Pressure mounts on fence sitters in the tangatanga-kieleweke wars

A section of Jublee MPs, from left, Peter Mwathi (Limuru) Maina Kamanda (Nominated), Mercy Gakuya (Kasarani) and Ngunjiri Wambugu (Nyeri Town) when they attended a church service at Joyous Celebration Church in Limuru, on Sunday, March 17 2019.
A number of Jubilee MPs are under pressure to declare their stand in the ongoing power struggle between camps allied to President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto.

As the rift between the rival camps continues to widen, Kiambu Woman Representative Gathoni wa Muchomba accused MPs from Mt Kenya region in the Tanga Tanga movement of betrayal.

Against President

“When they were campaigning, they told the people that they will support the President, but now they have turned against him. They are traitors,” she said.

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On the other hand, Kiharu MP Ndindi Nyoro, who is rooting for Ruto, challenged his rivals - team Kieleweke - to openly start campaigning for Opposition leader Raila Odinga.

"The President is with us. We love and support him 100 per cent. Kieleweke should sell their candidate Raila without hiding,” he said.

Tanga Tanga is composed of MPs backing Ruto’s 2022 presidential bid, while the Kieleweke team is bitterly opposed to the DP’s ambitions and has lately been joined in meetings by MPs allied to Raila.

Uhuru and Raila reached a truce following the disputed 2017 presidential vote, which they publicly cemented with a symbolic handshake. Ruto's allies have viewed the deal with suspicion.

As the war of words between the rival camps escalates, MPs who have so far kept out of it spoke of harassment from colleagues allied to both sides.

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Multiple interviews with MPs paint a picture of lawmakers caught in the political war they would rather avoid, but which is increasingly becoming difficult to run away from.

The pressure, according to multiple sources, has been in the form of phone calls and sometimes thinly veiled threats from key Kieleweke and Tanga Tanga leaders.

The sources said leaders from both sides had been using Uhuru and Ruto's names to compel "neutral" MPs to toe the line.

Catch phrase

The catch phrase in the threats has been that by remaining neutral, the MPs risked "annoying" either Uhuru or Ruto.

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“Both sides are pushing us to declare our stand, but I’m very concerned that the Tanga Tanga-Kieleweke wars are dividing Mt Kenya region, which is slowly turning from a stronghold into a battle ground," said Nominated Senator Isaac Mwaura.

"It is a very unfortunate situation because as Mt Kenya region, we are keen to be in the next government and to determine who becomes president of this country. Are the differences so huge that they cannot be bridged?” he posed.

Starehe MP Charles Njagua alias Jaguar, who said he could not afford to identify with either camp, conceded that he had been challenged several times on the corridors of Parliament to declare his stand.

Supports handshake

The MP said he only supports the handshake between Uhuru and Raila for restoring calm to the country.

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He claimed some of the people invoking the name of the President "do not even have access to him."

“They keep asking us where we belong and telling us that the President has said this or that. Some of these people do not even have access to the President," said Mr Njagua.

The MP vowed to remain neutral in the simmering rivalry between Tanga Tanga and Kieleweke.  

"I support all leaders because I was elected by the people to represent them and I will be judged by my work at the end of five years. I don’t want to trade insults. When it comes to the handshake, it gave me an upper hand to work with all tribes in Nairobi,” he said.

Another MP from Nairobi claimed a key Kieleweke leader told him not to show up at a rally attended by Ruto.

“There was a meeting in Nairobi attended by the Deputy President, and they called me telling me that I should not attend. But I had to attend because I support all leaders, and I don’t belong to any camp,” said the MP.

The political pressure on some MPs is said to have been so intense that a number of them are said to have switched camps, albeit quietly or toned down their support for either camp.

“It is a common question (where I belong) but it is not important. They ask us where we belong, but they cannot force us to declare our stand. You have to respect all tribes and serve the interests of the people who elected you. Some of those asking us where we belong have nothing to lose,” said Embakasi Central MP Mejja Donk. 

Facing backlash

Mr Nyoro, a key member of the Tanga Tanga team, however dismissed claims of "pressure" arguing that the "fence sitters" were facing a backlash from voters.

“The pressure is from the ground and not from us. There are MPs who are just waiting for the right time to jump ship. Some have been coming to us at night to tell us that they are tired of Kieleweke,” claimed the MP.

Another Tanga Tanga-allied MP, Kimani Ichung’wa (Kikuyu), said: "A handful of political activists who have been ODM strategists and spanner boys joined by a few bitter 2017 election losers have been intimidating politicians and coercing them to support their evil scheme."

Fierce critic

Nominated MP Maina Kamanda, a fierce critic of the DP, said: “Those saying that we have been applying pressure on them to come to our camp have seen that the ground has refused to shift with them."

"They have realised that attacking the handshake will be interpreted as attacking the President. They have also realised that they cannot penetrate Central Province without Uhuru. Even the Deputy President has realised that he will go nowhere without Uhuru," he said. 

Wa Muchomba claimed Jubilee MPs supporting Ruto's campaigns had planned to heckle the President during the State of the Nation address.

Backed off

"But they backed off when they realised there were more ODM members in the House," said Wa Muchomba.

She denied that the Kileweke side was arm-twisting some MPs to join the group.

“We have also not forced anyone to join us. You cannot force someone to do what he does not want,” she said.

Besides Nyoro and Ichung'wa, other lawmakers who have openly sided with the Tanga Tanga team are Alice Wahome (Kandara), Jonah Mburu (Lari), Githua Wamacukuru (Kabete) and Mary Waithera (Maragua).

Others are Sabina Chege (Murang’a), Rigathi Gachagua (Mathira) and Cate Waruguru (Laikipia).

On the Kieleweke camp are Kamanda (nominated), Ngunjiri Wambugu (Nyeri Town), Paul Koinange (Kiambaa) and Peter Mwathi (Limuru).

Others are Mercy Gakuya (Kasarani), Maoka Maore (Igembe North) and Wa Muchomba (Kiambu).

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President UhuruDeputy President William RutoMPs