Unease in Ruto, Raila camps as young leaders challenge status quo

Embakasi East MP Babu Owino. [Collins Oduor, Standard]

The political landscape is gradually shaping up into a clash between youthful leaders and the old guards.

This generational battle is driven by a desire for change with younger leaders challenging the old order, blaming seasoned politicians for the country's governance failures.

As younger leaders tirelessly work to sideline what they perceive as the "old guard," they are equally determined to maintain their relevance, in a generational war that is defining the political dynamics of the nation.

Pundits and political leaders have told The Standard that the conflict is not about age; it represents a broader struggle for the soul of Kenyan politics and governance. 

In response to this shifting landscape, new political realignments are emerging that transcend traditional party and ethnic lines. Movements such as Tawe, Radico, and Sikiza Ground are fighting for prominence, symbolising the desire for change and a departure from entrenched political norms.

Amidst this political churn, a new opposition alliance led by MPs Babu Owino (Embakasi East) and Gathoni Wamuchomba (Githunguri) has emerged, aiming to hold the government accountable and advocate for citizen rights. This alliance is calling for more proactive and responsive political representation across Kenya's diverse regions. 

Speaking last week when they launched a new outfit, “Team Sikiza Ground,” Wamuchomba said the team comprises MPs from across the political divide who have teamed up to push the government to address issues affecting Kenyans.

"We discussed issues on fake fertiliser and seeds, alcoholism, the Haiti mission, high taxation, and the doctors' strike," she posted on her account after the address.

Embakasi MP Babu Owino revealed that the new outfit will replace the opposition and ensure the government delivers or relinquishes power to a more focused team.

"This team will be on the ground to fight for the voice of the voiceless, to fight for the inherent and inalienable right of every Kenyan wherever they are in the eight regions," Owino declared.

“This team will take its rightful place to ensure that issues affecting Kenyans are fought for objectively and is not limited to holding rallies to discuss the plight of Kenyans," he said.

The press conference was attended by MPs Mark Mwenje (Embakasi West), Caleb Amisi (Saboti), Busia Women Representative Catherine Omanyo, Amos Mwago (Starehe), and Charles Nguna (Mwingi West).

Sources intimated to The Standard that behind the scenes the struggle has intensified with relentless boardroom negotiations, bribery, threats, and coercion from established politicians seeking to stop the youthful MPs.

"After Raila goes to AU, I doubt if Musalia is part of Ruto's succession plan. Smart politicians are planning ahead," said Martin Andati a political scientist.

These manoeuvres have led to the formation of factions within the political sphere, which have been characterised by tactics like blackmail, impeachment threats, and bribery as politicians seek to exert influence over leaders and voters alike.

Speaking on Spice FM last week Trans Nzoia Governor George Natembeya said there is a tired practice in Kenya's politics that one has to work with the old to remain relevant. He said he was determined to stop it.

Natembeya said the 'dominant political figures' insist that anyone entering leadership must align with them, which has stymied the nation's growth.

“That is exactly what I have been doing. We are saying this is what we've been doing for the last 30 to 40 years. No changes. So you want to force us to follow you and do the same things? Why don’t we chart a different political course?” He paused.

The governor questioned the value of Prime Cabinet Secretary and ANC leader Musalia Mudavadi and Ford Kenya's leader, Moses Wetangula.

“And when you appear to be going against the grain, then now you're the bad one. But now we are saying, Let us, for the first time, start addressing the needs of the mwananchi and not just the needs of the leaders," he said.

Natembeya, during roadside rallies in his county, faulted the prevailing political culture, which requires newcomers to align with established figures.

He emphasized the need to break away from this cycle of what he describes as unaccountable leadership perpetuated by those who vanish after elections only to reappear when seeking votes with money to sway voters.

Natembeya, a key figure in the Tawe movement seeking to unseat longstanding leaders like Mudavadi and Wetangula in Western Kenya, highlights the frustrations with leaders who have held power for years without fostering regional development.

His movement aims to prioritise the needs of ordinary citizens over entrenched political interests.

The generational tension has spilt to Mt Kenya, Central Kenya, Nairobi, and other ODM strongholds.

In Central, Kiharu MP Ndindi Nyoro and Deputy Rigathi Gachagua are embroiled in a supremacy battle for control of Mount Kenya politics.

Andati said that Musalia, Rigathi, and Wetangula's generation have been here for a long time, and Ruto will retire with them.

"Ruto retired all Kalenjin oligarchs, and he also retired all Mount Kenya oligarchs. We already see that Musalia has abandoned the party," he said.

He said that disagreements over party elections, Ruto's campaign in the region, and other issues highlight deeper divisions within the UDA, reflecting the broader political fragmentation across Kenya.

The succession battle in Rift Valley also mirrors these generational tensions, with leaders like Nandi Senator Samson Cherargei and Transport Cabinet Secretary Kipchumba Murkomen positioning themselves as successors to President William Ruto.

Last week, within the ODM party, discussions about Raila's succession plans triggered a top party meeting after the government handed the opposition leader's credentials to the African Union as a candidate for the AU Commission Chairman.

Among those jostling to succeed Raila in ODM are two deputy party leaders, former governors Hassan Joho (Mombasa) and Wycliffe Oparanya (Kakamega). Ugunja MP and National Assembly Minority Leader Opiyo Wandayi, is also eyeing the position.

Speaking during an educational symposium organised by Ndiwa MP Martin Owino, ODM national chairman John Mbadi, Homa Bay Governor Gladys Wanga, Ndhiwa MP Martin Owino, James Nyikal (Seme), and Otiende Amolo (Rarieda), said any talk of Raila succeeding at the moment amounts to disrespecting him.

“Let’s hold our horses and stop the debate of succession. It is premature, immoral, and disrespectful for anyone to discuss taking over after Raila when he is still in charge of ODM,” Mbadi said.

However, Andati said that ahead of the next elections, there are other new leaders who will emerge to change the status quo.

He explained that the ongoing political realignments underscore a critical juncture in Kenyan politics, where traditional power structures are being challenged by a new generation of leaders eager to usher in transformative change.

Andati noted that former President Uhuru Kenyatta came from nowhere similar to Ruto but Musalia and Wetangula have been there for decades.

"Ruto was in his first year when Musalia became the minister. Wetangula joined Parliament when Ruto was in third year," Andati said.

"In every election, a good number of MPs go home. Just because you are known now doesn't mean you will remain powerful since the generation and delivery debate will also influence the voters. We will also have new leaders challenging for the same space."