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KIKUYUS’ GEMA GAMES

Cat and mouse games behind Kibaki

Published on June 21, 2008, 12:00 am

By Gakuu Mathenge

Central Kenya’s political cat and mouse games from the Kenyatta era are replaying themselves right behind President Kibaki’s back and 2012 is the push button.

When Mzee Jomo Kenyatta’s demise became imminent, largely due to poor health and old age, it set off pawing and clawing among Central politicians. Today as the clock tick towards the end of Kibaki’s second and final term, succession games are not just simmering. Battle lines are shaping up between some of the President’s trusted lieutenants in the Cabinet.

President Kibaki with Justice minister Ms Martha Karua. She was recently picked as the Narc-Kenya chairperson. She has been quoted saying that the party will go it alone in any elections. Picture: File

They include Kanu chairman and Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta, who is said to be strategising on taking over Kibaki’s 2007’s vehicle to State House — Party of National Unity — to compensate for his shrunken control of Kanu.

Uhuru supported Kibaki last year and he expects the region would reciprocate by handing him the mantle when he retires.

There is also Justice Minister Martha Karua, who has declared her name will be on the ballot in 2012. After losing deputy premiership, having come so close given her vicious defense of Kibaki and role in the mediation, she took over Narc-Kenya’s leadership. It is expected she has found a home and the eye is on the calendar.

Internal Security Minister and former Vice-President George Saitoti, representing a constituency in the Rift Valley, but with partial roots traceable to the Mount Kenya region, is also in the war room plotting the plunge. It is said he could be working on how to jump into the controls of Kibaki’s campaign vehicle in 1992 and 1997 — Democratic Party of Kenya. Saitoti has publicly declared interest in the presidency after Kibaki, but other than operating within Narc-Kenya, he has not shown interest in another union.

Speculation is also rife the Meru may decide to have a try through its senior most politician, Energy Minister Kiraitu Murungi. This would be against the backdrop of claims, as expressed last month during a New Gema (Gikuyu, Embu, Meru Association) meeting, that their cousins have never reciprocated their support.

It is in this mix that another flank has opened up in the region, outside Uhuru’s, Karua’s and Saitoti’s political orbit. Some seasoned politicians are flogging the sleeping giant, Gema, to as a platform to mediate what is likely to turn into a vicious tussle with the potential of fragmenting the political bloc.

It believed Uhuru’s appointment, as DPM was Kibaki’s plot to put him ahead of the pack. But before he could celebrate, Karua, announced her name would be on the ballot come 2012, and went for Narc-Kenya, which prides itself as the one with the most number of seats in the PNU constellation.

She was shortly installed as interim chairperson, pending elections in November.

Karua and her supporters make no secret of their feelings she was unfairly sidestepped in the DPM appointment.

Immediately Karua assumed Narc-Kenya’s chair, her former comrades in the flower party, former Finance Minister David Mwiraria, former Mathira MP Nderitu Gachagua and Assistant Minister Mwangi Kiunjuri announced acquisition of the Grand National Union.

Narc-Kenya’s silent tussle could come out next weekend when the party holds a convention in Naivasha. Prof Saitoti, an experienced politician has been in Government in 1983. He is wealthy, stealthy even wily.

Woo other communities

In between are the images of Central in Kenyatta’s days. With Kenyatta frail and aging, Central politicians built and changed alliances. Then, as now, it was clear a winning strategy would have to be crafted as vehicle to woo other communities.

The challenge then, for those who wanted to influence the succession plot, was either to line up behind Kenyatta’s then Vice-President, former President Moi, who was the constitutional heir apparent. One could also join the change-the-constitution movement, a Gema tool to change the law to bar the VP from automatically taking over for 90 days if the President died in office.

Kanu, the only political party then, was split between those who preferred the clause remained, led by then Finance Minister and current President, and the then Attorney General Charles Njonjo.

Leading the charge on the other side was Dr Njoroge Mungai, then Foreign Affairs Minister and Dagorreti MP. The Moi-Kibaki-Njonjo strategy included roping in the support of the Luo. The linkman was former Agriculture Minister Odongo Omamo.

