Revered elders or mere rent seekers? The season is here

Kikuyu Council of Elders, Nakuru County Chairman Kariuki Wa Kamara (centre) flanked by other leaders address the press in at a Nakuru hotel on Friday. [Harun Watharui, Standard]
You might have seen them in their earth-coloured shirts, hats made of cowhide and decked with cowrie shells. 

The influence of Kikuyu elders on culture, especially in rural Mt Kenya, cannot be understated. But their involvement in politics and dalliance with politicians has left tongues wagging.

The revered Kikuyu Council of Elders is now speaking in two voices on the topic of Deputy President William Ruto and his expected candidature in the 2022 General Election.

The decision by a section of the elders who are based in the Rift Valley to lead a delegation to visit the DP at his home in Sugoi over the festive season has drawn a harsh reaction from other elders and given a peek into how big the divide in Mt Kenya has grown.

SEE ALSO: Elder: Central Kenya risks losing power

Deteriorating relationship

Further aggravating an already deteriorating relationship are reports that the delegation to Eldoret are fighting over some Sh8 million that was handed to them after the meeting.

The Kikuyu Council of Elders yesterday said they had no ties to the group from Rift Valley.

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Samuel Maigua, a Kikuyu elder, said the reputation of the group was being desecrated by self-serving individuals.

“There are elders who are not answerable to the community, but to their own stomachs and we need to differentiate between the two,” he said.

SEE ALSO: Kikuyu elders call for BBI support

“I am completely against what went on in Eldoret but that does not mean that we are against the DP. We are only saying that what was done was wrong because that was politics and not elders’ work,” he added.

Wachira Kiago had the same message, insisting that the motivation of the group that went to Eldoret was not genuine but could have been driven by money.

“Our name is being abused by people who are after money. We are the elders yet we are asking ourselves who went to Eldoret in our name,” he said.

While the two said the groups were apolitical, Maigua said, “Our issues were faked because the way we work is completely different from political issues.

“Our work is not to go and praise somebody, but to guide them and Kiago - to the elders everyone is equal, we cannot endorse anyone, our role is to provide guidance, the line separating politics and the role that elders play is blurring,” he told the Sunday Standard yesterday.

SEE ALSO: Kikuyu elders back Bishop Ole Sapit’s snub of London event over homosexuality

“You are able to lead other people and do not rely on handouts; the people that rely on handouts are the same ones you will hear saying they want a specific person to become president. Yet you are supposed to be guiding the community, not being guided by the politician,” added Kiago.

There is no official elders’ group in Mt Kenya, like the Njuri Ncheke among the Meru, but the Kikuyu Council of Elders is common across regions where there is sizable numbers of the Agikuyu community. Here, it has regional leadership.

Polarising agents

Although they traditionally served as the glue to bound the community together, they have become polarising agents and are vulnerable to political patronage and manipulation.

In the years since the August 2017 General Election, the discourse driven by the elders has mimicked messages championed by the Kieleweke and Tanga Tanga bands of politicians.

SEE ALSO: Central Kenya men turn to old customs

For instance, one group is advocating for the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) and has taken the stand that any agreement between President Uhuru Kenyatta and DP Ruto was an agreement between individuals, and did not bind their two communities.

But this message does not sit well with another group who pander to the demographic in the Rift Valley and proclaim that it is upon Mt Kenya to declare its support for DP Ruto should he put himself up to succeed President Kenyatta.

Kiago said the Kikuyu Council of Elders was supporting an inclusive government.

“It should not be about two communities. We are advocating for a government that will be all-inclusive,” he said.

Nyeri Town MP Ngunjiri Wambugu said the role of elders should be subtle, and implied that the overt declarations were by political brokers seeking a pay day.

“The guys who are trying to make money from politics - or to affect it directly - are just in business.

These ones have no say on Mt Kenya politics in any way.

They will just make their own money, and move on to the next political opportunity,” he said, 

Genuine Kikuyu elders, he argued, rarely play direct politics.

And their effect on politics is never direct; it is always indirect.

“They will affect what people think of current affairs; or of the leaders at different levels; and/ or what they think leaders should be like, and/ or do, based on what they say about these issues during their social interactions,” the MP said.

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Kikuyu Council of EldersSuccession politicsElections 2022