Gema makes a comeback
Published on May 31, 2008, 12:00 am
By Saturday Standard Team
Two key developments that could redefine Kenya’s political landscape, especially in the post-Kibaki era, are unfolding in Central Province.
The first is the return of the blood union of Mount Kenya communities — Gikuyu, Embu and Meru Association. After two-and-half decades of silence, the political and religious class from the Gema community converge today at the Kenya Methodist University, Meru, to discuss the Central region’s future and leadership. The instrumental union during Mzee Jomo Kenyatta’s reign was among the tribal organisations former President Moi outlawed in 1980.
Secondly, Narc-Kenya party marks her second anniversary on Tuesday and Justice minister Ms Martha Karua, who has declared interest in the presidency, is poised to take over as the chairperson.
Karua is set to replace former Foreign minister Mr Raphael Tuju, who was beaten in last year’s election but is now one of President Kibaki’s formal advisers.
Narc-Kenya’s Organising Secretary and Medical Services Assistant minister Mr Danson Mungatana said he expects Karua to take over from Tuju. He said by virtue of being a civil servant, Tuju cannot continue being the party’s chairman or hold a political position.
Also to be replaced is former Cabinet minister Prof Kivutha Kibwana, the party’s vice-chairman, who was also appointed presidential adviser. If Karua is elevated to lead the party — a key partner in the president’s Party of National Unity — she would have stepped right into the silent battle in region to take over the leadership mantle from President Kibaki, who is serving his last term.
Touted as having come close to clinch the Deputy Prime Minister’s post which went to Kanu chairman Mr Uhuru Kenyatta, Karua would stand at par with the both the DPM and Internal Security minister Prof George Saitoti. The Internal Security minister hails from the Rift Valley but his political roots run deep in Central Kenya because of his mixed ethnic heritage. Karua was Narc-Kenya’s choice for DPM.
Top on the agenda in the Gema meeting in Meru would be the regional leadership scramble as well as how to stem the perception the communities was facing isolation from the rest of the country.
The resettlement of internal refugees in the Rift Valley, and the contentious debate on negotiation with members of the outlawed Mungiki sect will also feature in the meeting which former and current MPs and ministers from the region will attend.
Generational succession in the region’s political leadership is also expected to feature, with ‘aging’ and ‘washed-out’ leaders being asked to take up their place in retirement by making way for their sons and daughters.
The region bears the dubious reputation of having the highest age profile among the powerful political class. Many of whom served under President Kenyatta in the 1960s and 1970s. “These grandfathers still view Kenya the way it was during the Kenyatta era when spotting grey hair alone commanded respect,’’ said a source who requested anonymity because of fear of political reprisal should it look like he is rebelling against President Kibaki.
He added: “Their instance to hang onto leadership is against the community’s custom and traditions. They are a major source of our divisions,” another source said.
Several initiatives discussing Gema’s political agenda and future have been going on and the Meru meeting is expected to harmonise their activities.
The current MPs have been holding meetings under the auspices of the Central Parliamentary Group (CPG) under the chairmanship of the Mathira MP Mr Ephraim Maina.
The former MPs’ forum features among others former Naivasha MP and assistant minister, Mrs Jayne Kihara, former Kiambaa MP, Mr Njenga Karume. Maragwa MP Mr Elias Mbau has been linkman for the two groups.
Industrialist-cum-politician Mr Peter Kuguru, has also been leading his own group, Mega, whose agenda is not different.
Serving and retired prominent leaders led by retired Anglican Bishop, Peter Njenga, have also been involved in the initiatives.
Political agenda for 2012-basically revolves around the question whether the region, which has given Kenya two of the country’s three presidents so far, should have a try after Kibaki. “The agenda is unity around a political party that is to be identified, and whether the region should field a candidate or back a candidate from another party in a negotiated alliance,” said a CPG member. The voting patterns in last year’s election was also a wake up call to the region’s political leadership, when Gema communities stood alone, almost to a man, in voting for President Kibaki’s re-election, while the rest of the country went in the opposite direction.
The sobering spectre of a possible total isolation was made more traumatic by the post election violence that largely targeted members of the community in the Rift Valley.
Opinion is, however, divided as to who was responsible for this isolation, with wealthy and elderly members of the so-called Council of Elders taking most of the flak.
They are perceived to have ring-fenced Kibaki from the rest of the country for most of the first term, a blunder that nearly cost him a second term despite good performance on most fronts, especially the economy.
Grudges from these divisions have spilled into the current efforts to find political unity, with Kiambaa MP Mr Njenga Karume being accused of hankering to recapture his Gema leadership during the Meru conference.
Sources said that Karume would be ferrying delegates to Meru to secure a majority should election become necessary.
A press conference scheduled for yesterday at a Nairobi hotel ahead of the meeting was called off in the last minute. Former Gatundu MP, Mr Moses Muhia, was scheduled to address the press conference.
“We are aware of these machinations. These old men do not want to retire… Members of CPG are concerned the search for unity efforts should not be led by serving or former politicians but a businessman or a religious leader. Politicians will only perpetuate the divisions and simply reduce Gema into nyumba ya wazee (a home for grey haired grand fathers),” said another source.
The meeting will also discuss the political rivalry between Karua and Uhuru and what it portends for the province. During a meeting of the Central Kenya Parliamentary Group (CPG), three weeks ago in Nairobi, it was agreed that the region forges a united political platform. The meeting was attended by record 45 MPs.
Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka is also likely to feature at the Meru conference as a possible Gema candidate for the 2012, especially having thrown his weight behind Kibaki at his weakest moment last year. His case has however been floated by a few politicians and wider consultations will have to take place.
As chairman of Narc-Kenya, Karua will be representing her party at the PNU council that is chaired by President Kibaki. Mungatana said Narc-Kenya will be two years old on June 3 and will mark the day by holding celebrations at the party’s headquarters in Nairobi.
He said the celebrations would be marked by deep reflections on the party’s performance in the last General Election and projection of the future.
He says had the party gone on its own during the elections, it would have managed up to 80 MPs.
Mungatana says the party is deeply wounded after President Kibaki abandoned it and formed PNU. “We should have done better if President Kibaki had not changed parties at the last minute. The advice did not fly because most PNU affiliates did not make much of a difference,’’ he added.
“We were very angry. We did not get a single nominated MP. Ford-Kenya that has only four MPs got a slot. The other slot we had laid claim to went to Ms Maison Leshomo, who nobody knew,’’ said Mungatana.
Mungatana says Kanu has 16 MPs while Narc- Kenya has 29, including those like Karua and Saitoti who went through PNU but have remained faithful to their mother party.
He recalls how Narc-Kenya was born and the success it has achieved within a short time. Shortly after the party was launched during a colourful ceremony at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre (KICC) grounds on June 3, 2006, it faced five by-elections and returned with three seats.
The by-elections were occasioned by the Marsabit plane crash that claimed five MPs and nine other people. Narc-Kenya took the North Horr, Saku and Nakuru Town parliamentary seats.
The party had started asserting her authority and was considered a strong contender in the last general elections as it commanded a following of more than 80 MPs in the Ninth Parliament.