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Battle for Nairobi County splits Gema Elders down the middle

 Some want a candidate from Central Kenya with a running mate from Western, while others want a candidate from Western Kenya and a running mate from Central

The scramble for ethnic voting blocs for the Nairobi gubernatorial race has split the Kikuyu Council of Elders down the middle.

Two groups have emerged, each backing its own line-up and different models to wrestle the Governor’s Mansion for a Jubilee Party side from the incumbent, Evans Kidero, of the Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (CORD).

Kikuyu Council of Elders Chairman, Wachira Kiago, has declared support for Dagoretti MP, Dennis Waweru, but his Nairobi County branch chair, David Kang’ethe, is leading the faction supporting Water Cabinet Secretary, Eugene Wamalwa.

Kiago supports the model of a candidate from Central Kenya with a running mate from Western Kenya, while Kang’ethe supports a candidate from Western Kenya with a Central Kenya running mate.

Each argues that their model stands the best chance of victory based on possible combinations of various ethnic voting blocs.

However, the role the Western bloc – the Luhya Nation vote – should play in Western Kenya and the city has emerged as the common denominator, both in the presidential race and the Nairobi gubernatorial race.

In Nairobi, a group of elders from Western Kenya led by veteran Nairobi politician, Fred Gumo, met two weeks ago with some members of the Kikuyu Council of Elders (KCE) at a resort in Kiambu County, to strategise around mobilising support for Mr Wamalwa, who has declared his intention to fight for the Jubilee Party ticket for the Nairobi governorship.

The host of the meeting and a senior Nairobi County KCE official, David Kang’ethe, confirmed the meeting took place between KCE officials and a group of elders from Western Kenya, who included Mumias Sugar board chairman Joash Wamang’oli, former Cabinet minister Chris Okemo, JP promoters and former Cabinet minister Noah Wekesa.

Mathare MP Stephen Kariuki is also a member of the Wamalwa strategy team that is seeking to persuade the Jubilee Party leadership, and the GEMA fraternity about the wisdom of backing Wamalwa for Nairobi governor to achieve twin electoral objectives in 2017:

To woo the Western voting bloc in Nairobi for both the JP gubernatorial candidate and for President Uhuru Kenyatta’s re-election vote basket.

Kang’ethe said in an interview that a major rally was planned in Kakamega to make public the other details of the strategy once Wamalwa submits his resignation from the Cabinet early next year.

“Many people have many ideas about how 2017 should be approached. But the bare truth is that a winning team in 2017 must widen the victory gap way beyond any shadow of doubt to govern comfortably and without the shadow of court disputes for judges and lawyers to decide who won, or worse still, to avoid a runoff.

“The narrow margin of 8,000 votes above the run-off threshold by which the 2013 presidential vote was determined should be avoided at all costs” Kang’ethe said.

He said the rationale behind fronting Wamalwa was premised on the fact that a candidate from Central Kenya for the Nairobi gubernatorial race would not add value to the presidential vote to improve on the 2013 numbers.

“It is as simple as that. The Western voting bloc registered in Nairobi is almost 300,000 votes. The Nairobi governor is the third most powerful political office in the country after the President and Deputy President.

“Our people must be persuaded that by voting for Eugene for Nairobi governor, we stand to attract at least a third of the Western bloc to Uhuru’s presidential vote basket. It is hard horse trading; it is the best option JP has until someone else gives us something better,” Kang’ethe said.

Although JP has announced all positions were up for grabs through free and fair primaries, both factions of KCE have publicly said they would persuade “their people” to vote for one candidate.

“Wamalwa has opted to sacrifice his Cabinet Secretary job over the realisation that with President Kenyatta’s re-election, he had no Cabinet jo. The Water minister has a much bigger annual budget of over Sh100 billion, much more than Nairobi County’s Sh8 billion annual budget.

“The opposition was bargaining hard with the Western voting bloc through Amani National Congress (ANC) leader Musalia Mudavadi for the same electoral victory objectives. The Western vote will play greatest swing vote value in 2017,” he added.

However, Kiago recently said a Eugene candidature for Nairobi’s gubernatorial race was an electoral nightmare and that it was hard to sell.

“The argument that if the GEMA voting bloc in Nairobi is persuaded to vote for Eugene to attract a slice of the Western vote for President Kenyatta’s re-election basket holds no water.

“President Kenyatta tried this logic when he stepped down from the Cabinet in 2012 and lobbied for retired President Kibaki to appoint Wamalwa the Constitutional Affairs minister, hoping to appease the Western vote in 2013. It did not work. Why should we think it will work by offering a bigger sacrifice?” Kiago posed.

Indeed, Kiago said, voters from Wamalwa’s political support base in Bungoma and Trans Nzoia are in the minority in the city, and the other sections of the Luhya nation, are the majority in Nairobi County.

“The other sections would not vote for a Wamalwa, therefore, the anticipated electoral advantage would evaporate as happened with Nairobi Senator Mike Sonko’s election in 2013. It is clear that while Sonko hugely rode on the GEMA leaning voting bloc in the city, his Kamba kinsmen, numbering nearly 200,000 voters, did not vote for Jubilee’s presidential and gubernatorial candidates,” Kiago said.

Kiago has on several occasions public denounced Wamalwa’s candidature for the Nairobi gubernatorial race on vernacular radio and TV programmes, citing the Kamukunji experiment, where the majority of Central Kenya voters in Kamukunji constituency were persuaded to vote for Yusuf Hassan, who has since turned against the voters.

“In 2011, we were persuaded to vote for Yusuf Hassan Abdi in Kamukuji. Today, over 6,000 hawkers who voted for him have been evicted from Eastleigh market since August, the public market grabbed and allocated to private developers, and Mr Yusuf does not speak about it for ethnic reasons and business rivalry.

“With this kind of experience, it will be difficult to persuade our people to vote for someone besides one of their own,” he said.

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