Wooing Mount Kenya voters is an uphill task



Eighteen months to the next General Election, all presidential aspirants are scrambling to win the heart and soul of Mount Kenya region.

ANC party leader Musalia Mudavadi has been wooing the mountain by packaging himself as a safe pair of hands for its agricultural economy.  

DP William Ruto has been making forays with his hustler movement, trying to convince a region that probably hosts the highest number of unemployed youths in the country; a region that epitomises the growing gap between the rich and the poor that he is the magic bullet that will bring change.

This week, ODM party leader Raila Odinga took to Kameme TV to address the region, reminding them of the sacrifices he has made for Mt Kenya, including his famous ‘Kibaki Tosha’ that thrust Mwai Kibaki to presidency in 2002. Perhaps Raila has realised that you cannot send someone to woo a bride for you; that he can no longer entirely depend on his famous Handshake with the region’s kingpin, Uhuru Kenyatta, and the resultant BBI, to win over the region.

But why is this bride playing hard to get? Why is she proving so stubborn to win over?

For, starters, a dark cloud of disillusionment hangs over the mountain that produced some of the most celebrated freedom fighters, most of whom, died poor and landless, squatters on the land they fought for. Nowhere in Kenya does Jaramogi Odinga’s ‘Not Yet Uhuru’ resonate better than Central Kenya.

From Kirinyaga, at the foot of the mountain, to Laikipia at the edge of the Great Rift Valley, nothing has changed in the mountain, despite producing three presidents, who between them, ruled for 35 years.

On the contrary, here is a region that best captures what one of its most celebrated sons, JM Kariuki, described as a country of 10 millionaires and 10 million poor people. Here is a region of plenty, where the plenty is held by a few individuals, while the majority struggle to put food on the table and send their children to school.

It is indeed a region of plenty — for where else do you have a region where everything grows, from coffee through to tea, rice, maize, beans, all varieties of vegetables, cotton, sugarcane, sisal-name them? It is, both literary and literally a land of milk and honey, so much so that some wags joke the region is so fertile it can grow babies in its fields.

Where the returns for all these wealth goes, and, indeed, where it has gone decades after independence, is every economist’s guess. As such, earlier promises by politicians on the campaign trail to ‘revive’ the region’s agricultural sector is a no-sell, and thousands of disillusioned farmers will gladly tell anyone who attempts to woo them this way to go tell it to the birds.

Secondly, the region’s centre can no longer hold, or, to put it another way, after holding power for 35 years and seeing little to write home about, the region has grown weary of carrying collective guilt of the country’s post-independence mistakes — from the land question to tribalism and nepotism.

As such, a deep sense of lethargy has been growing in the region. This has reached the peak with the looming exit of President Kenyatta — arguably the last piece in what was left of the region’s unifying pillar.

Current shepherd

And with the current shepherd of the mountain on his way out, the sheep are scattering. The ensuing confusion is evident from the many voices purporting to be the new shepherds of a flock that is simply tired of being shepherded in one direction every electoral cycle. After 35 years, the spell has been broken, and the flock will no longer be shepherded in one direction.

After Kenyatta, the region simply does not care anymore who becomes president. Here, you will hear weary sighs whenever the Kenyatta succession debate comes up in some local bar or food kiosk.

In fact, the biggest task for anyone that wants the region’s backing is not convincing its residents that he or she has their collective back.

No, the biggest task for any presidential hopeful seeking the region’s support will be countering the disillusionment; the deep sense of lethargy and apathy and convincing its six million-plus politically-weary residents to come out and vote in 2022 poll.

Take this to the bank — many in the region, unless a very convincing Moses descends from the mountain with a firm commandment that “Thou shall vote for this and no other”, will be busy on their tea and coffee farms when everyone else in the country will be queuing to vote for the next President in 2022. 

Mr Karanja is a journalist