The death of former Cabinet minister Simeon Nyachae, who was laid to rest last Monday, has rekindled the elusive decades-long search for the unity of the Gusii community.
According to the 2019 population census, the community which plays a key role in the country’s socio-economic and political activities totalled 2,703,235.
But apart from the 2002 General Election where the community rallied behind Nyachae, the members have since been divided, with the Kisii and Nyamira counties where the community is dominant being used as swing votes by top political bigwigs.
Figures released by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics in 2019 showed Kisii County had 1,266,860 people and Nyamira 605,576.
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In the 2017 General Election, Kisii had 544,753 registered voters while Nyamira had 279,685.
The community leaders have for almost a decade been laying the ground and holding seemingly unfruitful unity talks.
Not even the death of Nyachae, a long-standing Gusii kingpin, could unite the leaders.
The near fistfight between South Mugirango MP Sylvanus Osoro and his Dagoreti North counterpart Simba Arati in a funeral three weeks ago depicted the deep differences among the community political leaders.
Despite their public facade, the leaders seem not to have agreed on their next political course as a community.
In his heydays, Nyachae formed the Ford People party, which has since lost its influence in the region. In 2002, he vied for the presidency and got big support from the community, with 345,152? votes.
Nyachae’s retirement from active politics 10 years ago and his death three weeks ago has left a gap in the region’s political landscape, hence the current debate over who should take over the mantle.
A month ago, Gusii Council of Elders requested Interior Cabinet Minister Fred Matiang’i to accept their request to become the community’s spokesperson.
Despite having received support from Kisii and Nyamira counties’ top leadership, Matiang'i is said to have requested more time to go talk to President Uhuru Kenyatta before making any decision.
At play in the quest to unite the community are wrangling leaders, succession politics and the advancement of selfish interests.
The 15 MPs from the region have aligned themselves to more than three camps.
There are those who have sworn their loyalty to Deputy President William Ruto. Osoro appears to be leading this group.
Another camp is led by Borabu MP Ben Momanyi and has been drumming up support for Matiang'i. Their argument is based on the fact that the CS is the current senior-most leader from the region and deserves an opportunity to serve in any highest portfolio in government – political or appointive.
With Momanyi are senators Sam Ongeri and Okong'o Omogeni. Others are Governor James Ongwae and woman representatives Janet Ongera and Jerusha Momanyi. This team also supports ODM party leader Raila Odinga.
There is also a team that has not come out openly to either declare their support for Matiang'i, Raila or Ruto.
There are talks that some local leaders are mulling over the formation of a new political party to cater for the interests of the community in 2022.
In the 2017 polls, both Jubilee and NASA battled it out for the control of the region. ODM scooped most posts for governor, woman rep and senator in Nyamira and Kisii, but shared the spoils for constituencies and wards.
Since Nyachae's retirement in 2007, the community has not had a clear communication channel.
Political pundits argue that Nyachae tried to unite the community but his efforts were short-lived.
Former Kitutu Masaba MP Timothy Bosire believes that talks to unite the community and have one person speak on their behalf are held in a casual manner.
“We need sincere leaders who should not be importing interests,” he said.
Matiangi’s rising star in the civil service and in President Kenyatta’s government has further complicated the matter as he silently pulls strings in the political undertakings in the region.
Kisii Deputy Governor Joash Maangi, who is also interested in the 2022 Kisii governorship, says the community is preparing for future politics.
“Those undermining our plans and progress should understand the political dynamics in this region. We are not pushovers, we will make a decision,” he said.
Maangi, who had accompanied Osoro to a function in South Mugirango on Wednesday, said the foundation of driving development and stimulating economic growth and attaining shared prosperity is by all leaders focusing on alliance-building, unity of purpose and working together irrespective of their political persuasions.
A close ally to DP Ruto, Osoro believes that through the support of professionals from the region and prudent use of public funds, the community will get meaningful development projects.
“The future of the next generation is based on the right steps we will make as leaders,” said Osoro, who spoke on Wednesday while handing over a bus to Kiabigoria ELCK Secondary School in his constituency.
In a phone interview with The Standard last month, political analyst Dismas Mokua argued that Gusii professionals should not be left out in the unity talks.
“There are several things that professionals from the region can partake in. They first need to be proud members of the Gusii Nation and have the interests of the community at heart,” he says.
Mokua says professionals can help identify the strategic plan for the community.
He explains that the interest of the community should be consistent with national interests.
Former Kenya Ports Authority boss Daniel Manduku, who has shown interest in the governor's seat in Kisii, says the region needs sharp brains to push its development agenda.
“This will aid the unity talks. We must have the right political plans and goodwill,” he says.
He adds the region missed a step 20 years ago.
“Unity talks must be anchored on empowering the community on how to be self-reliant and decide to harness resources that are already plenty in our region,” he says.
Kisii remains a key voting bloc for any presidential candidate. The area has overwhelmingly supported opposition candidates in the last two general elections.