• Kalonzo presented a different prospect for Ukambani politics.
• A lawyer and diplomat, he was embraced by the people without question and seen as a possible president in the future.
For many years, the late statesman Mulu Mutisya reigned supreme as the de facto prefect for the Ukambani region in national politics. His great relationship with former President Daniel Moi outweighed his lack of education, propelling him to unbridled control in Ukambani; he retained it. President Moi, as his predecessor Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, unfailingly esteemed loyalty and rewarded it. For Mulu he had a dove’s devotion.
During the Kenyatta and partly the Moi eras, freedom idol Paul Ngei had been the undisputed liege of the Ukambani expanse. Mulu displaced Ngei after the latter was declared bankrupt, banished from the Cabinet by Moi and replaced as the Kanu branch chairman in 1991. Mulu remained at the helm until he had groomed Kalonzo Musyoka and immersed him in national leadership as a Cabinet Minister in Moi’s government. Finally, Kalonzo stepped into his shoes.
Kalonzo presented a different prospect for Ukambani politics. A lawyer and diplomat, the informal transition was seamless.
At no given juncture did Mulu Mutisya ever express any desire for the top seat, even though he was in leadership during the single-party rule, and although Paul Ngei had formed African People’s party, he didn’t have the wherewithal and national political clout required. It was a non-starter.
Kalonzo has surpassed the political achievements of Paul Ngei and Mulu Mutisya in that, besides becoming Vice President, he has given the community the best shot at the presidency.
Charity Ngilu, now Kitui governor, gave it a valiant shot in 2002 through SDP but hers was an unsubstantial effort. Primarily, she was up against tribal chieftains from other more vote-rich communities.
Her endorsement by a cabal of political friends (from outside Ukambani) was out of enthusiasm and a presupposition that Kenyans would warm up to a female candidate It came a cropper. It is also a no-brainer that most Kenyan communities are yet to consider that the time for a female president has come.
Kalonzo, albeit being as crafty as Mulu, has employed a different political style. Whereas Mulu was a generous man who often held meetings to deliver ‘blessings’ from President Moi — essentially cash handouts — Kalonzo is considered a miser but has led for almost two decades.
HARD TO DETHRONE
Kalonzo is also very economical with political truth and instead elects to speak less but rather strategise and implement his dictates stealthily but resolutely.
He might seem detached at times from the goings-on in his bedrock so that many of his political enemies or frenemies may consider him easy to dethrone, yet whenever they have tried, they have awkwardly failed.
The year 2007 was perhaps was the most opportune moment for Kalonzo to become president. The splinter group from President Kibaki’s ruling coalition was keen to settle on a compromise candidate, whom a good number expected to be Kalonzo, until Raila unscrupulously torpedoed him, as is acknowledged widely.
Nevertheless, Kalonzo was able to wrest control of ODM-K and to further grow it as the party of choice in Ukambani as Kenya grew deeply anthropologically alienated politically.
Whereas Dr Alfred Mutua, the governor of Machakos, has expressed determination to be president, he has not presented Kalonzo with a material challenge. After making his name as the spokesman for Kibaki’s coalition government, Dr Mutua, through the endorsement of Kalonzo and adoption into the Wiper Party, successfully contested the 2013 polls to become the first governor of Machakos.
He would rapidly grow popular among residents and Kenyans during his first term, ostensibly because he was implementing tangible development in Ukambani with his Maedeleo Chap Chap mantra. However, he broke ranks with Kalonzo when he became an ardent supporter of President Uhuru Kenyatta, making it clear that he was making necessary partnerships with ‘likeminded people’ for development. He regained the governorship in 2017 but his influence is said to be dwindling as many residents blame him for corruption and lack of tangible development. Indeed, only the courts rescued him from losing to Wavinya Ndeti in a rerun.
LANDSCAPE HAS MORPHED
Of course, the devolved government has effectively divided Kenya’s regional political landscapes into separate centres of power. In contrast with pre-devolution days, today we have numerous politicians in Ukambani now who wish to use their positions as launching pads for top leadership. Some say Ms Ngilu remains interested and so is Prof Kivutha Kibwana of Makueni.
There is absolutely no love lost between the constitutional lawyer and ethnic supremo Kalonzo Musyoka. This apparently started with the latter’s endorsement of the handshake, which Kibwana believes was devoid of sensible negotiation for any tangible benefit for Ukambani. Whereas Kibwana has never declared his interest in the presidency, indeed, it is the people who appear to be pushing him in this direction based on noticeable development he is implementing in Makueni.
Despite having served as an adviser to President Kibaki in matters of constitutional law, it is not a given that Kivutha would command any following beyond Ukambani, or if he would appeal to the masses if he ever did officially contest.
In May this year, Dr Mutua, Kibwana and Ngilu entered what they called the Southern Kenya Economic Bloc trade agreement that ‘would fight poverty in Ukambani’ by enabling their three counties to trade among themselves. It is unclear what benefit this will deliver but they all have on many occasions expressed their displeasure with Kalonzo’s manner of politics. It remains to be seen if either of them would get the support of the others for the top seat.
The general elections of 2017 were dramatic in Ukambani. Former Machakos Senator Johnson Muthama, a firebrand politician and tycoon, had a vicious disagreement with Kalonzo. He firmly held that as the seniormost leader in the county, Kalonzo should have left him to alone decide who became governor of Machakos. On the other hand, Kalonzo believed that was his perquisite. Kalonzo preferred Wavinya Ndeti, Muthama preferred Bernard Kiala (Mutua’s former deputy governor).
