Considered the melting pot of Kenya’s politics, Nakuru is living up to its billing as the row over the War Memorial Hospital land saga captures the attention of the nation.
What started as a simple resolution by MCAs to reclaim the land on which the colonial hospital stands, has morphed into a full-blown political storm that has sucked in the name of President William Ruto.
The heated exchanges between Governor Susan Kihika, and some UDA politicians, led by Senator Tabitha Karanja, are contributing to the narrative that Nakuru remains a political hotbed.
The row has given birth to a political movement dubbed the G7 that has brought together elected leaders opposed to the governors’ alleged high-handedness and excesses.
Although the saga should have been handled legally and through reasoned agreements, it has turned into the traditional politics of the larger Nakuru.
Over the years, the region has had a reputation of producing rebellious and some of the most outspoken politicians. From Mark Mwithaga, who made history when he was elected MP for Nakuru Town while in prison in 1966, to Koigi wa Wamwere, who gave Jomo Kenyatta and Daniel arap Moi a difficult time, the area has always been a home of firebrands and dissidents.
Others were the abrasive Dixion Kihika Kimani, Fred Kubai, Ochieng Aneko and Kariuki Chotara who left a mark in the country’s political history.
During the Moi era, Nakuru branch Kanu chairman Wilson Leitich made a name for himself because of his controversial statements. He once instructed Kanu supporters to “cut off the fingers” of opposition party Ford supporters.
John Maina Kamangara, who was once accused of harvesting President Moi’s wheat, was also an interesting figure. Other notable firebrands were Mama Steel, Geoffrey Asanyo and lawyer Mirugi Kariuki, who served as MP for Nakuru Town.
The recent development in the cosmopolitan county is setting the stage for an explosive political discourse that is likely to shape 2027 politics.
Governor Kihika is accusing the senator and some elected leaders of undermining her by inciting the masses against her administration.
Last month, Ms Kihika was forced to cut short her address as a section of the crowd which had gathered at Gachariga in Kuresoi North constituency where President Ruto was launching a road, shouted her down. The President watched as the governor struggled to make her address as the mob booed her.
The governor’s allies blamed the incident on the area MP Alfred Mutai, accusing him of ferrying in youth to humiliate Kihika. The youth were said to have been ferried from Kiptororo, Kamara and Tinet areas in seven buses to heckle the governor.
Now Mutai, the Kuresoi North MP, his Kuresoi South counterpart Joseph Tonui, Rongai’s Paul Chebor, former Bahati MP Kimani Ngunjiri, Martha Wangare (Gilgil), Jane Kihara (Naivasha) and Senator Karanja have teamed up to form the G7 movement.
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The leaders held a rally in Solai last weekend where they declared war against Kihika saying they misled voters to make a poor choice of a governor.
They want President Ruto to intervene and tame the governor who they accuse of making UDA unpopular in the region through her policies and actions such as the raid on the hospital.
Although Wangare, Kihara and Karanja did not attend the rally, Ngunjiri said they were firmly in the G7 movement. The trio has neither denied nor admitted being part of the group but Ms Karanja has been consistent in her attacks on Kihika’s administration.
Mutai, the G7 spokesperson, said their main agenda is to correct the political mistake that was made in 2022 when they supported Kihika’s governorship bid.
“We were wrong in backing her for the governor’s seat. She has betrayed us by working against the wishes of the electorates,” he said.
On Wednesday, during the burial of former Nakuru Central Rift Matatu association treasurer David Kimani Wamathingira in Njoro sub-county, Chebor, the Rongai MP, apologized to former Governor Lee Kinyanjui for campaigning against him.
“We apologise to Kinyanjui for campaigning against you and voting you out. We never realised we were making a mistake by electing an insensitive leader,” he said.
Kinyanjui lost the governor’s seat to Kihika in the last election. He has returned to join the elected leaders in criticizing his successor for the raid and takeover of the hospital.
Chebor, Mutai and Tonui have been vocal against Kihika’s leadership style, accusing her of giving the Kalenjin community a raw deal during the formation of her cabinet.
The leaders argued that the community had voted for her and it was therefore a slap in the face for Kihika to appoint only two members of the community into her cabinet.
Since the 2013 elections, there has been a political arrangement between members of the Kikuyu and Kalenjin communities in the county over sharing positions. The deal was brokered by then President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto, who came up with the plan to foster peace and unity among the two communities after the 2007/2008 post-election violence.
The deal that was to ensure peaceful co-existence among the two communities stated that the Kikuyu would produce a governor, the Kalenjin a deputy governor and four members of the county executive.
Kihika’s predecessors had each appointed four members of the Kalenjin community to their cabinets.
Former governors Kinyanjui and Kinuthia Mbugua found themselves at the centre of the Kalenjin community-driven politics over the allocation of resources and appointments into the devolved government.
The community had solidly rallied behind Mr Mbugua, the inaugural governor in the 2013 elections only to turn against him in favour of Kinyanjui in 2017.
Kinyanjui suffered the same fate when members of the Kalenjin community overwhelmingly voted against him in favour of Kihika.
Ngunjiri, who has had a love-hate relationship with Kihika, says he refused to back her candidature because he was sceptical about her leadership.
“I had foreseen this kind of problem with the governor. I refused to support her but when the President and UDA party prevailed upon me, I decided to back her. Now she has created problems for the people of Nakuru,” Ngunjiri said.
Kihika has remained firm saying she cannot be distracted from her development agenda.
“The people who elected me expect me to fulfill my campaign pledges by delivering quality services to them, not to engage in empty talk and sideshows. Most of the electorates appreciate what my administration is doing,” she said during her recent meetings to distribute bursaries to students across the county, adding she has initiated numerous development projects.
Kihika says her opponents are only out to divide people along ethnic lines for their selfish ends.
“I have no time for ethnic-based politics. My agenda is to unite all the people in the county and ensure equitable distribution of resources and efficient service delivery,” she said adding that the War Memorial Hospital issue is already being handled by the court.
At the same time, Ms Kihika said her administration would not allow private individuals to fraudulently acquire public land.
Kihika says her administration has opened a new chapter in recovering illegally acquired property through structured negotiation.
She says there is a need for decisive action to end what she termed the bad culture of land-grabbing to ensure that economic activities in the county are not grounded.
Analysts say what is happening in Nakuru was not unexpected. The region has always had high-octane politics since independence.
“Even before independence, there was radical white settler politics. Nakuru has a radical history. It has been like this since independence,” says Gitile Naituli, a professor of management and leadership.
He observes that te people of Nakuru stand out because of their outspokenness. “That makes the place a favourite hunting ground for politicians,” says Naituli, the former National Cohesion and Integration Commission commissioner, attributing this to the fact that a majority of the inhabitants are Mau Mau descendants who trace their roots to Central Kenya.
“These are mainly immigrants whose forefathers resisted the British rule and the collaborators. They settled in the area after they were displaced. They came here because they had problems where they were or they were kicked out,” he says
Besides being a hotbed of settler politics, Nakuru remained important after independence because it was the political base of presidents Jomo Kenyatta and Daniel Moi, both of whom owned huge tracks of land in the county.
Kenyatta spent a lot of his time in Nakuru being entertained by Nyankinyua dancers.
During Moi’s 24-year rule, he met delegations from various parts of the country at Nakuru State House and his Kabarak home.