during the last week of the campaigns. To many residents, it was a matter of time before Kamere, who had controversially lost the TNA primaries to Kuria, was declared MP. All they were waiting for was ballot day, which, unfortunately never came.
Kamere made a stunning declaration days to the by-election that “for the sake of unity of Gatundu South people” he was withdrawing from the race.
Kamere had given Kuria a run for his money by pulling a huge following on the ground, leaving TNA and its candidate shocked at the new developments.
Kuria had hoped that by being a TNA candidate, he would have an easy ride to the National Assembly but that, it appeared, was not going to be the case.
Kuria’s predicament became even more complicated after all Kiambu MPs, save for women’s representative Ann Nyokabi and her Juja counterpart Francis Waititu, refused to endorse his candidature for the seat on a TNA ticket.
The lawmakers insisted that Gatundu South residents should be left to make their choice. “It is not my business to tell you who to elect as your next MP. I urge you to be extra careful in who you elect come August 7. I call upon you to make an informed choice and only elect a leader who will continue with the good legacy of the late MP,” Gatanga MP Humphrey Njuguna said.
Njuguna said the people of Gatundu must be allowed to choose who they want as their next MP without being influenced or intimidated by letting the voice and the will of the people prevail.
Faced with the rebellion from area MPs and the growing Kamere wave, the State machinery moved in to action to avoid humiliation. Details later emerged on how Jubilee operatives worked tirelessly to have Kamere step down in favour of Kuria.
One of Kamere’s aides disclosed to The Standard on Sunday how State operatives went for Kamere at his brother’s home at 5am and drove him to State House for a critical meeting where he was prevailed upon to sacrifice his ambitions and pull out of the race in favour of the TNA candidate.
Those he met reportedly acknowledged that Kamere was a strong candidate but pleaded with him to consider the implications of his win to national politics.
However, his withdrawal from the race has brought to the fore discontent among a substantial number of Gatundu South voters who say they feel that the current MP was imposed on them against their will.
There is a growing dissenting voice in the area, with the majority of the people who spoke to The Standard on Sunday saying they are disappointed they were denied a chance to elect their MP.
So disenchanted are some of the constituents that Joseph Gachemi, who was one of Kamere’s key financiers and campaigners, has now declared his candidature in 2017 to capture the seat.
Mr Gachemi said the move by powerful forces who managed to prevail upon his candidate to step down was a bad precedent for future elections.
“It has now become clear that the voice of the people in Gatundu South does not matter any more.
Democracy should always be left to prevail by letting the will of the people to carry the day. TNA should have done free and fair nominations to avoid a scenario like this one where the voice of the people is totally disregarded,” he said.
A former civic leader, who declined to be named, concurred with Gachemi and said constituents were disappointed because they had been expecting to elect a person of their choice.
“The mood on the ground is very negative. The people are very demoralised and feel cheated. We feel democracy was thrown out of the window by being denied the chance to elect the person of our choice,” said the former civic leader. One of the constituents is Philomena Wangui who had been expecting to elect her MP through the ballot.
During Mzee Kenyatta’s reign, Gatundu residents had no choice since he was the Head of State and opposing him was considered politically suicidal.
The same fate would befall them when Kenyatta died, as out of sympathy they were forced to elect the deceased president’s favourite nephew Ngengi Muigai to continue with the legacy of the founding father.
History would conspire to repeat itself in 2002 as the residents found themselves compelled to stick with Mzee Kenyatta’s son Uhuru who was also vying for the presidency.
By running for president, the residents were compelled to elect him to the Ninth and Tenth Parliaments since by not doing so, they may have denied themselves the presidency again should Uhuru have won the popular vote but failed in capturing the parliamentary seat.
However, Simon Komu, the Ndarugo ward MCA, who is also the majority leader of the Kiambu County Assembly, dismisses the theory of powerful forces influencing the outcome of elections in the region.
Komu argues the electoral pattern of the area has often gone against the grain and voters have often elected the leaders of their choice even when there were powerful candidates vying for office. He cites a case where Uhuru was rejected by the people in 1997 irrespective of him being the son of the founding father of the nation. The seat instead went to little-known Moses Mwihia. “The allegations that some powerful forces or families’ are imposing leaders on the people of Gatundu South are totally untrue. The residents are usually keen on electing individuals than the party, Komu said.
James Mwangi, a political analyst, says political interference and machinations could disillusion voters in Gatundu South.
“If indeed that is true we may reach a scenario where the people will rebel against any move to impose a leader in future which may cause embarrassment to those behind the move,” says the political scientist.
“It is more of a moral or ethical question but any enlightened leader looking back at history should be concerned,” says former Kiganjo Ward Councillor Charles “CN” Mbugua. “The truth is that Gatundu South might continue to be prevented from enjoying democracy because they lack that solid grounding that other areas have enjoyed.”
Kuria has, however, dismissed allegations that he was imposed on the people, saying his only challenger decided to step down on his own free will.
Kuria says after the withdrawal, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission had to declare a no-contest.
He said people should stop spreading propaganda since there was nothing else to say after his challenger pulled out of the race.