April 27th 2017

Top Stories / 2017 Elections

Using leverage in CORD, Kambas seek lost glory in Nairobi politics

The politician's shift to Nairobi is part of a new effort by Kamba leaders to revive their historical role in Nairobi, where Kambas went head-to-head with Luos, Kikuyus and Luyias. At independence, the fiery J.D Kali, an ally of Jaramogi, won the Embakasi seat (then called Nairobi East).

By Phillip MuleeThursday, 15 Dec 2016 13:09 EAT

CORD co-principals Raila Odinga and Kalonzo Musyoka at the Wiper Party National Delegates Congress on Tuesday. (Photo: Free Press Correspondent).

CORD leader Raila Odinga's long time political ally John Kiema has shifted his political base from Makueni County to Nairobi. The politician, who for years tried to capture the Kibwezi parliamentary seat, has launched his campaign for the Lang’ata seat in Nairobi in what he and other Kamba activists project as part of the community's effort to increase their presence in the capital. The Kamba are one of the top four tribes in Nairobi by voter numbers, but, from a peak in the 60s, their representation has lagged compared to the Kikuyu, Luo and Luyia groups.

The ODM member has disseminated campaign materials including calendars and says he is all set to face others for the seat in the forthcoming polls. A Facebook post announcing Mr Kiema's intention sparked a vibrant debate among his supporters, primarily those from Kibwezi and the larger Kamba community who demanded explanation for the candidate's change of political base. Mr Kiema wrote curtly: "We (the Kamba community) need seats in Nairobi and Mombasa. Kibwezi will always elect a Kamba”.

The Lang’ata seat is currently held by Joash Olum also of ODM, whom Mr Kiema would face during the party’s nominations. Mr Kiema has had close ties with the Odinga family for decades and has tried to capture the Kibwezi seat since 1992 onset of multiparty politics. That year, Mr Kiema, running on the Ford-Kenya party of Mr Odinga's father, lost to Mrs Agnes Ndetei on the DP ticket.

He ran again in 1997, this time on Mr Odinga's National Development Party ticket, and lost to Mr Onesmus Mboko of SDP. In 2002, he lost to Mr Richard Kalembe Ndile of NARC. In 2007, the seat was captured by Professor Philip Kaloki on ODM-K ticket. In the 2013 general elections, the larger Kibwezi constituency was split into two Kibwezi East and Kibwezi West, currently held by Jessica Mbalu (Wiper Democratic Movement-Kenya) and Patrick Musimba (Independent) respectively. Mr Kiema had contested in Kibwezi West, on the ODM ticket.

Between his running for elective office, Mr Kiema served in 1997 as the executive director of Mr Odinga's party, NDP, which the latter had founded following his resignation from Ford-Kenya of his father. When NDP merged with Kanu in 2002, he was appointed by Mr Odinga to various coalition committees. 

The politician's shift to Nairobi is part of a new effort by Kamba leaders to revive their historical role in Nairobi, where Kambas competed for elected office alongside Luos, Kikuyus and later Luyias. At independence, the fiery J.D Kali, an ally of Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, won the Embakasi parliamentary seat (then called Nairobi East), and Kambas held sizable civic seats. Samuel Kivuitu won the Parklands (Westlands) seat in 1969.

However, the founding president Jomo Kenyatta's control of Kanu meant that elections were increasingly controlled, and following the 1974 elections all electoral seats in Nairobi were held by politicians from his Central Kenya backyard. The Kambas were to remain in the shadows until the restoration of multiparty politics in 1992, when Geroge Nthenge won the Kamukinji parliamentary seat. The only second Kamba politician to win parliamentary seat since 1992 was Mike Sonko in Makadara in the 2010 by-election.

As the Kenya Free Press reported exclusively in September, Kamba leaders feel they can leverage their numbers in CORD coalition by pushing candidates for selected parliamentary seats. The Wiper party is keen to have its supporters win Embakasi South, Embakasi East, Embakasi West and Embakasi Central as well as Makadara and Lang'ata.

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