• This is an election that may see Kalonzo take the gloves off, or allow or direct his lieutenants to do so.
• He will be keen to prevail in Machakos as this can mean he will not be considered at the negotiating table when Uhuru’s successor and the running mate are sought
Wiper party unveiled Agnes Kavindu, the ex-wife of fiery Ukambani politician and former Machakos Senator Johnson Muthama, as its candidate in Senate by-election in the county.
On the other hand, Muthama Ngengele — no relation to Johnson Muthama — became the candidate for the United Democratic Alliance party. UDA is linked to Deputy President William Ruto.
Muthama is the chairman of the young party that rebranded from People’s Democratic Party. This is a match-up that is likely to redefine the politics of not only Machakos, not only Ukambani, but also national politics - seriously.
A member of the Building Bridges Initiative team put together by President Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga in 2018, Kavindu has also been an evangelist. She unsuccessfully battled for the Woman Representative seat, losing to the soft spoken Kamene Makumbi.
At the 2017 polls, Kavindu was sponsored by the Jubilee Party, while Wiper supported Kamene.
Kavindu is famous mostly for the last name she carried, that of Muthama. She was divorced by the senator in 1983, and he recently won a court case negating her supposed claims she had remarried him. In effect, she cannot make any claim to the mining guru’s economic empire.
Ngengele hails from Mwala subcounty of Machakos and has not held an elective position, having unsuccessfully vied for Mwala parliamentary seat, where he lost resoundingly to Vincent Musyoka of Maendeleo Chap Chap. Ngengele is said to have been an insurance broker and his wealth is not known to be significant.
If the Kavindu gamble boomerangs, Kalonzo might suffer permanent political damage.
Many in Ukambani see Kalonzo as the embodiment of the community’s ambitions for the presidency. Undeniably, he has done well to this end as he became second in command during Mwai Kibaki’s government of 2008-13. The larger part of his community must still believe in his potential.
He has always been able to sit at the table where big decisions are made. Recently, he held a meeting with ANC's Musalia Mudavadi and Ford Kenya's Moses Wetang'ula with whom he is said to be working to build a coalition for 2022.
President Uhuru Kenyatta has also been working with him in the region, sending him as an envoy to South Sudan and other states in Eastern Africa.
Machakos Governor Alfred Mutua and Makueni Governor Kivutha Kibwana have expressed their interest in Uhuru’s seat and effectively the control of Ukambani politics.
Kalonzo, however, remains unshakeable as the regional kingpin. He brought in Kibwana into Wiper in 2017, on whose seat he defended his county seat, only to turn against him after taking office.
Kalonzo in 2013 also supported Mutua in his Machakos governor bid. He is the ultimate mentor in Ukambani politics. Sometimes his leadership comes into question, especially in development. Kalonzo can defend himself because he was right at the centre of efforts to create a new constitution that anchored devolution.
A recent video showed Kalonzo taking journalists on a tour of Mwingi Central where he showed a source of water he said he installed. He has been on a mission to defeat the attacks that he is not development-conscious.
Kalonzo will be keen to prevail in Machakos as this can mean he will not be considered at the negotiating table when Uhuru’s successor and the running mate are sought or whether BBI is passed or not.
The former VP is said to have been asked by Uhuru and Ruto what he was 'bringing to the table"during the formation of Jubilee. He ended up in the opposition with Raila Odinga.
Losing the clash in Machakos would mean his political clout is gone and in the building of coalitions for 2022, he may find it a rough ride. Besides, the mockery aimed at Raila after ODM's loss in Msambweni will be turned on Kalonzo.
It may be a great gamble to have chosen Kavindu as his preferred candidate and some will see it at a crude way of hitting the groin of his political ally-turned adversary.
Others, sympathetic to Kavindu, may see it as the right thing to do, as she is said to have been 'ostracised from her matrimonial home'. Many may see her as the ‘victim’ in that sense.
Ruto's entry into Ukambani is a new force against Kalonzo, added to Muthama.
While Muthama has fought Kalonzo with local allies, he now has Ruto in a new national dimension. Muthama’s war on Kalonzo in 2017, when they were all supporting Raila in NASA, was simply defeatist and weird. It was in bad taste to their Ukambani bloc.
However, Kalonzo had the advantage and Muthama was like a man kicking inside a balloon and he came out the bruised one, devoid of his position in the senate and on the periphery of decision-making in top politics.
On the one hand, Ngengele’s handlers — Ruto and Muthama — are wealthy. Although Muthama is not known to splash his money, Ruto is the actual owner of UDA and has proven to have no problem with giving freely.
If the DP can give tens of millions to churches, for instance, why would he hesitate to do it to build political spine? At an event in Makueni in October of 2020, Muthama bragged that, while people said he joined Ruto for the money, he is indeed better-off than Ruto.
Either way, this is an opportunity for Ruto to sink his roots deeper in Ukambani, and he will not shy from injecting substantial resources to win Machakos.
On the other hand, Kalonzo is not known for spending in campaigns. He exercises his anointing power effectively in the three counties of Ukambani and people listen to him. He always wins most of the seats across the expanse.
Kalonzo is a tactical politician with a powerful network in Ukambani so that when he choses to go it alone for the presidency in 2007, the Ukambani bloc backed him, which helped hi become VP. If he wishes to run a well-oiled campaign, he will not find it difficult to do so.
KAVINDU CAN WIN, BUT SO CAN NGENGELE
This will be down to the nitty-gritty of planning and execution. Crude verbal attacks against Kavindu by UDA crusaders may build her chances instead of deconstructing her, if her approach is focused on the work she will do for the people.
This may not have the same impact of the Wiper camp hitting Muthama below the belt. The harder Kalonzo hits, the more support he might get as some people have at times censured him for not being bold enough.
This is an election that may see Kalonzo take the gloves off, or allow or direct his lieutenants to do so. Kalonzo has enough arsenal with the likes of Mutula Kilonzo Jr, who recently boldly told Ruto Ukambani does not need handouts.
Kitui Senator Enock Wambua took on Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria at late Senator Boniface Kabaka’s funeral, telling him that his advice was not needed and that it could do better for Gatundu, after the latter said there was a leadership void in Ukambani.
Ngengele may as well opt to run a clean campaign based on what he can do for Machakos. However, this is not likely, bearing in mind the nature of politics Muthama runs because he is a hard hitter even in national politics.
While Muthama is comparable to Mike Tyson who goes in heavy, Kalonzo can be likened to Mayweather who ducks and lands a punch occasionally. Ruto is Muthama’s ilk.