Fri. Apr 19th, 2019

Battle for the South Rift: Why Jubilee’s must urgently rethink its plans

FROM LEFT TO RIGHT-Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho, Bomet Governor Isaac Rutto and Cord Leader Raila Odinga dance to a song by Eleaner John at Bomet on Saturday.

At a recent event at a school in Maseno, I met someone from Kilgoris and in the small talk we began to discuss the political zeitgeist in his native Narok. I was curious to hear from him what the people of the South Rift are thinking in the light of the rejuvenated Opposition onslaught and the impending Nasa rally at neighbouring Bomet. We did not have much time to talk but from his expression he said Jubilee needed to pull up its socks in the region. The South Rift generally comprises of Kericho, Bomet, Narok and Kajiado counties. These are occupied principally by two communities – the Kipsigis section of the Kalenjin and the Maasai. It is also home to thousands of migrants many seeking or taking advantage of economic opportunities in the area. Between them are some 1.3 million votes. This is close to 10% of the national votes making it a very important battleground block.
Jubilee in the South Rift
For now, Kericho and Bomet appear to be going strong in Jubilee. If you noticed, Governor Isaac Rutto who was widely expected to announce his defection to Nasa, was not so keen to do so because of the reality on the ground. Jubilee is still quite strong in Bomet and Ms. Laboso is driving him crazy. His fellow rebel at Kuresoi South Zakayo Cheruiyot is also feeling Jubilee heat and even his decision to stand in Kanu is simply not gaining him any traction. Kericho Governor Prof. Paul Chepkwony has long abandoned the Isaac Rutto bandwagon firmly remaining in Jubilee and now has a better-than-fair chance of retaining his seat. The Kipsigis in Narok however don’t seem to be thinking Jubilee to the full. Emurua Dikirr MP Johana Ng’eno (KNC) is battling the Deputy President politically and their war is likely to hurt Jubilee. Kajiado on the other hand appears to be making Jubilee struggle and it seems to be going with Nasa. It is however Narok which has a deep battle between Nasa and Jubilee and as stated, the latter is beginning to struggle where it once posted dominance.
URP and Jubilee
In the last election, the URP party associated with DP William Ruto, swept across most of the seats in the Narok County. It bagged 13 out of the 30 electoral County seats and took home a further 7 of the 17 nominees making it quite powerful at the Assembly. In addition, the URP wing of Jubilee produced the County Governor Samuel ole Tunai and four MPs of the six with TNA and KNC sharing the remainder. At the height of its strength, Jubilee affiliations boasted the majority of the 37 seats with nearly all of them being in the hands of the Maasai. In short, the county was strong Jubilee. The situation is however quite different now. The shift from URP to Jubilee Party should ordinarily have been a no-brainer for the people of Narok but that is not true. Jubilee as a single party seems not to have been as well received as URP which had come to the ground with the face of the Deputy President. The nadir came earlier with the simultaneous sacking of two Principal Secretaries Tiampati ole Musuni and John Konchellah both of Narok. While there are numerous other identifiable reasons for Jubilee doing badly, the major one largely surrounds a poor strategy on the ground.
Old enemies and new friends
The Kipsigis migrated in large numbers from their traditional homelands in Kericho and Bomet and settled among the Maasai of Narok. This migration, which started as early as the 1930s, has caused significant political shifts and alignments in Narok. After independence, Kikuyu migrants arrived at Narok in large numbers but were soon overshadowed by the Kipsigis. My newfound friend at Maseno told me that the migration of the Kipsigis had not disturbed the Maasai much until they began to assert themselves politically. The numerical strength of the Kipsigis became apparent in 2007 when they nearly clinched a Parliamentary seat causing the Maasai much angst. It was a wake-up call for the Maasai who had hitherto been quite disunited fighting unhelpful turf wars. The creation of a constituency Emurua Dikirr in an area of Kipsigis majority was largely an act of appeasement much like the numbing of a constant pain with a drug. It is hard to imagine how long it will be before the pain comes again.
The Maasai-Kipsigis relations came under focus during the recent ordination of the first Maasai Bishop of the Kipsigis-dominated Africa Gospel Church. The AGC sent its first missionaries to the Maasai in the mid-1960’s. Rev. Frederick araap Makibior, a Kipsigis from Longisa laboured for half a century among the Maasai and the ordination of the first senior Maasai cleric – Bishop John Kantai ole Kisotu was the culmination of that long effort. To underscore the political significance of the event, Deputy President William Ruto attended the colourful ordination in December last year. Although (still) largely confined to the west of Narok, it remains to be seen if the shared faith will improve the Maasai-Kipsigis relations.