The Mungai group worked with Mzee Jaramogi Oginga, who had fallen out with the Moi group in the 1960s. The two main battle fronts for the two sides fighting to succeed Kenyatta, was the ruling party, Kanu, and several ethnic welfare groups, among them Gema, Luo Union, Akamba Union under Paul Ngei, Maasai United Front of the later Stanley Oloitiptip, among others.

The restive political bloc today is also motivated by search for the post-Kibaki leadership, the bridge that would be the face of Central in a coalition of convenience. He or she could also be the presidential flag bearer.

Narc-Kenya’s presumed hold on central Kenya has since been challenged by emergence of the Grand National Union, a party that was registered late last year. It is being propagated by Kiunjuri as party leader and Gachagua, as secretary general and Mwiraria, as patron. The name of Ndia MP Njeru Githae, also features in GNU.

However, the picture of who is in what faction, and emerging outfits, could be clearer when Narc-Kenya holds its national convention next weekend. The party’s organising secretary, Assistant Minister Danson Mungatana, said the party would use the convention to launch its documents, among them election rules, manifesto and recruitment criteria. It will later roll out its election schedule.

The effect of losing young and energetic supporters like Gachagua, Kinjuri and Githae is yet to be seen, but it poses perception problems in the region. Besides that it splinters the youth vote.

Gachagua was among a small group of Narc-Kenya insiders who stopped the party’s polls even after returning officers and election materials had been deployed. His argument then was that the poll would split the party in an election year while adding no value at all to Kibaki’s re-election campaign.

Asked what the new party, Kiunjuri said the youth had been let down by major parties led by old politicians.

“It is time to curve out a youth agenda, that we can take to the negotiating table and stake demands. The existing parties keep away young people from leadership by charging hefty fees before one can run for Parliament and civic leadership. The Constitution says you cannot vie for presidency until you are 35. In Grand National Union, candidates for any position, who are aged between 18-35 will not be required to pay any fees,” he said

The Central region, Kiunjuri says, has the highest number of unemployed youths, who have been marginalised and criminalised as members of Mungiki.

“Most of the problems the region faces arise from absence of serious political leadership. We want to build a party that people will join because of its policies and not just because a tribal chieftain is the leader.”

Gema’s leadership

He argued the other parties have no policies because they only come out in electioneering. GNU, he promised, will make specific demands on behalf of its members.

Kinjuri adds the party is developing the concept of super-delegates, party members who are not necessarily involved in politics, “but will help the party make decisions and develop policies”.

Gachagua says the party intends to get involved in the ongoing discourse of constitutional review and succession debate.

“We will be pressing for the correction of the gerrymandering that Kanu did, to promote the principle of proportional representation in Parliament. Central Kenya is among regions severely under-represented in Parliament,” Gachagua said.

Gema’s picked two senior clerics, Bishop Lawi Imathiu of the Methodist Church and retired Anglican Bishop, the Reverend Peter Njenga, to oversee the rebirth. Gema supporters however insist it is not a political party but a platform to discuss issues of regional importance. They deny charges it is out to re-invent old players to continue wielding influence over public affairs from outside Parliament and political parties.

The name of the last of Gema chairman and former Defence Minister Njenga Karume, also features in the rebirth. He spoke at the inaugural meeting at the Kenya Methodist University in Meru last month. But Karume says while he supports regional unity, he is no longer interested in Gema’s leadership.

“During its heyday, with over 14,000 members, Gema was very involving and I tried to step down on several occasions. I am in no position to lead a busy public organisation now. A younger person should do it. Perhaps I can just be the patron,” he said.

Gema revival met with some hostility, especially by elected leaders from Embu, Meru and Mbeere, who accuse their Central Province cousins of having shortchanged them in sharing of the properties of old Gema.

But Karume says nothing could be further from the truth.

“Anyone who says some Gema members were shortchanged speaks from ignorance. Gema as a welfare association also had an investment arm called Gema Holdings Limited. We bought land properties for members among other investments. But only those who bought shares could claim any proceeds from the investments. We settled over 10,000 shareholders on land we bought in Naivasha and Laikipia,” Karume revealed.

Karume, however, says the region was entitled to seek political unity just like other regions and communities and would support such efforts.

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About SG

Secretary general of Chama Cha Mwananchi. This blog www.chamachamwananchi.wordpress.com, is based in Sweden.

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