‘Handshake’ politics to shape Nakuru contest
As the clock ticks fast towards the 2022 general election, the battle between Deputy President William Ruto and ODM party leader Raila Odinga for the presidency is shaping the governorship race in Nakuru.
Governor Lee Kinyanjui has already thrown his weight behind Raila’s fifth attempt at the presidency, Senator Susan Kihika is the linchpin in DP Ruto’s presidential campaign.
The bitter rivalry between DP Ruto and opposition chief Raila is also reflected in Nakuru county where a battle for political supremacy pitting Kinyanjui and Senator Kihika has been unfolding in the last four years.
Recently, Governor Kinyanjui, who is also a key ally of President Uhuru Kenyatta, formed a new party in which he is expected to defend his seat with. On the other hand, Senator Kihika is a key figure in the United Democratic Alliance (UDA), a party associated with Ruto.
He said Ubuntu People’s Forum (UPF) is founded on Ubuntu, a South African which basically means humanity, or: “I am because we are”
“We want to restore humanity in our politics and that is what Ubuntu is all about,” he said recently.
“People get positions for self and personal gain. People go for positions to make money in a quick and fast way, and so we have turned ourselves to a man eat man kind of society,” the Governor said.
Often considered as the melting pot for Kenya’s politics, Nakuru boasts of over 950, 000 registered voters according to data released by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) chairman Wafula Chebukati in October.
Nakuru is the third vote rich county in the country after Kiambu and Nairobi.
The politics of the handshake between Uhuru and Raila are likely to radically change the alignments in the governorship race.
In 2017, governor Lee largely benefited on the Kikuyu- Kalenjin alliance under the jubilee umbrella.
But with Ruto having fallen out with Uhuru and formed his own party, Kihika is poised to run away with the Kalenjin block and split the Kikuyu vote.
A strong supporter of Raila, Lee will be forced to rely on the support of the “handshake communities” residing in the cosmopolitan city county as well as his development record.
Nakuru is dominated by Kikuyu and Kalenjin with a significant presence of Luo, Gusii, and Luhyas which lean towards the handshake.
Owing to their dominance, there has been an unwritten rule since the advent of devolution in 2017 where a Kikuyu governor appoints a Kalenjin as his deputy.
However, with recent realignments, it will be interesting to see how Governor Kinyanju will tackle this ethnic arrangement. He is currently deputised by Erick Korir - a Kalenjin.
But having shifted his allegiance from Ruto (in 2017) to Odinga, it will be a major test on whether this unwritten rule will hold in 2017.
Kinyanjui’s political star has been rising in the last couple of months. He is one of the figures being considered by Mt Kenya Foundation (a group of business leaders managing politics behind the scenes) as one of Raila’s potential running mates.
The governor boasts of a development record dating back to his tenure as the MP for Nakuru Town and assistant minister for Roads.
Recently, he successfully pushed for the upgrading of Nakuru municipality to city.
He enjoys the backing of President Kenyatta who officially conferred Nakuru city status last week, and the ODM supremo, Odinga.
According to Moses Esekon, a youth leader, Kinyanjui has a good chance of being reelected owing to his “track record.” “His development record speaks for itself,” Esekon said, describing him as a level-headed leader.
Citing the conferment of city status last week, Esekon described Kinyanjui as a development oriented leader. “He has managed to establish many flagship projects in a short span… he is also balanced and that is why top leaders are free with him,” he said.
However, Nakuru Street Traders and Hawkers Association chairman Sankale Ole Nasieku has accused Kinyanjui of mishandling the matatu operators and small scale traders, saying this could be his downfall.
“People are suffering. Businesses have collapsed, it is painful but however long it takes, we will survive,” he said. Matatus were relocated out of town in a decongestion plan. However, Susan, the daughter of Kanu era firebrand politician Kihika Kimani, has vowed to return them if elected as governor next year.