October 23rd 2017

Top Stories / 2017 Elections

Kalonzo’s grip on Ukambani firm as Charity Ngilu, Alfred Mutua fade into oblivion

While Ngilu has pumped substantial resources into her campaign, she is beset by questions at major campaign stops for her to clarify whether her party is in Jubilee or the CORD coalition.

By Free Press Reporternewsdesk@kenyafreepress.comTuesday, 06 Sep 2016 20:55 EAT

Former Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka presiding over the launch of CCTV Africa in Nairobi in January 2012. (Photo: Allan Muturi/Kenya Free Press)

The launch of Maendeleo Chap Chap, the party being fronted by Machakos Governor Alfred Mutua, was expected to sweep a new storm in Ukambani. However, two weeks down the line, Mutua's party has gained little traction in Ukambani where its promoters thought it would emerge as an alternative force to the Wiper Party led by Musyoka.

Events of the last fortnight indicate that Mutua's launch of the party may be helping Musyoka, whose stature has been rising in the region since 2013, contrary to predictions by pundits that Musyoka would face the roughest waters in his long political career.

As conventional wisdom went, the 2017 election would be a difficult one for Musyoka, who for the first time in his career would be managing campaigns from outside of government. Until the 2013 election, Musyoka had been either a government backbencher, cabinet minister or vice president.

In addition to finding himself in unfamiliar opposition territory, Musyoka was expected to manouver a transformed political landscape in which devolution created new power centres. Ukambani region had seen three governors, none of whom owed their political fortunes to Musyoka.

Egged on by government finction keen to cut Musyoka down to size, Mutua showed from early on that Musyoka was his opponent and not mentor. Makueni Governor Kivutha Kibwana, long known for his independent streak, had won against Musyoka's preferred candidate for the seat. In Kitui, Julius Malombe was considered a political greenhorn who would not help Musyoka much.

To Musyoka's good fortune, this unfortunate array of governors was countermanded by the election of astute senators who were also unquestionably loyal to his political cause if not necessarily to him as a person. 

But, as fate would have it, Makueni's Mutula Kilonzo died with a month of being sworn under very controversial circumstances. His family and political supporters from CORD believe foul play in his death, which the government has stubornly refused to address by suppressing the postmortem results.

The Kitui senator, David Musila, moved closer to the Jubilee government against Musyoka's wishes. While he is now firmly back in Wiper fold, Musila was swayed by the consistent Jubilee propaganda about CORD being a moribund political force.

This left only Johnstone Muthama, a firebrand on the national stage who many upstart politicians in his backyard consider to be too unsteady. A number of the young Ukambani MPs detest Mutua's influence over Musyoka and have wasted no opportunity to undermine him.

The foregoing circumstances engendered a perfect storm against the Musyoka political machine in Ukambani. The entire Jubilee leadership moved in to cash on Musyoka's dwindling fortunes. President Uhuru Kenyatta once traveled all the way to Machakos to preside over the opening of public toilets built by the county government.

Fast forward to September 2016 and things could never have turned out so wrongly for Mutua. The governor has lost most of the initial bubble he enjoyed. He is entangled in corruption cases, and the administration he runs is riddled with nepotism.

The Machakos county government is also among the most disharmonious. The governor doesn’t see eye-to-eye with his deputy Bernard Kiala. He has sacked a number of county executives after fallouts over corruption and alleged dictatorship. And a number of the development projects he launched with great fanfare years ago are yet to take off the ground.

The governor's initial work, such as building a People’s Park that gave Machakos recognition throughout the country, have been dented with corruption claims. His alliance with Jubilee, which was deemed an asset in days gone by, has given him the tag of a traitor.

As Mutua stumbled, other events went Musyoka's way. Mutula’s son, Mutula Junior, who succeeded the father in a tough by-election has emerged as a firm supporter of Musyoka. Governor Malombe has remained a neutral actor in the divisive Musyoka-Mutua fights, showing no political interest beyond Kitui.

Malombe's current goal is to win re-election, for which only Musyoka stands in his way. Senator Musila is currently engaged in a vicious fight to unseat Malombe, but pundits say Musila's fortunes depend to a great degree on potential support of Musyoka, his long-time ally.

In Makueni, Governor Kibwana, one of the most effective governors, has done commendable developmental work with the least media or political buzz. Makueni's healthcare system has been so revamped that during the recent strike by doctors of Machakos, many of the region's patients sought services from health centres in Makueni.

