MOUNTAIN PEOPLE

‘Big river’ takes unusual course

For the first time, Mt Kenya has no presidential aspirant who can rally national support.

In Summary
  • Like the seductive bride of the Waruguru metaphor, the Mountain will deploy its numbers to book a place in the next government.
  • They won’t gamble. They won’t admit a struggler as a bridegroom.

The ‘big river cannot flow into a smaller one’ imagery of the Moi succession is a seductive bride in the Uhuru succession. The Kikuyu had reason to claim the big river posturing in 2002.

The voting bloc still reserves the right to play the hard-to-get bride in 2022. The imagery comes with more than three decades of power in the House of Mumbi, and a sense of entitlement.

Just before the 2002 general election, outgoing President Moi had declared Uhuru Kenyatta, then a low-ranking party functionary, Kanu’s presidential candidate. Party honchos, feeling sidelined, fled with more than half the weight of the ruling formation.

 

Kanu rebels, then Vice President George Saitoti, party secretary general Raila Odinga, Kalonzo Musyoka, Maasai leader William ole Ntimama, and former VP Moody Awori, among others, regrouped under the Liberal Democratic Party.

The revving and raging LDP joined the National Alliance of Kenya at a historic rally in Uhuru Park to found the ‘Unbwogable’ National Rainbow Coalition. Raila declared ‘Kibaki Tosha’ two months before the election. The rubber had hit the road, with a sense of urgency for a new beginning. Moi, initially regarded as a passing cloud, had lorded it over them for 24 years.

The people of the Mountain will have to decide before 2022, this time with the ball on the other foot. The change of roles makes Mt Kenya region restless. For the first time since Independence, they have no presidential aspirant who can rally national support. The big river must chart a new, if unfamiliar, course. The seductive bride has to find a suitor who offers the highest bride price.  But the size of the dowry alone won’t attract the belle.

The suitor must come with a capacity to rally national support. A force big enough to secure the interests of the Gema communities in a post-Uhuru dispensation.

Now, Uhuru does not have leverage like Old Moi to impose a project. If he is a student of history, he would not even contemplate it. But the president would have to bet on a winning horse to secure the interests of the Mountain. He would also be recognising other presidential possibilities outside Rift Valley and Central. The two regions will have held the presidency for 60 years by 2022, when Uhuru’s tenure expires.

Throughout 2001 and during the first 10 months of 2002, NAK, the political formation that counted Kibaki as its senior-most member, had a hard time deciding on its presidential candidate.

The alliance had Charity Ngilu and then Saboti MP Kijana Wamalwa. Kibaki was the logical torchbearer, but it wasn’t a given. His party, DP, was arguably the largest ticket of the three, but that alone did not make Kibaki NAK’s automatic presidential candidate.

Ngilu, wanted a second go after the 1997 failed attempt. Her gender, in the estimation of her supporters, gave her an edge, but the gentlemen around her were not persuaded. She had her party< SDP, but that was not all that mattered. Wamalwa, then making a second go for the top job, had his party, Ford Kenya.

 

There was another reason DP, SDP, and Ford-K could not agree on a candidate. There was the relative weight of the ethnic numbers Kibaki, Wamalwa, and Ngilu were bringing on board. Ngilu was expected to rally the Kamba vote. Wamalwa would rally the Bukusu, with no guarantee the larger Luhya would play ball. Kibaki had Gema communities behind his third bid for president. Kibaki was, in word and deed, the leader of the big river.

The big river imagery was contemptuous, but it was realistic then as it is now, nearly two decades later. A bigger river, it was said then, does not flow into a small one. Kibaki could not give way to Ngilu or Wamalwa. His moneyed backers were conscious of their numbers. They were also ready to finance the Kibaki campaign against Uhuru, then under Moi’s tutelage.

Now, Uhuru does not have leverage like Old Moi to impose a project. If he is a student of history, he would not even contemplate it. But the president would have to bet on a winning horse to secure the interests of the Mountain. He would also be recognising other presidential possibilities outside Rift Valley and Central. The two regions will have held the presidency for 60 years by 2022, when Uhuru’s tenure expires.

Like the seductive bride of the Waruguru metaphor, the Mountain will deploy its numbers to book a place in the next government. They won’t gamble. They won’t admit a struggler as a bridegroom.

This is the message in Cate Waruguru’s trending video after 50 MPs from the Mountain region met last month to plot their place in the Uhuru succession matrix.