The Agikuyu community living in the Rift Valley have always formed a huge voting bloc that has, in most general elections, voted in line with choices made by their Central Kenya kin.
In the last two elections, they rallied behind President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto to deliver victory to the Jubilee Party.
But in the wake of the handshake between President Kenyatta and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga, some form of political realignment is slowly taking shape in the region.
The ‘Kikuyu in diaspora’, as they refer to themselves, feel it is time to cut ties with their counterparts in Central.
They are determined to chart a different political path away from their kin, whom they accuse of orchestrating divisions in the Jubilee Party.
This group, under the leadership of Bahati MP Kimani Ngunjiri, a former Kanu stalwart, is unhappy with remarks made by some Mt Kenya politicians against Ruto’s 2022 presidential bid.
Undue divisive influence
A meeting attended by some members of the Kiama Kia Ma and Gikuyu councils of elders at Ngunjiri’s home last week clearly spelled out the political path the community will follow in the run up to 2022 presidential election.
“As members of the Agikuyu in the Rift Valley, we want to stand on our own in national political issues without undue divisive influence from a few leaders from somewhere else and particularly from Central Kenya,” said Ngunjiri.
The meeting in Nakuru came just a few weeks after members of the Kikuyu Council of Elders in the North Rift region raised similar sentiments, asking President Kenyatta to clearly declare his stand on claims of widening rift in Jubilee and whether he still supports Ruto in his 2022 presidential ambition.
The meeting by the elders came hot on the heels of two issues that have sharply divided the Jubilee Party leadership right in the middle.
The issues at play are the ongoing evictions of settlers from the Mau Forest complex and the heated debate over Ruto’s 2022 succession plan. Some Mt Kenya politicians say Ruto will not get automatic support from Central Kenya.
According to the Ngunjiri group, in 1992, the Kikuyus living in Rift Valley bore the brunt of the ethnic violence that rocked the region over their decision to back Kenneth Matiba’s bid for presidency – going against the Kanu regime.
“We lost lives and property during the politically instigated ethnic clashes because we made a decision to follow what our kinsmen in Mt Kenya wanted at that time,” Ngunjiri says.
”In the violence that rocked the country after the disputed 2007 presidential election, we suffered because we went against the political stand of our neighbours. We healed after Uhuru and Ruto decided to work together to end the cycle of violence every election year. We want to maintain the peace.”
Ngunjiri and his group of elders say they support the 2013 Jubilee agreement between Uhuru and his deputy that Ruto would support Uhuru’s re-election in 2017 and the President return the favour in 2022.
Taken for granted
“We as Agikuyu in the Rift Valley have now matured and are able to make our own political decisions. We are in support of what the two leaders agreed in 2013,” says Kiama national chairman Kigochi Waimiri.
This group says for long, the Kikuyu in Rift Valley have been playing second fiddle to their Mt Kenya counterparts.
“Since the era of President Mwai Kibaki’s regime, our political support has been taken for granted in terms of appointments in government yet we play a big role in marshaling numbers in successive elections,” Waimiri says.
But the declaration by the Nakuru group has already met resistance from some community leaders who feel the move was ill-advised.
Former Molo MP Jacob Macharia is among local leaders who have expressed their dismay at the declaration by leaders of Kiama Kia Ma.
“I don’t think the group has any good intentions. Who are the people who attended the meeting and made the ‘Bahati declaration?’ asked Macharia.
In the past, the Rift Valley has been the crucible of inter-communal conflicts and often the site of confrontations among rival ethnic political blocs.
Though President Kenyatta and his deputy formed an election alliance that brought together the two largest ethnic groups in the region, the 2022 succession politics is threatening this peace.
Some leaders from the Kikuyu community appear to be disowning the 2013 gentlemen agreement between Uhuru and Ruto.
Early in the month, the Kikuyu Council of Elders asked Ruto to retire together with Uhuru when his term expires in 2022. The council said the DP is part and parcel of the current presidency and should therefore prepare to exit when it ends.
Former nominated Senator Paul Njoroge has repeated several times that Kikuyu’s support for Ruto in 2022 will not be automatic.
Njoroge says Mt Kenya’s support for Ruto is driven by fear of a return to violence in the Rift Valley.