Uhuru succession politics leaves Ukambani divided

Kathiani MP Robert Mbui (center), Kitui Senator Enock Wambua (right) and Masii MCA Betty Nzioki during a press conference in Machakos on December 26, 2019. [John Muia/Standard]
The battle for control of the close to two million Kamba vote has burst in the open with division creeping on which direction the community should take with regard to the 2022 elections.

The storm kicked off by former Machakos Senator Johnstone Muthama that Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka should look to Deputy President William Ruto for a winning alliance has reverberated across the plains and plateau of Ukambani, eliciting mixed reactions.

New players

Besides Kalonzo rejecting the advice, new players, notable among them the moneyed Peter Muthoka have come forward to savour the moment while on the sidelines, Governors Alfred Mutua (Machakos) and Kivutha Kibwana (Makueni) surged their ambitions.

“Now that Uhuru Kenyatta is retiring, the next President will be either Ruto or Raila. And as a community, we should do careful calculations to ensure we do not get lost,” Muthama had told a local radio station last week.

When the story that the man who had done many a political bidding for Kalonzo was gravitating towards Ruto went viral, the former Vice President took to Twitter to distance himself from Muthama’s aspersions, terming them malicious.

“They are a desperate attempt to drive a wedge between me and the President and have failed. Remarks by individuals should not be attributed to me,” tweeted Kalonzo.

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A few days later, Kalonzo convened his pre-Christmas briefing with community leaders, bringing with him an important guest -- Muthoka -- to replace Muthama in the scheme of things.

Bountiful and emphasizing the place of money in pursuit for power, Muthoka gave evry indication that he would be stepping up for Kalonzo provided he stuck with President Kenyatta’s side in the succession politics.

Muthama was livid, describing as political naivety the approach Kalonzo was adopting despite having gone through two previous presidential successions:

“I have built Kalonzo for decades to become one of the top five politicians in the country but he is disappointing. I will now show Kambas direction. I will form a strategic team of intellectuals to show the community what direction to take. We will tell the country it is us who have the people with us and not him.”

At the Light Christian Church in Machakos County when he exploded on Christmas Day, Muthama challenged Kalonzo to grow a political spine, come out and strongly stake his claims instead of waiting on the sidelines for left-overs. “I was shocked beyond words to hear him insist that he will work with and stay behind Uhuru. My party leader, if you have no idea, Uhuru is going home and will not endorse you. Please don’t confuse politics with the work he has given you,” Muthama, known for shooting straight from the hip, said.

The ruckus caused by these events, analysts say, have opened up a region that was otherwise considered settled under Kalonzo up for grabs. And Kibwana and Mutua are now not resting.

“Kalonzo has given up and is comfortable being Uhuru’s employee. Muthama wants to take us to Ruto for his selfish gains. I’m the only one saying support me so that we go to State House,” said Mutua.

The governor said the two leaders do not have the interest of the community at heart but are pursuing their own ends. “It is time we had the strength of purpose to lead and not follow. I am ready and have garnered support across the country,” he said.

According to Prof Kibwana, Ukambani politics have become a “Tower of Babel” because the region seems rudderless. There was a leadership vacuum crying to be filled, he said.

“Unfortunately the current debate lacks a discussion on vision and the ingredients of a genuine, people centred development agenda for the transformation of Kenya, the Kamba Nation included,” he said.

Besides Mutua and Kibwana, the other threat to Kalonzo’s sway of the region, Kitui Governor Charity Ngilu, appears to have mellowed. Ngilu’s voice has been missing in the current debate on which direction the community must take.

Alternative power

“We have our presidential candidate who is Kalonzo. But we have reasoned that we can’t get the presidency without the Central Kenya vote. We are behind Uhuru because he controls that region,” Wiper’s Peter Mathuki said.

His colleagues Kitui Senator Enoch Wambua and Kathiani MP Robert Mbui however appeared to play the diplomatic card, while accommodating Muthama’s sentiments without necessarily embracing them.

“What Muthama is saying is exactly what we are saying, that as a community, we should produce a presidential candidate. We are determined to have our party leader as the candidate,” Wambua said.

Whether Muthama will make true his threats to cobble an alternative power arrangement outside Kalonzo remains to be seen.

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Ukambani vote2022 electionsformer Machakos Senator Johnstone MuthamaWiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka