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Why Uhuru must not let Ruto's UDA win Kiambaa poll

By Kibe Mungai | July 11th 2021

Jubilee MPs Kanini Kega (left) and Peter Mwathi (Limuru) in Kiambaa. [George Njunge, Standard]

Officially the outcome of Kiambaa Constituency by-election will determine the electoral contest between Jubilee Party’s candidate Kariri Njama and United Democratic Alliance’s candidate John Njuguna on who will fill the vacant seat occasioned by the death of MP Paul Koinange in March.

Since my grandfather Miring’u Kongoni wa Kibe was born in Kiambaa Constituency, my sources on the ground tell me that the two leading candidates have more or less equal chances to clinch victory.

For Jubilee Party anything short of a landslide victory in the heartland of its political base will be a loss both because of the message such an outcome will convey about its ever-dwindling support base and the ramification of such an outcome on the quickly unfolding 2022 political transition.

The crux of the matter is best captured in this question: Why should the outcome of Kiambaa Constituency matter to the people of Central Kenya and to the rest of the country?

On a populist level many Kenyans are curious to know whether in the wake of the Juja Constituency by-election results, a victory by Deputy President William Ruto UDA’s candidate in Kiambaa Constituency will prove that the march of the Gikuyu peasants, proletariat and agi?kis (a contemptuous reference to poor people) from Ichaweri, Gatundu to Sugoi, Eldoret is unstoppable. 

History of Kiambaa

No doubt for DP Ruto to clinch two seats through by-elections in the home county of his political ally turned nemesis Uhuru Kenyatta will be something to savour and he will deserve the salute of all political players and observers. Yet there is something more than that in the event of victory for Ruto’s candidate.

Let us start with history. The immediate trigger of the declaration of a State of Emergency in October, 1952 was the assassination of Senior Chief Waruhiu Kung’u within today’s Kiambaa Constituency leading to the escalation of the Mau Mau war for land and freedom.  Similarly, the infamous Lari Massacre was directly traceable to the confiscation of land by British colonialists belonging to Kiambaa clans in Tigoni area of today’s Limuru Constituency. 

UDA affiliated MPs Millicent Omanga (left) and Alice Wahome (centre) in dance during a meeting in support of the party's candidate Njuguna Wanjiku. [George Njunge, Standard]

Jomo Kenyatta’s right hard man and brother-in-law Mbiyu Koinange was the long-standing MP for Kiambaa.  In fact, it is easy to imagine Kenyatta and Mbiyu turning in their graves if it turns out that President Uhuru cannot protect Kiambaa from Ruto’s reach against the backdrop of a Kalonzo Musyoka victory in the recent contest for the Machakos County Senatorial seat.

Finally, it should also help to remember that the late Senior Chief Koinange wa Mbiyu was fired from his job and detained in 1953 because he did not demonstrate sufficient loyalty to the colonial regime in the aftermath of the Mau Mau revolt. In short, Kiambaa is not just another constituency in Central Kenya, but that is not all.

Before he jumped too deep into politics Muigai wa Njoroge was one of my favourite musicians whose songs touch the rawest nerves about the social-political undercurrents of post-independence fortunes of the various classes and strata of Gikuyu society.

Hustler Nation HQ

In some of those songs, Muigai poignantly comments about the class divide between the haves and the have-nots in Central Kenya, particularly concerning land matters. It is not easy to imagine a wider class divide in agrarian society than in Kiambaa Constituency where it seems to my eyes 200,000 families live on 20 per cent of the land whilst another 200 families and corporations own 80 per cent of the space. 

The point here is this: If UDA emerges victorious in next Thursday’s by-election then Kiambaa Constituency would be the first political headquarters of the Hustler Nation and the reason for this would be more of socio-economic and historical factors than the undeniable political genius of William Ruto.  In the short term, this may be a good thing and even exciting but there is no way it will end well as the experience in post-Weimar Germany shows.

There are three reasons for this bold assertion.

First, the advent of the Hustler Nation does not portend the emergence of policy-driven policies as its architects would wish Kenyans to believe. Even in the coming general election, the majority of Kenyans outside Central Kenya would be mobilized through ethnicity than class and socio-economic issues. Truth be told there is no philosophy or ideology that drives the Hustler Nation beyond disaffection with poor economic performance of Jubilee and antipathy towards the Kenyatta family.

Consequently, as soon as Uhuru exits the political stage alongside Ruto’s win in the 2022 presidential race the Hustler Nation would have served its raison d’etre and Ruto would have to conjure up how to wind it up without exacting too much political cost on a mobilsed and disillusioned youth in a country laden with a heavy sovereign debt.