Kalonzo and Muthama were key players in the National Super Alliance (Nasa)and their duel was worrisome for Ukambani folks; their exchanges were unrestrained, their tackles solid and ruthless and until after the elections the two did not see eye to eye. Kalonzo at one point alleged that Muthama did not want him to be Nasa's presidential candidate but was for Raila, but the genesis was the scramble for Machakos. Muthama opted out of contesting for Senator, which Machakos residents still decry.
Kalonzo and Muthama have had differences but in dire circumstances, they have always come together with some believing that the two always work to ‘auction’ the community to the highest bidder in elections. It is not clear if Kalonzo still supports Raila, but Muthama is rumoured to be gravitating towards Deputy President Ruto’s camp. He's unhappy with the handshake due to its composition.
Whereas the people of Ukambani always believed that Muthama mainly funded the party, Kalonzo was ready to have Muthama quit the party, presenting him as dispensable and a rabble-rouser. Muthama was fervently against Kalonzo’s strategy of giving Kibwana and Ms Ndeti direct Wiper nomination tickets and was said to be behind court cases to fight Wavinya, besides undertaking an extensive campaign to thwart her candidature. In 2013, when Kalonzo had fronted Mutua, Muthama supported Wavinya who lost. Mutua bizarrely won the tightly contested 2017 election and went on to retain his seat after a marathon court battle.
Consequently, the nominations of 2017 were fundamentally a blot on Kalonzo’s previously collective leadership in Ukambani. There was strong dissent as many contestants across the board felt aggrieved and defections from Wiper were numerous. Even before this, the elections of 2013 had also presented Kalonzo with the quandary of county governments he could not control. A key example was Makueni where MCAs fought their first governor throughout his first term. As it stands now, they parted ways with Kalonzo, detaching his party from Kibwana’s Muungano.
By suggesting that the presidential term limit be extended, Kalonzo may have given the people of Ukambani a different political attitude. Although many trusted that Kalonzo was right to play second fiddle to Raila in Nasa, they still have retained hope that the day might dawn when it was realistic for him to not only contest but also to win the presidency.
Although President Uhuru Kenyatta is a likeable figure in Ukambani, Kalonzo’s endorsement rather brings back memories of his (Kalonzo's) fly-by-night manner. In 2013, Kalonzo abruptly left Jubilee once it was clear that he wasn’t going to be the presidential candidate and it is possible that Uhuru takes his word with a pinch of salt. It is possible that many who have been loyal to Kalonzo may move on or become indifferent to him in the future, especially if there are other appealing options.
SONKO BOMBS THE REGION
Kalonzo may not have been the first prominent politician from Ukambani to emerge with the idea of extending presidential term limits. One of Uhuru’s most zealous and unapologetic supporters is Mike Mbuvi Sonko, the governor of Nairobi and also a Kamba. Whereas Kalonzo’s validation of Uhuru may have emanated from a subdued and fiddly situation, Sonko has always been Uhuru’s ally. Sonko’s rural home is right on the Mua hills, prominent as one heads to Machakos from Nairobi.
Sonko, unlike Dr Mutua and others, is not Kalonzo-made and his respect for Kalonzo is out of choice. Originally, Sonko, a populist and hard-tackling politician, was a strong believer and unregretful preacher that stability and development in Kenya will be achievable if Uhuru continues at the helm for a few more years. He is a different prospect from folks who have opposed Kalonzo before.
He succeeded where no other politician from Ukambani had; diving into the murky politics of Kenya’s capital city of Nairobi; contesting successfully for Parliament, the first Senator and Governor of Nairobi. He is considered benevolent in real terms, commanding the support of the masses in Nairobi and beyond, helping many poor families mainly through education and medical treatment over the years.
The people of Ukambani, have salivated for this brand of leadership in which dire needs are addressed instantly. Widespread sentiment in Ukambani references selfish leaders who are out of touch with the people, but Sonko speaks and delivers.
Whereas Sonko may not wish to be at loggerheads with Kalonzo, this may ultimately happen. From 2018 he has been making forays in the region assisting the poor in various ways and has already had run-ins with Kibwana. Just what does Sonkowant in Ukambani?
During the run-up to the 2017 elections, Muthama had wanted to plan a meeting at his Komarock ranch that would bring together all leaders from Ukambani, supposedly to 'dissect issues that affected the community', but Kalonzo opposed this due to their differences in Machakos and also because he wanted to downscale Muthama politically.
This meeting was later held after Jubilee formed the new government as Kalonzo scrambled to retain control of Ukambani and Muthama or any other leader came in handy. In attendance, Sonko offered to fund other meetings but at different locations in Ukambani, possibly slighting Muthama who has always fashioned himself as the funder of the community’s affairs.
Sonko is embraced now across Ukambani as he delivers goodies as he preaches the Wanjiku gospel making people reminisce about the Mulu Mutisya times. This is a sharp contrast with when he suffered a cold reception on October 26, 2017, at a polling station in Machakos town when unfriendly youths forced him to cut short his mission of ‘peace’.
Sonko is daring and an exceptional mobiliser. Besides Kibwana, Dr Mutua is already fighting back, an indicator that populist Sonko is already having an impact and so the coming months will be interesting times for the politics of Ukambani.