Old guard uneasy as young Turks push for change in major parties

MPs Babu Owino (Embakasi East) and Ndindi Nyoro (Kiharu). [File, Standard]

A crop of new and young politicians is pushing for a generational change within their parties, causing unease within the country’s major formations.

The ‘young Turks’ are rocking President William Ruto’s Kenya Kwanza Alliance as much as Raila Odinga’s Azimio la Umoja-One Kenya Coalition.

Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua is undoubtedly feeling the heat, with several politicians challenging his place in Mt Kenya’s politics. The most notable competitor has been Kiharu lawmaker Ndindi Nyoro, who has earned the endorsement of some of his peers to be the region’s spokesperson.

Amid this clamour, Gachagua’s allies in the region are fighting back, as was evident during a church event in Nyeri last Sunday.

“There are some youths who are propagating a narrative of generational change. If you want to challenge President William Ruto for the presidency in 2027 then carry on. But if you want to sow division in Mt Kenya... you will be an enemy of the Mountain,” said Embakasi Central MP James Gakuya.

“There is a young man from Kiharu who makes us wonder whether he wants to seek the presidency in 2027 and what the early campaign is about. There is another young man from Laikipia hurling stones,” Gakuya added.

Nyoro previously squared off with Gachagua to be Ruto’s running-mate ahead of the 2022 General Election with some insiders suggesting that he is angling to be Ruto’s deputy come 2027.

“It is obvious that the young Turks - the likes of Nyoro, (Dennis) Itumbi and (Mwangi) Kiunjuri are being sent to spoil the image of Gachagua,” Gakuya said during an interview on Citizen last week. “The signs are very clear that there is a mechanism to drop Gachagua in the middle and bring in another candidate.”

This strong response from the DP and his allies has earned criticism, with Kirinyaga Governor Anne Waiguru calling out plans to stifle ambition.

“... a progressive democracy does not allow us as occupiers of public leadership offices to personalise them to the extent that it becomes taboo for anyone else to nurture and express ambition to occupy them,” Waiguru said.

Githunguri MP Gathoni Muchomba is also stirring the pot within Mt Kenya courtesy of her strong position against unpopular tax policies. The fierce lawmaker is among a bipartisan caucus of lawmakers dubbed “Team Kusikiza Ground”, aimed at piling pressure on the Kenya Kwanza administration.

National Assembly Majority Leader Kimani Ichung’wah has also been touted as a rising star in Mt Kenya. The third-term Kikuyu MP is Kenya Kwanza’s leader in the National Assembly and formerly co-chaired, alongside Wiper Leader Kalonzo Musyoka, the bipartisan talks between Ruto and Raila.

Among the leading lights in the Rift Valley region include Transport Cabinet Secretary Kipchumba Murkomen, Senate Majority Leader Aaron Cheruiyot and Narok Senator Ledama ole Kina.

The same wave is rocking the opposition, where a fierce battle to succeed Raila as the opposition leader is unfolding. In recent months, ODM deputy party leaders Hassan Joho and Wycliffe Oparanya have seemed the most likely successors.

Joho, who consistently pushes for generational change, enjoys support in the coastal region which also has Mombasa Governor Abdlulswamad Shariff Nassir as a rising star.

Joho’s strategy to take over has involved assembling a team of young politicians to his fold. The former Mombasa Governor recently met lawmakers Caleb Amisi (Saboti) and Jack Wamboka (Bumula), who are expected to challenge Oparanya’s influence in Western Kenya.

Wamboka made a name in his attempt to have Parliament impeach Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mithika Linturi. On his part, Amisi is angling to become ODM’s deputy party leader and believes the younger generation must take over the country’s politics.

“Kenya has been oscillating around Daniel Moi and Nyayo scions, political dinosaurs like Ruto, Gachagua, Kalonzo Musyoka, Moses Wetang’ula, Musalia Mudavadi, Martha Karua and Uhuru Kenyatta. It is now apparent they hold no agenda for the nation,” said Amisi. “Tribalism, corruption, economic kleptomania and retrogressive old tactics have been their modus operandi. The nation is ripe for a paradigm shift to fresh and youthful leaders to revitalise the potential of Kenya.”

A significant section of Western has been under Raila’s firm grip, even as Wetang’ula and Mudavadi have sought to assert dominance. In recent months, Trans Nzoia Governor George Natembeya has challenged the status quo through his “tawe movement”, and seems a formidable challenger to Wetang’ula and Mudavadi.

Natembeya yesterday led a meeting of leaders from Western Kenya at a Nairobi hotel to chart a path away from Wetang’ula and Mudavadi.

“We are united because of the poverty affecting our region. We intend to find solutions. We intend to bring on board like-minded leaders,” said Natembeya, describing Wetang’ula and Mudavadi as the “challenges” the region needs to get rid of.

Former Bungoma Governor Wycliffe Wangamati, who attended the meeting, said it aimed to “chart a way forward for the region and explore possible alignments ahead of the 2027 polls”.

On his part, Amisi said that it was important for the region to come together like others are, an apparent reference to the push for unity in the Mt Kenya region.

“This is just the start. It is good for leaders to have conversations about their region’s future and that of the nation,” said Amisi.

In Nyanza, a spirited push by youthful politicians is unsettling the old guard, who chiefly include Raila’s staunch allies of decades. Embakasi East MP Babu Owino has recently held a series of rallies in the region he seeks to inherit from Raila. The youthful politician has unsuccessfully sought leadership roles within the opposition and has been seen to align with Joho’s camp.

Matching Babu’s forays is National Assembly Minority Leader Opiyo Wandayi, who has also led ODM popularisation rallies aimed at fighting an onslaught by Ruto’s United Democratic Alliance.

The Ugunja MP, a former political detainee courtesy of pro-democracy exploits at the university, has grown into a solid ally of Raila’s with the former premier’s brother Oburu Oginga stating that Raila preferred him as a successor.

Building from her victory over Evans Kidero in the last election, Homa Bay Governor Gladys Wanga has also acquired a national outlook to be considered in the race for Nyanza’s supremacy. Interior Principal Secretary Raymond Omollo has also emerged as an alternative.

In Nairobi, Senator Edwin Sifuna has stood out among his peers because of his eloquence. He has earned a position as a staunch Raila ally and recently accompanied him to the United Kingdom to attend the Oxford Africa Conference.

“The political class does a lot to try and scare young people from politics,” he said during the event, urging more young Kenyans to challenge for leadership positions, a message relevant even to young politicians fighting for their space. 

Ukambani, too, is not left behind. The region is populated with leaders deemed fit to fill Kalonzo’s shoes when he calls it a day. They include Makueni Governor Mutula Kilonzo Jr, Senators Enoch Wambua (Kitui) and Dan Maanzo (Makueni), and Kathiani MP Robert Mbui.

North Eastern, long dominated by Nyayo-era politicians, has also witnessed a shift over the decade. In the 2022 elections, new parties in the region edged out established ones. One such outfit was Mandera Senator Ali Roba’s United Democratic Movement. The two-time Mandera governor has since earned a spot on the region’s high table.

Political risk analyst Dismas Mokua challenged the young turks hoping to disrupt the political landscape to align with the aspirations of citizens.