New crop of leaders out to shift political landscape

National Assembly Majority Leader Kimani Ichung'wah. The Kikuyu MP leads the pack in the Kenya Kwanza Alliance.  [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

Throughout Kenya's history, young enterprising leaders have scaled political heights courtesy of a mix of painstaking hard work and favour.

Currently, the political landscape is undergoing a momentous generational change where a new crop of leaders has perched at the high table to drive the country's political destiny.

President William Ruto and Azimio leader Raila Odinga's inner circles are populated by new-age politicians in their first, second and third terms in Parliament, with some serving as governors.

They have edged out their older counterparts, who would have been the natural heirs to the pair, featuring in potential presidential lineups in future elections.

Under Ruto and Raila, they are learning from arguably the best politicians of the day, gleaning from them strategies that have seen the pair upset the status quo and establish a grip on the country's politics that has lasted decades. And they are taking up key roles within their respective coalitions and are steering national discussions.

National Assembly Majority Leader Kimani Ichung'wah leads the pack in the Kenya Kwanza Alliance. In his third term as Kikuyu Member of Parliament, Ichung'wah has been trusted with the key role of leading his colleagues in the august House. The lawmaker is also leading Kenya Kwanza's team in bipartisan talks committee, serving as co-chair with Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka.

Ichung'wah, who served as the chair of the National Assembly Budget Committee during former President Uhuru Kenyatta's tenure, is among the key figures in Ruto's Mt Kenya circle, emerging as among his strongest defenders in the region.

Ugunja MP Opiyo Wandayi serves the same role in Raila's Azimio la Umoja One Kenya. Also in his third term in office, Wandayi boxed out Nominated MP John Mbadi as the National Assembly Minority Leader. In recent months, his prominence has shot up, and he occasionally issues statements on behalf of Azimio, some of which hit hard at President Ruto's administration.

Wandayi, who also sits in the dialogue committee, serves as the ODM director of political affairs. 

At the Senate, Kericho Senator Aaron Cheruiyot is taking charge of Kenya Kwanza lawmakers, serving as the Majority Leader. He, too, is part of the dialogue committee. A strong ally of Ruto, Cheruiyot is in his third term in office, but has only been in office since 2016 courtesy of a by-election.

The Kericho Senator has scaled new heights, claiming the plum Majority Leader post in Senate ahead of more experienced politicians.

Azimio, too, has trusted hands at the Senate, who have undoubtedly fought for the positions they enjoy. And few Azimio lawmakers have fought for their space like Narok Senator Ledama ole Kina, the Majority Whip, currently in his second term.

Since he assumed office in 2017, Ledama has been a leading figure within Azimio's ranks, making a name for himself with fiery speeches and his fierce defence of Raila, which saw him clash with electoral officials during last year's election.

Nairobi Senator Edwin Sifuna also stands out in the opposition's affairs. The first-term vocal lawmaker is already setting himself apart with his eloquence and is a regular contributor to Senate debates.

The deputy Minority Whip was unsuccessful in his previous bid for the Nairobi Senate seat, but triumphed in staging a coup at ODM that earned him his role as the secretary general of Raila's party. Sifuna was a proponent of opinion polling within ODM to identify candidates during last year's elections, a move that saw the party win more elective seats.

Ledama and Sifuna served in the previous bipartisan talks that flopped.

In the race for Raila's throne in Nyanza, Embakasi East MP Babu Owino is among the names likely to feature in the discussions. The two-time lawmaker boasts of talents in mobilisation, skills he honed when he served as a student leader at University of Nairobi. And the controversial politician has never shied away from demanding space at the decision-making table, urging the party to include more youth within its ranks.

Also in that conversation is Rarieda MP Otiende Amollo, who chaired the last round of bipartisan talks alongside Tharaka MP Gitonga Murugara. The former Ombudsperson is in his second term in office and is a confidant of Raila, representing him in his last presidential petitions. Amollo, a lawyer, participated in writing Kenya's Constitution.

Political commentator Herman Manyora believes this new set of leaders has mastered the political playbook. "They are sharp. They have the intellect. They are bold and they have learnt that power concedes nothing. You have to go for it. The others are waiting to be given leadership," Mr Manyora says.