President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Deputy William Ruto at the KWS academy in Manyani, Taita Taveta, October 16, 2020. [Stafford Ondego, Standard]

Secondly, as a political phenomenon, the Hustler Nation is basically a Central Kenya thing by which I mean the former Central Province, Mount Kenya Counties of Embu, Meru and Laikipia, Nairobi Metropolitan area plus Nakuru County.  These areas form the bedrock of Uhuru’s political hegemony and a successful political revolt in this region will hand over the presidency to Ruto on a silver plate.

However, the mere fact that the Hustler Nation could easily make Ruto Kenya’s Fifth President does not mean that upon taking the Presidential oath Ruto will either govern in the name and interest of the Hustler Nation or seek to keep power by preserving and promoting the Hustler Nation.

Thirdly, sooner or later the subscribers to the Hustler Nation in Central Kenya would have to reckon and reconcile with the reality that at its core the Hustler Nation is a cosmetic political construct and social formation. 

To my mind, the dreams of the hustlers could only be valid on the condition that Ruto is fundamentally different from Uhuru or Kalonzo and Raila Odinga for that matter.  Sometimes I am tempted to imagine that Ruto is blissfully amused about how the hustlers have come to believe him as their messiah but you can never be sure about that. The point here is that from a class standpoint it would not be reasonable to expect that when the interests of the Hustler Nation and the owners of capital collide – as they must inevitably – Ruto will side with the hustlers.

In any event, at the very least IMF and World Bank, even the Chinese, will not permit it for the simple reason that Kenya must endure to pay its debts. This brings us back to Kiambaa Constituency and the Gikuyu Nation.

In my mind, victory for the UDA candidate could easily break up the Gikuyu Nation as hitherto understood. Of course I reckon that this could be a good thing to a sizable cross-section of Kenyans but the reality is not that simple. 

Since politics is elite-driven across the world, a UDA victory would mean that the Gikuyu elite, as opposed to Uhuru Kenyatta, has lost control of their people and so they will go into the 2022 general election as free agents rather than the fearsome political machine they have always been.

It is fair to disclose here that some friends of mine think it is the St Mary’s wing rather than the Gikuyu elite generally that is losing control over the Gikuyu Nation.

President Uhuru Kenyatta (left) elbow-greets Deputy President William Ruto during the 18th Annual National Prayer Breakfast at Parliament Buildings, Nairobi. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

On closer analysis, the Mau Mau revolt only erupted after the conservative Gikuyu elite lost legitimacy in the eyes of the radical youth and squatters eager to drive the British colonists out of Kenya by whatever means necessary.  The late Jaramogi Oginga Odinga tells this part of the story brilliantly in his book Not Yet Uhuru. 

It should help to remember the horrific events of the 1950s triggered by the loss of control by the Gikuyu elite over their people.  Whereas I am very proud of the Mau Mau fighters, I cannot forget the steep price that the Gikuyu community, including my family, paid during this rebellion and the wounds are yet to heal fully as Muigai’s songs aptly demonstrate.

To be sure the untelevised British military assault on the Mau Mau led to the annihilation of at least 30 per cent of the Gikuyu population in the 1950s.  Moreover, the social disruption caused by the mass murder of Gikuyu men is directly responsible for the extensive single-parent families among the Gikuyu and the disproportionate number of Kikuyu street families.

Whichever way I look at the Hustler Nation it is not easy to see how it will end up well in Central Kenya given that the hoi polloi might view a Ruto presidency as a signal to secure vengeance against the aristocracy that Jomo Kenyatta so diligently and cleverly established in the 1960s and the 1970s.

To be blunt, the spectre of civil strife in Central Kenya in the wake of a Hustler Nation victory in the coming general election is chillingly real.  Besides the fact that such a scenario will greatly weaken the Gikuyu Nation, it should be obvious that Kenya cannot afford civil strife in Central Kenya.  By all yardsticks, the ten counties that comprise Central Kenya are responsible for nearly two-thirds of Kenya’s GDP and private economy.

These Counties are also the invariable investment hub of Kenya’s elite from Mandera, Turkana, Migori to Kwale.  To conclude, by the results of the Juja Constituency by-election the Gikuyu made the point to Uhuru that nobody can take them for granted.

However, a victory by UDA in Kiambaa will make a more terrible point about the Gikuyu Nation than a second spite on Uhuru.  The tragic point would have been made that, like with the Luhya, Kikuyu votes are available on the cheap.  On this reckoning, such victory for UDA would amount to poisoned chalice for leaders of the Hustler Nation in Central Kenya because Ruto could as well rightfully wonder why he needs to take them too seriously.

 -The writer is a constitutional lawyer 

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