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Sonko, Waititu are Uhuru’s gamechanger in Nairobi

By MOSES NJAGIH | May 26th 2012


The scramble by presidential hopefuls for vote-rich Nairobi has kicked off in earnest after Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta’s launch last week of his political vehicle for the next elections.

And from the events that unfolded at the Kenyatta International conference Centre, where he launched The National Alliance (TNA) party, it was apparent that the Gatundu South MP has already settled on the people who will be the game-changers for his campaign.

The prominence and exposure granted to Embakasi MP Ferdinand Waititu and his Makadara counterpart, Gideon Mbuvi, commonly known as Sonko, at the launch served as an indicator that Mr Kenyatta is banking on the two to deliver to him a large slice of Nairobi’s vote.

Though the TNA launch was attended by high profile politicians among them about ten Cabinet ministers, Mr Waititu and Mr Mbuvi eclipsed many and were granted roles that left no doubt among observers that they would play the role of Mr Kenyatta’s point men in the capital city.

Their visibility was evident from the time they arrived at the venue escorted by a huge following that has characterised their public appearances. At the public forum at the KICC grounds, Mr Mbuvi even played the role of master of ceremonies, introducing other MPs to address the supporters.

It is clear that Mr Kenyatta has settled on the two politicians owing to the huge following they command in Nairobi, especially in the populous Eastlands where their constituencies lie.

Mr Waititu and Mr Mbuvi enjoy almost fanatical support, especially among the youth in Eastlands, which would make them a prime catch for any presidential aspirant eyeing Nairobi’s votes.

It is their ability to deliver the big basket vote, irrespective of their modus operandi (which paints them negatively in public due to their exaggerated antics) that makes them an important cog in the wheel that will drive Mr Kenyatta’s campaign.

Their style of politicking has resonated well with the youth, who view them as strong defenders of their interests, with the result that many have thrown their support behind them.

It was instructive that after inviting Mr Mbuvi to give an address, which he did in English, the master of ceremonies urged him to address “your people’, the youth, in Sheng.

According to political analyst Joseph Magutt, the two politicians are well versed in Nairobi’s politics, which works to their advantage in pulling numbers to their side.

He says that their antics are qualities that any candidate wishing to succeed in Nairobi would be keen to deploy.

“They certainly know how to play Nairobi politics. They connect well with their supporters and know the right button to touch and at what time. That is why they will never be short of political support,” says Mr Magutt.

He says the two have used tactics that were perfected by Mr Waititu’s predecessor in Embakasi, the late David Mwenje, to solidify his support in Nairobi over the years, often engaging in street battles with law enforcers and Government agents in the name of fighting for the ‘oppressed poor’.

“They are perfect students of Mwenje and are replaying what the former Embakasi MP employed to ensure his success in Nairobi politics,” says Magutt, a Political Science lecturer at Kenyatta University.

In waging these battles and appearing to stand up for the poor, the two politicians have won the game of numbers, which is what politics is all about, hence making them Mr Kenyatta’s favourite point-men.

The DPM may not subscribe to the antics that the two are known to employ — which are viewed in some quarters as bordering on hooliganism — but due to their command of numbers they become the perfect commanders to change the game for him.

Mr Magutt however says Mr Kenyatta, being a suave politician, and given that on his own he commands a huge following in Nairobi and Central, may not want to formally endorse Mr Waititu and Mr Sonko as his point-men.

“He will certainly want to use them as behind-the-scenes operatives, because he knows that despite their public image, they have the numbers which he will need,” he says.

Both Mr Magutt and United States International University (USIU) Political Science lecturer Prof Macharia Munene however contend that Mr Kenyatta may not be wholly dependant on the two to win the Nairobi vote.

Prof Munene says Mr Kenyatta has a solid support base in the city, which the two could be eyeing for their own political ends.

“They are likely to be key pillars in helping Uhuru get the numbers in Nairobi, but they could also be hoping to benefit from Uhuru’s support base for their political success,” said Prof Munene.

Mr Magutt concurs with this and adds that it could have been Mr Waititu and Mr Mbuvi who hijacked the NTA launch at the preliminary level, rather than appearing at the request of Mr Kenyatta or even the organisers.

He says the two could have been positioning themselves to ride on Mr Kenyatta’s popularity to gain political mileage.

The lecturer points out that Mr Kenyatta even sought to clarify that the two were not the only people he was relying on.

“That is why almost at the end he also recognised other people such as Kisia (Philip) as being part of those that he was working with,” says Mr Magutt.

Moi University Law lecturer Kipchumba Murkomen introduces a new angle to matter, arguing that Mr Kenyatta may have enlisted the two politicians for a ‘make-up’ mission with the youth, who he had appeared to lose, especially to former Mungiki leader Maina Njenga who has been gravitating towards Prime Minister Raila Odinga.

Mr Murkomen says understanding that Mr Waititu and Mr Mbuvi are well connected with the youth, he may want them to be in his camp to make up for the number lost to Mr Njenga.

“Uhuru certainly has problems with the youth and that is why even in his party’s launch, he centred so much on young people. It was a strategy to win them back and since he knows Waititu and Sonko enjoy the support of the group, he wants to capitalise on that to win them back,” says Mr Murkomen.

Commanding the Eastlands vote would give Mr Kenyatta a head start in the scramble for Nairobi, as this is the most populous zone compared to the western part which appears more inclined towards ODM leader Raila Odinga.

The DPM would especially want to get a firm grip of this zone, which he only regained after Mr Mbuvi decamped from Narc Kenya to the larger G7 alliance.


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