Limuru conferences: The theatre of Mt Kenya political contests and cradle to push for Gema unity

Former Ndaragwa MP Jeremiah Kioni and Narc Kenya leader Martha Karua during Limuru III meeting at Jumuiya Conference in Kiambu. [George Njunge, Standard]

Limuru is slowly gaining traction in the country’s history books as one of the epicentres of political power plays with a direct impact on the political architecture of the Mt Kenya region and the country.

For a region known to build the profiles of some critical towns as the theatre of politics, the recent ripples caused by the Limuru III continue to vibrate across the region, its influence mirrors Sagana which gained popularity as a venue of political interest.

Here, political deals and weighty issues affecting the Mount Kenya region have been addressed and have been a ground that has built and killed careers after declarations.

During the agitation for multiparty politics in the 1990s, pro-reform agents regularly met in Limuru, where a number of constitutional conferences were held.

It has also been a cradle for the push for Gema unity.

While some leaders have dismissed the meetings in Limuru as a sideshow from leaders keen to divide the Mountain, others maintain that all meetings that have been held in the region have had massive significance.

They believe the Limuru meetings have been critical in ring-fencing the unity of the Gema communities to champion a common political discourse and have been a solution in times of uncertainties.

And to make the meetings more significant, they have been far and wide, but have been a key pillar in defining the political course of a number of leaders. The first Limuru I conference was held on March 12 and 13 1966 and was engineered by Kenya’s founding president Jomo Kenyatta.

The meeting was proposed to neutralise Vice President Oginga Odinga whose rank in the then ruling party – Kanu – was split to form eight distinctive slots. Delegates who attended the conference resolved to replace Oginga as the party’s vice chairman, edging him out in Nyanza Province. 

Daniel Moi was to represent Rift Valley, Ronald Ngala (Coast), Jeremiah Nyagah (Eastern), Mwai Kibaki (Nairobi) and James Gichuru (Central).

Specifically, Kenyatta’s intention was to neutralize the influence of Oginga in the management of the party.

Former Nyeri Town MP Wanyiri Kihoro, a seasoned lawyer, says Limuru I was purely meant to devolve the party to the then provinces, and that Kenyatta was keen on killing ‘nationalism’.

“Limuru I was indeed a disaster because it alienated some friends. It dismantled Kanu from being national to a provincial party that became easier for former president Kenyatta to manipulate,” he says.

“I can tell you that those who were spearheading the nationalism of Kanu were alienated from the Mau Mau movement spirit.”

He argues that the Mau Mau movement spirit was meant to ensure that those who fought for the country’s liberation got land after independence, a dream that was never achieved after the Limuru I conference.

“Limuru I destroyed that push by Mau Mau for people to own land. They never went back to that agitation for land. It simply killed nationalism,” he observes.

The second Limuru conference was held in 2010, with the new constitution, the case against former president Uhuru Kenyatta and the current President William Ruto and Kibaki succession on top of the agenda.

According to Democratic Party Chairman Essau Kioni, the Limuru II was necessitated because the community needed to speak in one voice. “People felt that there was a problem, and there was a need for community to remain united, especially with the case at the Hague.

‘‘There was also a debate about the constitution, and Kibaki succession,” he says.

He feels that Limuru III lacks the mantra, and only causes confusion in the region.

Yesterday’s meeting was organised by Narc-Kenya party leader Martha Karua and Jubilee Secretary General Jeremiah Kioni.

And while the duo have been struggling to keep the flames of opposition burning, their meeting has ushered in a fresh wave of anxiety.

Some leaders believe it has greater interests and could be a ploy to neutralise the support of Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua.

Others believe that it is aimed at serving the interests of a section of leaders as part of an effort to start building steam for the 2027 General Elections, with an aim of crafting new formations.

Political analyst Dr Philip Chebunet says the meeting’s agenda was intended to address the issues of the one-man-one vote-one-shilling revenue sharing formula, agriculture, reduction of the Kenya Kwanza coalition’s influence and the clamour for power.

“They have however camouflaged those issues in the name of ‘’uniting our people. Their intention is to disable DP Rigathi Gachagua and portray him as not an incompetent person to unite the Mountain,” he says.

Former Bahati MP Kimani Ngunjiri says the region should push for its agenda through the elected leaders.

[Reports by James Murimi, James Munyeki and Harold Odhiambo]