Discord rocks Rift Valley as local leaders fight for Ruto's attention

Transport CS Kipchumba Murkomen and Nandi Senator Samson Cherargei. [File, Standard]

The recent threat by Roads and Transport Cabinet Secretary Kipchumba Murkomen to take legal action against Nandi Senator Samson Cherargei for alleged defamation has exposed the infighting and political skullduggery in Rift Valley as local leaders jostle for President William Ruto’s eye.

Murkomen, through his lawyers, demanded in a letter to Cherargei, that the Nandi Senator apologise over his public remarks that the CS had received a bribe from a Chinese company between June and October this year following his visit to China.

In the letter, Murkomen termed the senator’s words uttered at a press conference on November 24 as false and defamatory. He wants Cherargei to accept liability for defamation to give way for negotiations.

“Accept the liability for defamation or tender an apology in writing to our client through the same channels through which you published the offending words,” says the letter.

Cherargei had accused the CS of allegedly receiving a Sh1 billion bribe from China Wu Yi when he visited China between June and October.

It is not the first time Cherargei has taken political war to Murkomen’s doorstep in what is shaping us as a vicious sibling rivalry that has captured young leaders in President Ruto’s backyard over their bid to catch President Ruto’s attention.

Energetic leaders in their forties, hoping to join the second-tier league after Ruto, have engaged in name-calling, mudslinging and clout chasing as they woo the region subtly without risking the wrath of the President.

Cherargei’s political war against Murkomen, who is seen as Ruto’s blue-eyed boy, is just one of the many in the region, opening the lid into a nasty political duel in Ruto’s backyard.

Local senators

In Bomet, Kericho and Uasin Gishu counties, the governors and local senators do not see eye-to-eye as supremacy battles take centre stage.

Some of the leaders who have in the recent past emerged in the ring for the second tier position include Murkomen, Emurua Dikirr MP Johana Ngeno, Uasin Gishu Senator Jackson Mandago, Nandi Governor Stephen Sang, Kericho senator Aaron Cheruiyot, and former Cherangany MP Joshua Kuttuny.

Sang, the only governor from Rift Valley who accompanied Ruto to India and enjoys a cordial relationship with the Head of State, while speaking to The Sunday Standard, termed the ongoing rivalries and the emerging debate premature. 

“This is not the time to talk about Ruto’s succession. We have pledges to be fulfilled. When the right time comes, people will know who will take over. Our main effort now is supporting the Head of State in his transformation agenda,” Sang said. 

Murkomen, Sang and senator Aaron Cheruiyot have come out as leaders that have the President’s ear.

Kutuny has elbowed himself into the ring after mending fences with Ruto. He was recently appointed Kenya Copyright Board chairman.

By virtue of his position, Murkomen has had opportunities to visit every county, where he speaks on behalf of the President.

He has traversed nearly the entire Rift Valley on work-related tours. Last month, he launched a North Rift football tournament meant to bring peace in the volatile region and bring together residents of Elgeyo Marakwet, West Pokot, Baringo, Turkana, Trans Nzoia and Samburu. During the meetings, the CS has repeatedly said he is not keen on succession politics.

While speaking during a funeral of Chesumei MP Paul Biego’s son Peter Kiplagat, in Nandi last month, Murkomen castigated leaders speaking of Ruto succession and instead called on them to support the President in his development agenda for the country.

“I hear people are moving around talking of 2032 succession politics. This is not the time for such. Our priority is to support our President to deliver on his agenda of making Kenya great. All our energies must be geared towards helping him achieve his pledge for Kenyans,” said Murkomen at the funeral.

Earlier, at the same funeral, Cheragei castigated the CS over his working tours in the region.

Murkomen’s tours in the region have put him in crosshairs with Cherargei, and now Bomet governor Hillary Barchok who has accused the CS of doing little to mend roads in his county, a statement seen as more political in substance.

Bomet Senator Hillary Sigei said: “As a legislator, I can say that the county had benefitted from over Sh300 million for rural roads with each of the county’s five constituencies receiving Sh62million just like any other across the country. Together with the MPs, we are pushing for more cash for the roads. The governor has instead been misusing money meant for the county-designated roads.” 

Three key roads

He added: “The CS has ensured his ministry is constructing three key roads in the county including the Longisa-Kembu-chemaner- Kaparuso, Matecha and Mogoiwet road and Silibwet- Merigi- Kaparuso- Tegat- Kimugul road, all upgraded into bitumen standard and maintenance. We want the governor to concentrate on the roads he is supposed to deliver and stop making noise.”

Interestingly, Emurua Dikirr MP Ng’eno has not taken the same route of seeking the President’s attention but has instead been reaching out to the region seeking to market himself as the Kipsigis kingpin, taking advantage of the political silence of former Bomet governor Isaack Rutto to position himself as the populous Kipsigis nation’s spokesperson.

Ng’eno, an outspoken politician serving his third term as an MP, has overtly indicated through his frequent tours in the South Rift that he wants to bring together the Kipsigis subtribe hoping to use the populous Kalenjin subtribe to bargain for a top position in the Ruto’s power matrix.

The Kipsigis predominantly occupy Kericho and Bomet counties while having a substantial population in Narok and Nakuru counties.