ELECTION 2022

Sympathy for underdog, vote top dog

The Kikuyu sympathise with the underdog, but usually vote for the top dog.

In Summary
  • The Kikuyu vote for stakes and candidates who can secure their interests.
  • There are new and old debts. But these won’t matter until the Kikuyu know their stakes in pre-2022 alliances.

Cynics of Kikuyu voting patterns tend to judge Central Kenya’s electoral choices too harshly. They sympathise with the underdog, but usually vote for the top dog. This is a universal response to potential winners and losers. The community has always had a top dog to win its votes, and underdogs to bag its sympathy. The Kikuyu vote for stakes and candidates who can secure their interests.

This mindset thrived during Founding President Jomo Kenyatta’s 15 years in State House. It was the era of patronage. Proximity to state power was, and still is, itself an asset for the president-producing community.

The value judgment about Kikuyu voting trends, however, misses the context of such decisions, especially during 1992, 1997, 2002, 2007, 2013, and 2017 general elections. The claim that the Kikuyu always vote for one of their own is an extra-contextual fact.     

The lynch opinion ignores the fact that other communities also tend to vote for their own. The Kamba electorate cheered Kalonzo Musyoka during his abortive presidential run in 2007. The former Vice President quit the losing lane when he realised community vote could not and cannot win a presidential race.

Kijana Wamalwa also understood coalition-building after he lost the 1997 presidential race. He had the Bukusu and a sprinkling of other Luhya groups cheering him. He anchored his Ford Kenya party to Charity Ngilu’s party, and Mwai Kibaki’s DP to build a winning coalition in 2002.

Wannabe presidential candidates know how to lose elections. Some enter the race merely to add a 'former presidential candidate' to their CVs. Some get in to spite the top dog.

Central Kenya has always had bankable presidential candidates. Sympathy alone doesn’t determine how they vote. The late Mukaru Ng’ang’a, a former detainee, returned from exile as a sympathy candidate, but without national clout. The university lecturer got 1,111 of 1,209,054 registered votes from what was then Central province. Kenneth Matiba got 60 per cent of the votes, against Kibaki’s 35.

Wannabe presidential candidates know how to lose elections. Some enter the race merely to add a 'former presidential candidate' to their CVs. Some get in to spite the top dog.

Matiba, a former detainee, garnered more than sympathy. He had a higher possibility of rescuing the House of Mumbi from the stranglehold of the Moi regime. Moi had excluded the Kikuyu from the centre. Moi’s Kanu won because Central was divided. Moi won again in 1997 because the opposition was divided. He also had state largesse to donate and the system.

These lessons informed coalition-building in 2002. The opposition supported Kibaki. He won most of the Kikuyu votes, even though Uhuru Kenyatta, then a Moi project, was also a Kikuyu. Sentiments about the son of Old Jomo were deferred. The community had a chance, through Kibaki, to reclaim power after 24 years of the exclusivist Nyayo regime.

The Kikuyu voted for Uhuru instead of Peter Kenneth and Martha Karua in 2013. Karua joined the race in 2013 to spite Uhuru, then a top dog. Karua also had sympathy for helping Kibaki secure a controversial second term in 2007, but she could not rally community and national vote. Sympathy for her fell below the threshold.

The ICC cases hanging over Old Jomo’s son made Kenyatta II a top sympathy candidate. But he also had greater promise than Kenneth and Karua to secure the interests of the Kikuyu. Uhuru’s TNA coalition with William Ruto’s URP raised the possibility of another Kenyatta occupying State House. The Kibaki system backed the alliance of the ICC suspects.

The 2022 general election presents a challenge: The Kikuyu have no strong presidential candidate of their own to back. Their presidential stock is depleted for the moment.

This places Central Kenya electorate between a rock and a hard place. But they have to resolve the history-induced dilemma. There is Ruto, who supported Uhuru in 2013 and 2017 to consider. The DP’s attempts to raid the President’s turf without the blessing of his boss has dried up Jubilee’s glue. DP’s defiant 2022 presidential campaigns add tear to the Jubilee split.

Then there is Raila Odinga, whose father Jaramogi Oginga Odinga supported Old Jomo in 1963. Raila returned power to the House of Mumbi in 2002, when he declared ‘Kibaki Tosha!’ Raila has also made it possible for Uhuru to wobble through his second term after the ambition-induced UhuRuto falling-out.

There are new and old debts. But these won’t matter until the Kikuyu know their stakes in pre-2022 alliances. They will sympathise with the underdog, but will vote for the top dog to secure their interests.