August 19th 2017

Top Stories / 2017 Elections

Uhuru, Raila in tough battle for Narok, Maasai vote

Last Friday, the cold war in Jubilee came to the open when Tunai ‘welcomed’ his opponent Ntutu and former PS John Konchellah and former Internal Security Minister Julius Sunkuli to the Jubilee Party.

By Free Press Reporternewsdesk@kenyafreepress.comTuesday, 11 Oct 2016 19:22 EAT

President Uhuru: 'Dust to dust' at Ntimama's burial in Narok last month. (Photo: Courtesy/The President's Facebook page)

The scuffle between President Uhuru Kenyatta and CORD leader Raila Odinga at the burial of former Maasai political supremo William ole Ntimama underlined a fierce battle between the two for the Narok County and Maasai community’s vote in the 2017 elections. The Kenya Free Press can authoritatively reveal that President Uhuru had initially not planned to attend the late Ntimama’s burial, having committed to officiate at the launch of United Nations Sustainable Development Goals on that day.

However, a night before the burial, intelligence reports reached the president indicating Mr Odinga would use the burial as a launch pad of his campaign to regain the Maasai community vote, which he lost to the president in 2013 elections and where his fortunes were dwindling following the late Ntimama’s defection from ODM.

Specifically, a source in the know about the last-minute changes said, the president was informed of a meeting Mr Odinga was to hold with local elders and business leaders in Narok Town before the burial that would catalyse opposition speeches at the funeral. While not committed to Mr Odinga, several high level Maasai contacts were known to be ambivalent to Jubilee, owing to perceived marginalisation in Narok and Kajiado counties, and corruption in Narok to which Jubilee leaders have shown indifference despite repeated protestations by Jubilee MPs and MCAs.

It was then decided that President Uhuru should attend the burial personally, a change that conflicted with crucial plans he had made for weeks, including presiding over the launch of UN-SDGs, a successor of the millennium development goals for which Kenya served as the focal point in the Horn of Africa, and a trip that evening to attend the United Nations General Assembly in New York City and visit to Canada. The UN-SDGs was eventually presided over by Devolution cabinet secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri. However, the president’s trip to the U.S. hinged on his leaving Narok in good time to freshen up and take a long flight through the Middle East, which was never to be.

The interior minister Joseph Nkaissery got the mantle to guide the funeral programme with instructions to give CORD leaders as little airtime as possible. Nkaissery, with the help of the Ntimama family, which was suspicious of what Mr Odinga might say at the funeral, resolved that no CORD leader other than Mr Odinga would be allowed to address the mourners, and the former prime minister himself should limited to three minutes and urged to restrain from discussing politics.

As it happened, the script went awry. The salvo that broke protocol came not from CORD but the Anglican Church of Kenya (ACK) Archbishop Jackson Ole Sapit, who accused the Jubilee administration of burying Maasai land injustices under the carpet. The CORD leaders subsequently trampled on the set time arrangements to the president’s chagrin. When Mr Odinga was invited to speak, he veered from the script by giving the microphone to Musalia Mudavadi, Moses Wetangula and Kalonzo Musyoka, who, as expected, delivered punchy lines on land and Ntimama’s reputation as an independent politician.

By the time Mr Odinga took over, the mourners were well prepared for his tough rhetoric on the implementation of the TJRC report. Unbeknown to many Kenyans, the issues of land and TJRC have divided Narok politicians into two camps. The first is the popular but as yet headless camp of those who believe the Maasai have got a raw deal on land because current leaders are compromised.

The second is the Narok establishment, including the governor, the senator and a number of MPs who, as is traditional in Narok politics, have the backing of traditional rulers or firm patronage of the national elites. The differences have become sharper since Ntimama’s burial. For while he was collaborating with Jubilee, Ntimama was also recognized as the foremost champion of Maasai land rights, a patriach who, since his electoral loss, was seen as above petty party divides.

This divide on land has complicated campaigns for the Narok gubernatorial campaigns, with incumbent governor Samuel Tunai and senator Stephen Ntutu forced into the Jubilee camp despite their irreconcillable differences on local issues. Narok West MP Patrick Ntutu, who is senator Ntutu’s younger brother, will battle Tunai for the seat from Jubilee side while former ICT PS Joseph Tiampati will fly the CORD flag.

