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Kiambaa by-election a Jubilee contest that showed democratic maturity

By Macharia Munene | July 19th 2021
Njuguna Wanjiku, Moses Kuria and Ndindi Nyoro celebrate after poll win in Kiambaa. [John Muchucha, Standard]

Kenyan lovers of European football and of local politics received thrilling treats barely four days apart. On July 11, 2021 England took on Italy at Wembley. Although Italy outplayed England, it had to go to penalty shootouts for Italy to win. Thereafter, England soccer goons turned on their own players who missed penalty kicks. On July 15, 2021 political fans watched an intense Jubilee intra-mural contest that featured President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto. 

The Kiambaa by-election contest was unusual. It is one of the few by-elections in Kenya that attracted attention because of the subsequent impact on the country’s political future. There had been, for instance, the February 1989 mlolongo by-election in Kiharu that increased cracks in Kanu’s power monopoly. There was open cheating rather than contest, but it helped to build up multi-party politics. The Kiambaa by-election, however, turned into stiff power contest between men who should be on the same side.

Initially, Jubilee appeared contented and had even considered fielding a ‘family’ candidate before changing tune to counter an UDA wave. Coming soon after the Juja embarrassment, a defeat in Kiambaa was not going to be good. Jubilee settled on Kariri Njama. In Njama’s team were Wambugu Ngunjiri, Sabina Chege, Rachel Shebesh, Kanini Kega, Amos Kimunya, and James Nyoro. It attracted musical services from Kamande wa Kioi and Peter Kigia. At times, these coaches and assistants made regrettable statements that made them appear to be insensitive, thereby sending away potential votes. For instance, the purported derogative utterance about ‘KaWanjiku’ as son of a ‘single mother’ increased his appeal to poor ‘sons’ and ‘daughters’ of single parents. Jubilee, therefore, started the game badly. It then woke up in the final two weeks and revved its campaign machines, including enlisting President Kenyatta to endorse Kariri, and he did.

On the voting day, the Kiambaa political game was a toss-up, with the pressure on Jubilee. UDA also started badly with internal friction but recovered quickly and coalesced around ‘KaWanjiku’. The UDA team had Kimani Ichung’wa, Moses Kuria, Alice Wahome, Aisha Jumwa, Irungu Kang’ata, Rigathi Gachagua, and Ndindi Nyoro. It exploited current economic hardships, decried inflation, and reminded voters of the class and social insults emanating from Jubilee.

It hired musician Muigai wa Njoroge and he was lethal on stage as he praised single motherhood. He appropriated the Mau Mau legacy, claiming that he and the others were the children and grand-children of Mau Mau. Turning the Mau Mau song about pride in identity into a ‘hustler’ song, he administered a public oath that Kiambaa was ‘hustler country’. 

Despite minor incidents like the youth demanding that Kimunya should leave a voting station, there was evidence of democratic maturity. The vote was a statistical tie. Questions about missing or misplaced document raised suspicion and sent the contest into a shootout or special recount in selected stations. The Kiambaa political game, with peaceable outcome, was just as thrilling as the English-Italian final four days earlier.  

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