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Gema: Outfit is a pale shadow of the original group

By | March 24th 2012

By Moses Njagih

Endorsement of Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta for president by the Gikuyu, Embu, and Meru Association (Gema) rekindles memories of the force the organisation was three decades ago.

Formed in 1971 to advance the social and political interests of members of the three communities, Gema became a force that even at some point, first President Jomo Kenyatta, who had consented to its formation, castigated it over its influence.

So abrasive was the organisation that former Attorney General Charles Njonjo, who had been instructed by Kenyatta to register the group together with its economic arm, Gema Holdings, later preferred criminal charges against some of its leaders.

Njonjo opposed the group and in 1976, charged its leaders Kihika Kimani, and Njenga Karume, who for a long time was the association’s chairman, with treason. However, Kenyatta rejected this.

In his autobiography, Karume admits that even Kenyatta rebuked Gema leaders due to the influence it wielded.

Caused Alarm

Karume quotes in the book: "When Kenyatta agreed to the formation of Gema, I doubt that he knew what a force it would become. I say this because I personally witnessed a time when he became quite uncomfortable with the influence of the organisation and even rebuked its leaders, telling them to stop imagining they were the Government."

He adds: "He thought of Gema as a cultural movement and allowed its formation to retain the support of his lieutenants. Whatever the case, he permitted its creation and subsequent events were virtually beyond his control."

The association caused alarm in many quarters, with its leaders, irrespective of their junior positions, being seen as wielding more power than ministers. The tribal exclusivity also made many outsiders uncomfortable.

It is this discomfort that invited complaints and grumbling among leaders from other communities.

The climax of its wanton activities came in the late 1970s when it was widely associated with moves to change the Constitution to prevent the then Vice-President Moi from automatically succeeding Kenyatta. It failed in this scheme as Moi went on to succeed Kenyatta.

In 1980, months after Moi ascending to power, the association was banned, along with other groups perceived to have been ethnic-based. It is, however, believed to have continued to function under the guise of Agricultural and Industrial Holdings Ltd.

Since 2003, when President Kibaki came to power, efforts were made to revive the organisation. Though it succeeded, the current outfit, sold as Gema Cultural Association, is a pale shadow of the earlier group.

The association, currently co-chaired by retired Methodist Church Presiding Bishop Lawi Imathiu and retired ACK Bishop Peter Njenga, has largely kept off the political field until 2010 when it convened a conference at Limuru to endorse Uhuru as the region’s political leader.

Its activities yesterday and sentiments by the leaders will no doubt rekindle memories of the old days.

Speaking Friday, Uhuru said he had no apologies or shame for aligning himself with Gema.

But Uhuru said the Gema community should not be castigated whenever they meet, saying their discussions are not aimed at wrong moves. "Why is it that whenever we meet as Gema, we are always criticised yet other ethnic groups keep meeting and they do not attract similar condemnation? We will not be cowered any more since we do not meet with ill motives," said Uhuru.

Imathiu said the group would not be intimidated.

"We have been perceived in bad light, lies have been propagated against. How much longer must we remain petrified? The time to set the record straight is now, and here: Gema has a right to make political choices," said Imathiu.

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