What is Gema up to?
By Alex Ndegwa
Facing accusations of lukewarm support for the Proposed Constitution and lack of a clear Kibaki succession strategy, Central Kenya leaders united under Gema to chart a way forward. Top on the agenda of caucus — dubbed Central Kenya Referendum Forum — was charting a new political course for the electorate during the August 4 referendum and subsequently the 2012 presidential elections.
Majority MPs from the Mt Kenya region attended the Limuru meeting, which was chaired by the meeting’s co-conveners, retired Arch-bishop David Gitari and the Gikuyu, Embu, Meru Association (Gema) chairman Lawi Imathiu. Also in attendance were Rift Valley and Nairobi MPs who trace their roots to the region.
Leaders agreed to support and rally support for the proposed constitution as it “favoured” them politically and economically. Speakers cautioned the region’s leaders against gambling with the region’s political future by creating disharmony and disunity through competing interests.
Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta, who was put to task over his flagging leadership, told the meeting that they should unite and strive to gain parliamentary majority in 2012 to avoid the challenges President Kibaki faced “when he won the 2007 election”.
He said Kibaki won the Presidential poll, which was challenged because his Party of National Unity (PNU) performed miserably in the parliamentary poll. The Central Kenya MPs admitted that the ‘Yes’ campaign had failed to pick momentum in the region because of lack of proper leadership from Uhuru.
And the DPM took the challenge positively and promised to lead the Yes campaign “from the front” during the meeting at which the ambivalence of Central Kenya’s top leadership on the Proposed Constitution came under scrutiny.
The question of who takes over when President Kibaki’s term ends in two years has dogged political leaders, even as opinion polls show Prime Minister Raila Odinga as the favourite. Uhuru, whose first attempt for the Presidency as a Kanu project failed, is seeking to reposition himself, and the question has been: will he be second time lucky?
Also gunning for the presidency from the region is Gichugu MP Martha Karua who skipped the forum.
Yesterday, the leaders unanimously agreed that the region could no longer afford the discordant voices at a defining moment for the country.
But from the outset, the more than 1,500 delegates confronted the elephant in the room: Suspicion that some of their leaders were preaching ‘Yes’ by day but ‘No’ by night.
Initial speakers told the audience — which included ministers, Assistant ministers, MPs, civic leaders, religious leaders and top businessmen — that before settling down to business, it was important to assure that the so-called “watermelons” were not in their midst. In a no-holds-barred address, Tourism Assistant minister Cecily Mbarire said the failure by the region’s leaders to provide leadership was to blame for the unenthusiastic reception of the ‘Yes’ campaign in Central Kenya.
“I will speak frankly as a woman. You have failed us. You must now start leading from the front,” Mbarire told Uhuru, who sat at the front alongside Cabinet ministers Kiraitu Murungi and Amos Kimunya. Absent at the meeting without apology were Jamleck Kamau (Kigumo), Peter Mwathi (Limuru) and Mithika Linturi (Igembe) who are in the ‘No’ camp, Mutava Musyimi and Environment Minister John Michuki.
Mbarire blamed the wishy-washy attitude by the top leadership for the apparent failure of the ‘Yes’ campaigns to gain a foothold in Central Kenya. She claimed MPs Jamleck Kamau, Peter Mwathi and Mithika Linturi had moved to the ‘No’ camp because of the apparent lack of leadership.
The Runyenjes MP asked Uhuru to talk to them so that they return to the fold. Mbarire said she was disappointed that Agriculture Minister William, Ruto of the ‘No’ camp, appeared to have made inroads in championing the rejection of the draft.
Mathira MP Ephraim Maina, in an apparent reference to the headway made by Ruto, said the Eldoret North MP should not be blamed because he had rallied his people behind the ‘No’ cause.
“We are our own enemies. We should not blame him. He has rallied his people behind him while we are still divided,” said Maina, the chairman of the Central Kenya Parliamentary Association. He alluded that some people appeared to have taken a back seat in the referendum campaigns, motivated by the 2012 succession politics calculations, but he warned that “if you are not with us now don’t expect us to back you then.”
Prompted by the persistent demands that the region was crying for leadership, the master of ceremonies Dr Stephen Karau explained that the programme would be adjusted so Uhuru responds to the calls first, before a scheduled civic education session.
The hall erupted in rapturous applause and waving of green miniature flags branded ‘Yes’ when Uhuru said: “The unity of our people is important and equally important is that of the leaders. Kiraitu and I will now lead from the front and not from behind as it has been claimed.”
During a media briefing at the close of the meeting, Karau told journalists that the forum had mandated Uhuru to lead the region’s push for the Proposed Constitution.
Uhuru had recalled the tough Naivasha PSC retreat during which a pure presidential system, scrapping of regions and inclusion of a fair system of representation was arrived at.
He said these demands were at the heart of the PNU negotiating team, which was concerned with provisions of a parliamentary system and regional governments contained in the initial Committee of Experts (CoE) draft. The delegates had wondered how Raila’s ODM, which had lost out on its demands in Naivasha, had embraced the Proposed Constitution while PNU, that apparently got its way, extended lukewarm support.
Uhuru said the Limuru meeting marked a beginning of other similar consultations, adding that it was unfair that Gema meetings raised eyebrows.
“We should be proud of ourselves. Why is it that when Central Kenya people meet it causes ripples yet others meet freely? This is just the beginning we will be holding many more meetings,” Uhuru said to loud cheers. Kiraitu likened the push for the proposed constitution to the struggle for freedom and land.
Also in attendance were the Njuri Ncheke Meru council of elders. Its chairman addressed the gathering.
After the meeting, former Kiambaa MP Karume, who is also the Gema patron, said the ‘Yes’ secretariat should be re-energised.
Gitari and Imathiu emphasised the need for the region to wholeheartedly support the Proposed Constitution. In a communiquÈ read to the media, Gitari said the meeting had resolved that all leaders work together to champion the region’s interests.
Another resolution called for the intensification of ‘Yes’ campaigns through regional rallies to complement the national campaigns.