Inside the battle within Kenya Kwanza as new blocs spring up

President William Ruto arrives for the inaugural UDA National Governing Council Meeting at Bomas Of Kenya, Nairobi. September 29, 2023.  [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

President William Ruto’s Kenya Kwanza Alliance is facing significant internal discord, marked by power struggles and factional rifts that threaten to reshape the country’s political landscape.

The tension within UDA, extending to Kenya Kwanza, is underscored by a series of intricate alliances, personal ambitions, succession politics, and growing dissatisfaction with the party’s leadership. 

Recent developments within Kenya Kwanza point to a complex web of alliances and rivalries.

One is indications that President Ruto and Prime Cabinet Minister Musalia Mudavadi could be forging a partnership ahead of the 2027 polls.

Two, on Wednesday, Public Service Cabinet Secretary Moses Kuria through his Facebook page, protested a meeting between Ruto and Kiambu leaders in his absence.

“It is wrong to keep calling meetings of Kiambu leadership without the only CS from Kiambu County. No such a meeting with EMC meeting would happen without Kipchumba Murkomen,” Kuria wrote. 

Three, Speaker Moses Wetang’ula has entered into a “local arrangement” with Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua. 

Insiders and pundits say that each of the three factions appears to be positioning themselves with an eye on securing influence beyond the 2027 presidential elections when Ruto intends to seek a second term. 

“Everyone has a plan A and B ready to move on if needed,” said a State House aide. This sentiment reflects the underlying unease among party members who recognise the importance of winning the 2027 polls to maintain their political footholds. 

While Ruto and Mudavadi have been holding talks and a series of meetings to consolidate Western and Rift Valley support, Wetang’ula and Gachagua have been doing the same to consolidate Mount Kenya and Western. 

Already, tension is palpable in Western Kenya between Wetang’ula and President Ruto, with reports of potential defections from UDA to Ford Kenya, which could weaken the ruling party in the region. 

Wetang’ula’s firm grip on Ford Kenya aligns with Gachagua’s efforts to consolidate support in Mt Kenya through alliances with parties like Jubilee, PNU, and DP. 

Speaking in Western Kenya, Kakamega Senator Bonny Khalwalwe said that he was pleased Wetang’ula is now mobilising MPs for tours within the region, emphasising the importance of remaining truthful. 

President William Ruto, Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua, Nakuru Governor Susan Kihika, Homabay Governor Gladys Wanga and COG chairperson Anne Waiguru during the second day of Kenya Kwanza retreat in Naivasha on February 20, 2024. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

“After you won elections under Kenya Kwanza, we are still waiting for both Musalia and Wetang’ula to come and say thank you. However, we will walk with you and think about yourself and others,” Khalalwe said. 

In Mt Kenya, which voted for Ruto heavily, Gachagua’s close allies are backing Jubilee and PNU, signaling strategic preparations for future electoral battles, as they gear up for the Limuru III conference to chart the way forward for the region. Other parties, including Narc Kenya, will meet on May 17 in Limuru to iron out Mt Kenya issues. 

Speaking in March this year, Narc Kenya leader Martha Karua said that the Limuru meeting would provide a platform to discuss various socio-political issues affecting the community, emphasising the constitutional right of people with common interests to convene.

Strong alliance

She said 10 parties are expected. 

“The Constitution allows people with common interests to come together. We are not different from other communities and should join hands to deliberate on our future,” Karua said. 

Multiple sources indicate that these are among the smaller parties intending to go against the main coalitions -Azimio and Kenya Kwanza- to form another strong alliance after the coming Limuru III meeting, further complicating the region’s political landscape. 

Adding to the emerging complexity, a surprising shift in support is evident among influential bloggers and government critics aligned with Azimio la Umoja, who now praise Gachagua while disparaging President Ruto’s administration. 

Azimio digital strategist Pauline Njoroge emphasised the importance of maintaining an independent voice, highlighting the fluid nature of political discourse in Kenya. This shift in allegiance has raised questions about the underlying motivations and principles guiding these influencers. 

“I will wake up today and call out Ruto for his many lies and punitive taxes; wake up tomorrow and commend Dorcas’ boy-child program; and wake up the day after to congratulate Ruto for a particular win on the international or regional arena,” she said, adding, “If you are not okay with this arrangement, please open up your page to the public and start agitating for the things you feel need agitation. You can’t make that someone else’s burden while your page is just for posting Bible verses or football commentary.”

This unexpected convergence of opinions underscores the nuanced dynamics of political discourse in Kenya. 

“When I remember and reflect on the humiliation we underwent for supporting Baba in Mt Kenya to the extent of losing elections, and now this, my ulcers awaken. Mungu tupe nguvu (God save us),” she said following criticism. 

Critics, including Wahome Thuku, have also weighed in on the matter, dismissing accusations of monetary influence, suggesting instead that these bloggers are simply seeking attention or attempting to win favour with Gachagua. 

Makeover photos

“Take this from me; even Riggy G himself does not know why Azimio bloggers are posting his makeover photos and charming his wife. Maybe you should get the argument that they are trying hard to get his attention; otherwise, saying he has paid them is hogwash,” he said, adding, “And if they were to succeed in catching his attention, that would confirm KK bloggers as useless. For now, keep guessing and guessing. It’s a nice game, like searching for a black cat in the dark.” 

The battle for control extends to the grassroots level, where conflicts between Gachagua and Kiharu MP Ndindi Nyoro highlight persistent divisions within UDA. Despite Ruto’s handshake gesture, these two figures pursue divergent political paths, underscoring the party’s internal fragmentation. 

“Ndindi is Ruto’s puppet, and that gives him time; he is part of Ruto’s bigger 2027 scheme,” International Center for Policy and Conflict Executive Director Ndung’u Wainaina said. 

Kenya Kwanza members during a joint National Executive Retreat and Parliamentary Group consultative meeting in Naivasha, Nakuru County on February 19, 2024. [Joseph Kipsang, Standard]

Speaking to The Standard on the phone, Ndung’u said that the chaos in the ruling party were expected since the founders of the coalition took advantage of Kenya’s bad leadership moment when Uhuru Kenyatta was the head of the state, to lie to Kenyans that they can do better. 

Hustler politics

“Ruto knows his hustler politics have collapsed, and he will not use the hustler movement. He is organising politically for 2027,” Ndung’u said, adding, “And those around Gachagua are building ‘a big man’ so that he can take over Mount Kenya.” 

Ndung’u added that it was good to organise politics around issues but he has failed, and that within the Kenya Kwanza chaos, Ruto is building a new pentagon, just like the ODM, where every community will have a leader who will endorse him. 

He said that Ruto understands that Kikuyu will have their own person. Ruto is building a pentagon. He expects a fallout,” he said, adding, “Linturi was his person. He will look for another one in Mombasa. And he relies on Musalia but also looks at him as a big picture.”

In Mombasa, UDA’s vice chairman Hassan Omar’s alliance with ODM deputy party leader Hassan Joho has triggered a split within the party. The rivalry between Omar and Nyali MP Mohammed Ali reflects broader strategic maneuvering, with each eyeing the county’s governorship. 

Internally, UDA faces mounting dissent against Secretary-General Cleophas Malala. Party members, including former Nominated Senator Millicent Omanga, accuse Malala of nepotism and incompetence in party recruitment.

Dissatisfaction among traditional party supporters further complicates UDA’s leadership landscape.