Kega: Azimio's loss in State House contest was a blessing in disguise

East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) lawmaker Kanini Kega. [David Gichuru, Standard]

At a time like this last year, East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) lawmaker Kanini Kega was making his final touches on his reelection bid as Kieni Member of Parliament.

Opinion polls at the time predicted a Kenya Kwanza sweep in the Mt Kenya region, casting doubt on Kega’s quest at securing a third term in office. He had a fallback plan in place. His support of Raila Odinga, a decision that was placing him on the chopping board, was the insurance policy that would secure him a seat in the government, had Raila won.

At the time, all indications within Azimio predicted that although President William Ruto would be no pushover, Raila was destined to be “the fifth”.

Azimio planned. The gods laughed. Raila lost. And so did Kega.

“I’ve decided to give the Member of Parliament (Njoroge Wainaina) the opportunity to work and I will not interfere with his operations,” says Kega, who is relieved he no longer has to handle calls for bursaries and the sort of things the Kenyan MP is required to offer. 

“I have no stress,” he adds, beaming, reclining in his seat at the boardroom of his Jubilee faction’s headquarters in Nairobi. When he is not in Arusha attending Eala sessions, he spends his days at the said offices strategising with other ‘rebels’.

Since last year’s election, Kega has had time to reflect on what went wrong in the Azimio campaigns, stating that the coalition was flying blind and that defeat was inevitable.

“I said I was defeated and I accepted the defeat. It is the same case at all levels, whether at the governor level, if you are defeated, accept defeat. You live to fight another day. If you are also defeated at the presidential level, accept and take the role of the opposition leader, but don’t want to be part of the government,” Kega says.

He believes Raila had his loss coming from how disorganised Azimio ran its campaigns, revelations made by many of the coalition’s insiders. Like many before him, Kega notes Azimio’s lack of agents as a tactical blunder that worked in Ruto’s favour

“I believe we didn’t have agents in 80 per cent of our polling stations. Those people who are given the responsibility to do the list of agents, perhaps, misused the funds. Disorganisation cost us that position (the presidency) and I sometimes say it is a blessing in disguise because when you look at that kind of disorganisation, you can imagine catapulting that disorganisation to be in government. We would have had a very disorganised government if we had won,” the Eala MP states.

“During campaigns, we had a very difficult time attending the campaign rallies. At Jubilee, we are used to order; You go to a podium, have your way cleared, and say whatever you want to say. With Azimio, even accessing the podium was a problem.”

Kega’s verdict is that had the former prime minister been more organised, he would have probably won the presidency sooner. He alleges an inherent mistrust in the opposition’s coalition that shut the leadership’s ears to voices of reason.

EALA lawmaker Kanini Kega (right) at Kisulisuli Grounds in Nakuru during Azimio la Umoja's campaigns in the Rift ahead of the 2022 election. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

“You cannot have one person manning everything, and you know who I’m talking about;  the only one person who could tell Baba, ‘This is what needs to be done, remove this one put this one.’ You can’t have a one-man show like you are running a constituency campaign. In a presidential campaign, you need a team,” Kega adds.

The firebrand politician is as famous for supporting Raila, who he argues would not have solved the current cost of living crisis had he been president, as he is for attempting a coup within former President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Jubilee party.

Formerly a staunch ally of Uhuru, Kega is keen to oust him from Jubilee’s leadership and has secured a series of victories and setbacks in his quest. His attempt to be the party’s secretary-general is pending an appeal at the High Court. The Political Parties Disputes Tribunal recently gave his faction the greenlight to take over Jubilee, but Kioni, the party’s Secretary General, appealed the decision.

Uhuru recently termed Kega and his allies “puppets” vowing to prevent their intended coup.

“It was very unfortunate for His Excellency to have those types of utterances attributed to him because there is no single individual who owns a party. For the record, parties are funded through taxpayers’ money. Secondly, the party is about membership. Look at the other side, only two out of the 33 members we have in both the National Assembly and the Senate are on the other side.

“Parties are run by the National Executive Committee (NEC). Jubilee has 29 members in the NEC and his team has four members, and three are suspended. So when anybody insinuates that he owes a party, I think they’re living the past,” says the Eala MP.

Indeed, in the game of numbers, Kega has managed to upstage the former president, who he describes as a “good friend” and still showers with praises of “transforming the nation”, adding that President Ruto’s administration is building on the foundation Uhuru laid.

But they haven’t spoken this year, Kega says (neither has he spoken to Raila). He believes that the former Head of State owes him for his 10-year support that in the end cost him his Kieni seat.

“I don’t think I’ll be asking too much, because I’m just asking him to support me as the secretary-general, as we move our party from where it is to the next level.”

The next level, according to Kega, can only be achieved once Jubilee exits Azimio, which he accuses of mistreating his party after last year’s election. He laments that Raila’s Orange Democratic Movement has slighted them in the sharing of parliamentary positions favouring Kalonzo Musyoka’s Wiper and other fringe parties in a plot to “kill Jubilee”. But his beef with ODM is more personal.

One-time Jubilee Party allies; Jeremiah Kioni and EALA lawmaker Kanini Kega. The two are locked in a heated battle over the control of the party. [File, Standard]

“When I vied as an Eala member in the National Assembly, I expected that having lost my position because I campaigned for Azimio and having done so much during the campaigns, it would be automatic for them to give me support. I got a rude shock that a huge percentage of ODM Members of Parliament did not vote for me.

“We had been warned by other people who had previous encounters with ODM. They told us that we would be conned, we would be shortchanged, but we never thought that it would come to pass,” he says.

The alleged mistreatment, he continues, extends to Jubilee’s lack of a representative in the flopped bipartisan talks and the fresh round in which they have also been left out, and feels a solution will only come if the former ruling party leaves Azimio and is recognised as a parliamentary party. A former champion of the handshake, Kega believes it would be a bad idea if Ruto and Raila adopted such an arrangement. 

“The handshake breeds inefficiency and compromises oversight because the moment all of you are speaking in the same language, who is going to speak on behalf of Wanjiku? That is where I, personally, feel that is not right,” he says.

But he had no issue when he was benefiting from the previous handshake, which saw him chair the National Assembly Budgets and Appropriation Committee.

 Kega also wades into Mt Kenya’s politics, faulting Uhuru for not nurturing a successor in the region. He hails Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua as the region’s sole kingpin. 

 “I am happy that when he was called to lead during my election as a member of EALA, he rose to the occasion and rallied his troops to vote for me. That tells you that he commands respect in the mountain... Gachagua remains the senior most politician that we have in Mt Kenya and he remains the person that we all sit around.”