Like the Ntutus, Tiampati is from a Maasai establishment family of his own but has figured out that, as an ally of Mr Odinga’s, he can play the land question and revive the traditional spark of Maasai politics that some expected to die with Ntimama. As proxies of national titans, Tunai, Ntutu and Tiampati are preparing for a battle royale which will be influenced only minimally by the support of the seven Maasai clans which have historically decided the direction of politics here. Tunai, an ally of deputy president William Ruto, enjoys the support of the Kipsigis minority whose swing vote is decisive and is expected to win the Jubilee nomination.

However, Ntutu, who doesn't get along with CORD leaders, has struck an independent relationship with President Uhuru, whom he recently praised profusely and asked to ensure that the two Jubilee leaders (Uhuru and Ruto) have no preferred candidate at the party nomination stage. Ntutu has kept his options close to the chest in the event Tunai wins the ticket, insisting that he would be on the ballot box in 2017 given the incumbent’s “unforgivable failures”. While clan is key, national dynamics that will be decisive in the race, hence the effort by Uhuru and Raila to create a narrative for the community and expropriate Ntimama’s goodwill.

Ntutu and Tiampati belong to the populous Purko clan which inhabits Narok North, Narok South and Narok West while Tunai hails from the minority Siria , which lives mainly in Kilgoris constituency. Ntutu has earned the support of his brother senator, Narok Women Representative Soipan Kudate and Emurua Dikirr MP Johana Ng’eno. Tunai has the support of his fellow Siria member, Kilgoris MP Gideon Konchellah, Narok South MP Korei Lemein and Narok East MP Ken Kiloku. Tiampati has been closer to the fiery Narok North MP Moitalel Kenta, who is expected to defect to ODM ahead of the elections.

As a Kipsigis, Ng’eno is positioning himself to be Ntutu’s running mate. DP Ruto has expressed his disapproval of this game plan, hence his enmity with the youthful MP. Just a week before the late Ntimama’s death, Ng’eno accompanied Ntimama and senator Ntutu to State House Nairobi where the president was said to have endorsed their line-up.

As the Kenya Free Press exclusively reported in May, senator Ntutu will retire from active politics in 2017 and will back former PS John Konchellah for the senate seat. Completing the alliance is Ntimama’s daughter Lydia Ntimama who will contest the women representative seat. The alliance has no space for Tunai, thereby complicating DP Ruto’s ability to maintain his grip on Narok politics. According to a top member of the alliance, president Uhuru has assured the group of his support, recognizing the baggage Tunai carries with questions surrounding procurement in the Narok administration.

Like Tunai, the Ntutus were elected on Mr Ruto’s United Republican Party ticket but their intention to decamp means URP wing of Jubilee now can bank only on Tunai. Ntutu’s allies say they would decamp to Kanu or Bomet governor Isaac Ruto’s Chama Cha Mashinani in case Jubilee Party nominations are 'rigged' in Tunai's favour. On his part, Tiampati, who many believed was cheated of victory by Governor Tunai in 2013 and hence his reward with a government appointment, has adopted radical posture, attacking corruption, landgrabbing and the alleged domination of Tunai’s administration by non-Maasais.

While the power-sharing among the president's allies is remarkably clear, the CORD/Tiampati camp has not identified its candidates for the deputy governorship, women represetative and senatorial seats, perhaps in anticipation of a fallout in the Jubilee camp. Even for parliamentary seats, only Moitalel Kenta's position is clear. Mr Odinga has seemed preoccupied with winning Jubilee defectors, receiving three delegations in the last three months. Both camps are seeking to use Narok as an entry point to the larger Maasai vote.

In the meantime, the cold war in Jubilee grows with each passing day. Last Friday, Tunai ‘welcomed’ his opponent Ntutu and former PS John Konchellah and former Internal Security Minister Julius Sunkuli to the Jubilee Party, perhaps an indication of the superior role he plays in the party. Sharing a podium with Sunkuli and Konchellah during a fundraiser at the Kilgoris Boys National School, Tunai tried to assure the three leaders that Jubilee nominations would be free and fair.

“I am very happy to hear that Ntutu, Konchellah and Sunkuli have vowed to stick with the Jubilee Party to the end, let us compete fairly for the various seats and be ready to support the winners so that Jubilee Party can form the next government with  majority seats in the Governorship, Senate, National Assembly and County Assemblies,’’ said Tunai.

However, his opponents are keeping their party options a well guarded secret.

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