Having remained above the fray of local politics in Ukambani, Musyoka will share in successes of the Kitui and Makueni governors while admonishing Mutua's failures. However, not everyone supports this view. MPs who were elected on non-Wiper tickets remain critical of Musyoka.

Yatta MP Francis Mwangangi (who won on Kibwana’s Muungano party), says that the only unity card that will be easy to sell to the people this time round is that of asking them to join the government. “It will be very difficult now for anybody to rally the community towards the opposition yet we have an experience of how tough five years outside government can be,” said Mwangangi.

Machakos Town MP Victor Munyaka, a former ally of Musyoka’s who won re-election on the little-known Chama Cha Uzalendo ticket, believes he was rigged out at the instigation of Senator Muthama.

The MP holds that Wiper Party is undemocratic and dictatorial. “Being the biggest party in the region, there are those who feel they own it and have always been used to rig out ‘un-preferred candidates’. All they do is to entertain sycophants,” Munyaka told this writer.

Munyaka insists that Musyoka's future will be doomed unless he can restrain Senator Muthama whom Munyaka alleges to be fighting ambitious MPs. “Some of us were openly rigged out in the party nominations and I am afraid that the same will recur in 2017 if the party does not tame senator Muthama,” said Munyaka.

The MP for Mwala, Vincent Musyoka, holds the same line of thought. He said the coming election will test the Kamba unity. He accused the senator of openly undermining all other elected leaders in the region in the name of defending the community.

What has been surprising is that these MPs, who helped energize Mutua in his early battles against Musyoka, have disparaged the Maendeleo Chap Chap Movement. Two of them have openly said that the region's political rebels would better join Jubilee than "directionless outfits like Maendeleo Chap Chap."

Unlike Mutua, who is hoping for re-election, the MPs recognise that their chances will be limited if they join Jubilee and are keen to join the ruling coalition for any spoils they can get in the interim. The benefits that Jubilee supporters can accrue is evident in the fortunes of former MP Philip Kaloki, who after losing Makueni senatorial by-election TNA ticket was appointed chairman of Kenya Medical Training College.

Despite the MPs' accusations against Muthama, the senator has played a crucial role in Musyoka's rising influence in the region and nationally. Unlike Musyoka, Muthama is a politician with clear views and has endeared himself to the national CORD blocs. He is seen by peers as grooming a leadership like that of the other major communities, where junior leaders are expected to take stands with either government or opposition rather than moonlighting with both.

It is Muthama's campaigned against those MPs seen as moonlighting with Jubilee that has earned him the enmity of not only the young Ukambani MPs but even some seasoned politicians like Musila who has since mended fences with Musyoka and is running for the Kitui governorship.

Muthama is emphatic that Kamba unity is valid only with Musyoka as the leader. “I have heard some young leaders saying we can’t unite behind individuals. Political unity is nurtured behind a candidate and for us that candidate is Musyoka,” Muthama said.

He said that much of the hate he has attracted from some local leaders was because he has been firm that Wiper and CORD in general will not allow itself to be used by people who only want to ride on its influence.

“I have said and will continue to repeat that we as Wiper and CORD as a whole, we do not want to unite with any persons or parties that only intend to use our name to get elected,” the senator said.

Muthama’s ally Kelly Mutua, who is a former councilor now serving as the Wiper Coordinator in Machakos County, defended Senator Muthama saying that many accusations peddled on him have just been out of hate. “Muthama’s voice reverberates across the country. It is only those leaders who were hoping to use the party to achieve ulterior motives,” he said.

Political realignments are underway in Ukambani with most of the leaders who rushed to Jubilee after 2013 now trooping back to CORD. Last month, former Kathiani MP Wavinya Ndeti, who is the leader of the CCU party, rescinded the party’s relationship with Jubilee.

The party joined Jubilee in 2013 and its MPs have allied themselves with the ruling coalition. However, such is the grassroots support for CORD that anyone supporting Jubilee now realizes that their chances of re-election are slim.

It is not surprising that Governor Mutua, who was linked to Jubilee for years, decided to form his own party rather than defect to the ruling coalition. In Kitui, former powerful minister Charity Ngilu who once threatened Musyoka’s political base is running a low-key campaign for governorship.

While Ngilu has pumped substantial resources into her campaign, she is beset by questions at major campaign stops for her to clarify whether her party is in Jubilee or the CORD coalition. She has been unable to choose a side till now, hoping that the fight between incumbent Malombe and Senator Musila will sour the CORD base in the county and enable her pose as an independent-minded leader.

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