The twin meetings of rival teams of aspirants from Mt Kenya region at Nairobi’s Kasarani Sports Stadium and Sweetwaters Tented Camp in Nanyuki sets the stage for a titanic battle over which camp assumes the front row in President Uhuru Kenyatta’s re-election.
The resurgence of independent candidates riding on a grievance narrative that last month’s Jubilee Party primaries were manipulated to impose a crop of leaders preferred by as yet unnamed forces has caused concern in the camp of those running on the ruling party’s ticket.
The fear is that if the narrative gains traction, coupled with a string of court decisions overturning party primaries, the Jubilee candidates’ campaigns will be bogged down by the perception that they benefited from a flawed process.
It is a narrative they are keen to counter by labelling the independents “sour losers”.
By calling a meeting at Kasarani on Saturday, the independent aspirants group appears to have seized the initiative, with part of their resolution being to engage the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission over the recruitment of presiding officers to oversee the General Election, among other things.
The second strategy of the independent movement to publicly name Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri and Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria, as having been among the Trojan horses used by unnamed “powerful forces” to manipulate the Jubilee primaries, was viewed as a clever way of sending an oblique message to Deputy President William Ruto — whose 2022 succession strategy is thought to be already at play.
Mr George Nyanja, chairman of the coordinating committee of the group, told the Nation: “When I called the first planning meeting, many of our colleagues were nervous to speak and be associated with this group. They did not believe we could go public and stand up for what we believed in, especially those of us from Kiambu County. But now they have found their voices and are talking openly. A lot of interesting things are coming out. Wait until we start going round to the grassroots. From Kasarani, we are going to the people”
During a planning meeting of the independent candidates last weekend, Kiambu Governor William Kabogo, who has disputed his loss to Kabete MP Ferdinand Waititu, said: “We are going to publicly call out Mr Kiunjuri and Mr Moses Kuria and tell their masters to call off their attack dogs. Mr Kiunjuri must be told that a country is not run on proverbs and pointed shoes,” Mr Kabogo said.
Mr Kiunjuri, however, told the Nation this week that he played no role in the primaries and had not indicated any ambitions to be Mr Ruto’s running mate in 2022.
“I was not involved in any way in the nominations. I am a member of the Cabinet and my duty is to proclaim government policies and achievements. The losers should carry their own crosses,” he said on Monday.
The interim secretary of the group, Tetu MP Ndungu Githinji, called on the independents to stick together and not underestimate their opponents’ resolve to impose a crop of leaders who would be used to influence the region’s politics.
“It is important that we stick together, walk together, and speak in one voice. Otherwise we will all be taken out one by one to hang separately,” he said.
Sources within the independents group questioned the integrity of the new ballot papers after the initial Jubilee primaries flopped.
They were said to have been printed at a State agency under the supervision of a few politicians.
Although the independent group has said it will embrace all independent candidates from across the country who support President Kenyatta’s re-election, it was apparent Jubilee aspirants from Mt Kenya region were not taking them lightly.
An organiser of the Nanyuki meeting said: “the independent movement has quickly organised, set structures and mobilised funds to launch itself ahead of us” because they are “angry and energised”.
“People need to meet to decide how to run the campaign, otherwise the independents can overrun the Jubilee candidates if left unchecked,” the source said.
But Jubilee candidates, he said, were also in a dilemma on how to treat opponents from “friendly” parties that had endorsed President Kenyatta. These include PNU, Narc Kenya, Maendeleo Chap Chap, Kanu and Democratic Party.
He boasted that DP was the oldest political outfit that had remained intact since the re-introduction of multi-party politics and it “had proved it was not a special purpose vehicle that dies after elections”.
Deputy party leader Wilfred Machage told the President that DP candidates equally expected support in return for their vote-hunting efforts. “Chungu kilichopikiwa hakikosi ukoko” (an old pot is never without food scraps),” he said.
Under pressure to reassure them of support after the President had left, DP chairman Esau Kioni told the aspirants that negotiations were at an advanced stage but had not been concluded.
On Thursday, PNU Secretary General John Anunda told the Nation that the party was also organising its National Governing Council to endorse President Kenyatta and would invite him to accept the endorsement.
“We will give further updates on Monday (tomorrow),” Mr Anunda said in Nairobi.
The latest round of endorsements, that also included Mr Ababu Namwamba’s Labour Party of Kenya, came after intense lobbying since some presidential handlers felt it unwise to accept DP and PNU endorsements at a time of resurgence by independent candidates.
“But it was felt that having accepted endorsements from Economic Freedom Party from North Eastern, The Frontier Alliance Party, Kanu and others, it would look awkward to snub endorsements from the President’s backyard by non-Jubilee players,” said our source.