COSMOPOLITAN

How Nakuru is shaping national politics

With over one million voters, the county is not just a stopover, it's where pronouncements are made

In Summary

• It was where the Jubilee Alliance was birthed in 2013, bringing together Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto.

• It also produced political juggernauts; leaders never shy from making their voices heard even if they offend those in power.

ODM leader Raila Odinga with Governor Lee Kinyanjui in Nakuru on August 17.
NAKURU MAGNET ODM leader Raila Odinga with Governor Lee Kinyanjui in Nakuru on August 17.
Image: EMMANUEL WANSON

In April 2016, Nakuru’s Afraha Stadium hosted a thanksgiving rally after the ICC terminated crimes against humanity cases against President Uhuru Kenyatta and DP William Ruto.

Though they were not acquitted, the cases collapsed as witnesses recanted or disappeared.

Later in December, the duo returned to the stadium where The National Alliance (TNA) and United Republican Party (URP) merged to form the Jubilee Party ahead of the 2017 general election.

It was the same venue where the Jubilee coalition that brought together The President and DP was birthed earlier in 2013.

Nakuru county, population 2.1 million and a million registered voters, has remained key in national politics. Major pronouncements are made there and some call the cosmopolitan county Kenya's political bedrock

It has also produced political surges and leaders never shy from letting their voices be heard, even if they offend the powers that be.

They include the likes of former Nakuru North MP Dickson Kihika Kimani (deceased) and former Subukia MP Koigi wa Wamwere, among others.

Bahati MPs Kimani Ngunjiri and Senator Susan Kihika have carried on the legacy—they are vocal, articulate, brave and never shy of controversies.

Nakuru Governor Lee Kinyanjui has been a rather laid-back politician devoid of controversy but of late he has metamorphosed, taking his critics head-on, not afraid to speak his mind.

His leading role in promoting Mt Kenya unity has made him a force to reckon with. For those seeking Nakuru's backing, Kinyanjui is the gateway to the people of Nakuru.

And as Kenya heads to the 2022 polls, Nakuru is set to play a major role; various leaders are already scrambling for a piece of Nakuru.

All major 2022 presidential hopefuls have made Nakuru one of the most-visited counties, after Central,

DP Ruto has made several trips to Nakuru, part of his Rift Valley bastion.

He enjoys a substantive following in the county with vocal foot soldiers both online and off. Other candidates will be working hard to woo voters in the vote-rich county.

Ruto's advances in the county have encountered roadblocks, however, as Kinyanjui has publicly endorsed ODM leader Raila Odinga for the top job.

Kinyanjui, who is a close ally of the President and supporter of the handshake, has assailed Ruto’s bottom-up economic model and questioned his source of wealth.

Former Prime Minister Raila Odinga, supported by the President, has made his presence felt in Nakuru. He has been there three times in two months. 

In August, Kinyajui hosted Raila as he launched a blueprint for his 2022 presidential bid.

Raila disclosed a roadmap for his race to State House, a campaign known as Azimio la Umoja, which was backed by senior Mt Kenya politicians.

In September, Raila visited Nakuru twice as he attended the burial of the Founder of Mololine Services in Elburgon.

A week later, he was at Elementaita where he met leaders of Akorino churches from around the country.

Raila clearly has made headway. Kinyanjui said he might vote for the ODM boss in 2022.

One Kenya Alliance principal Musalia Mudavadi also visited the county several times to sell his 2022 Agenda. Kinyanjui hosted him for two days.

He toured development projects and returned in September for a series of roadshow campaigns through  Mwisho wa Lami, Njoro, and Kaptembwo He attended a church service in Gilgil.

In June, Mudavadi met local leaders and opinion shapers, including businessmen and political leaders.

Other visitors to Nakuru include another Oka principal Kalonzo Musyoka of Wiper, MCC leader Alfred Mutua and businessman and ODM presidential aspirant Jimi Wanjigi.

With more than a million registered voters, cosmopolitan Nakuru is one of the biggest vote baskets. The population includes Kikuyus, Kalenjins, Kisiis, Luhyas, Luos, Kambas and Maasais.

Thus, Nakuru is a magnet for politicians from various parties seeking a share of the vote.

Governor Kinyanjui said Nakuru has been the launching pad for political pronouncements due to its cosmopolitan nature, which makes politicians feel at home.

During an interview with a local TV station, Kinyanjui said, however, that after all is said and done, Nakuru is left behind in running of government.

Those elected to lead the government, those who benefited from Nakuru's votes, forget about it.

“We are there during campaigns and we want to be there when the government is being formed," Kinyanjui said.

"So we want to change the equation and say whatever the permutation we might have, Nakuru must be there."

John Ituge Kahura, secretary general of the Farmers Party, concurs, saying Nakuru's cosmopolitan nature makes it attractive to different parties and ethnic groups.

“Many politicians feel at home in Nakuru county, it’s a form of therapy,” Kahure said.

The Nakuru governor's contest is a tight race between UDA's presumptive candidate Kihika, a Ruto ally, and Kinyanjui who supports the handshake.

(Edited by V. Graham)