Shifting demographics and new alliances
For a while, the Maasai pursued a policy of disengagement and in some cases outright hostility with migrant communities. The new political reality however is that the Maasai are finding themselves making their old enemies their new friends. Permutations in the quest for power is forcing them to create bridges – a shift from confrontation to cooperation.
In the last election, the Kipsigis produced 4 elected MCAs through URP and a further 3 from the rival KNC which also produced a Kalenjin MP Ng’eno. Among the nominated, the URP gave two Kalenjin women a seat and balanced it off by offering five nominations to the Maasai. However, the pressing demands for more representation particularly by the Kipsigis is likely to see more of them occupy electoral seats in the coming election. This of course is another sore point for Jubilee and the Maasai.
William Ruto’s threat
The issue of migrants occupying elective positions has never failed to cause political discussion in Kenya. William Ruto has numerously tried to prevail on his fellow Kalenjins to stand down for the Maasai. He has even threatened to veto any Jubilee nominee in a Maasai region should they be Kalenjin. This has angered the Kalenjins in these parts but Ruto argues that if he allows that, then the battle for Jubilee across the remaining Maasai country is as good as lost. It remains to be seen if he will make good his threats as indeed the Jubilee nominations are coming close. In fact the time he denied the Kipsigis an ODM ticket in 2007 is why he fell out with Ng’eno. Some Kipsigis candidates are now considering their options in rival parties particularly the KNC which is affiliating with Nasa further weakening the Jubilee hold on the county. They are citing the example of Kuresoi North which has a large Kikuyu vote and are likely to vote out Moses Cheboi. It is said that Cheboi is facing mounting pressure from the Kikuyu in the area even though he has since abandoned Kanu in favour of Jubilee. Kuresoi North, say the Kipsigis of Narok, is a near-perfect reflection of the situation in Narok. If the Kalenjins field just two candidates, the seat is a Kikuyu’s.
Clan factor
Clan is big in Maa politics. The largest Maasai clan the Purko failed to take the most powerful position of Governor. This went to the lesser Siria clan of Samuel ole Tunai who, as a result of his cooperation with the Kipsigis, comfortably swept into power. Tunai appointed a Kipsigis running mate Ms. Everlyn Arwasa which also served to excite the female vote in a region that had never elected a woman to Parliament. Tunai ran an effective campaign and swept to power against a grouping of rivals drawn mainly from the larger Purko clan. It was a strategic mistake on the part of the Purko who split their numbers and were not happy at the outcome. Differences in certain resource allocation arrangements, jobs and the distribution of the county cake have come to the fore. Reports have it that the Tunai administration has left the Purko feeling short-changed despite his best effort to be inclusive. This time round, they are determined to get the seat.
Wooing the Kalenjin vote
For the Purko however, there is the (not so small) matter of wooing the Kipsigis vote which Tunai is currently holding. It is no small matter because, if the Purko go with Nasa (as they have no option now), then the support of the Kalenjin is not guaranteed and they could fare badly. Even a Kalenjin running mate under Nasa might not yield much. Reports have it that the Purko have settled on former Information PS Tiampati ole Musuni who has since joined the Nasa brigade. Having been fired by Uhuru in the purge against corruption, Tiampati has a score to settle but he will need more than his anger to get his candidacy going. It remains to be seen who will be his running mate. Several things work against him one of them being that he does not have any significant relations with the Kipsigis and would therefore struggle to campaign among them as compared to Tunai.
The Woman Rep Soipan (d/o) ole Tuya is working closely with the Tunai administration but is facing a major challenge from Lydia Masikonde the daughter of the former Kingpin William ole Ntimama who was a Purko. Another Purko said to be interested in the Governorship is Patrick ole Ntutu whose brother-from-another-mother is Senator Stephen ole Ntutu. Steve is said to be retiring which would make his brother’s candidature more attractive than if he were defending his seat. Patrick is also said to be considering having Johana Ng’eno alias ‘Ngong’ as his running mate but Ng’eno has been non-committal. In all, it seems the Maasai and the Kipsigis are now joined at the hip and it will be interesting to see how it goes.