BBI reinforces Nakuru status as hotbed of Kenya’s politics

Thursday, January 30th, 2020 00:00 |
President Uhuru Kenyatta issues a title deed to a member of Nyakinyua dancers in Nakuru town on January 14. The members of the group used to entertain founding President Jomo Kenyatta in the 1960s and 70s. Photo/PSCU

Noah Cheploen @cheploennoah

Considered the melting pot of Kenya’s politics, Nakuru is living up to its billing as the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) debate and 2022 succession politics gather momentum.

It was at Nakuru’s Afraha Stadium that Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto announced their political deal in 2012.

It was only in the same town that they agreed to merge their parties—The National Alliance and the United Republican Party—before the 2017 General Election. The two went ahead to win both elections.

It was also in Nakuru that Uhuru and Ruto held their final prayer rally ahead of the International Criminal Court trial and the thanksgiving service after they were acquitted of crimes against humanity charges in 2016.

“Nakuru is special to us. It is the bedrock of Jubilee and it is where we started our journey to unite Kenyans,” Deputy President Ruto said during a recent visit.

And it appears Nakuru will midwife the next political and constitutional dispensation.

Parallel rallies

The county is emerging as a battleground between the opposing camps in the BBI debate, one allied to President Uhuru and Opposition leader Raila Odinga, and the other coalescing around Ruto. 

A few days after the pro-Uhuru and Raila group announced they would hold a BBI rally at Afraha Stadium on February 23, the Ruto camp said they will hold theirs at the same venue this weekend.

Ruto’s supporters, Bahati MP Kimani Ngunjiri and Senator Susan Kihika are the face of the BBI rebellion in the region.

Also in Ruto’s camp are MPs Jane Kihara (Naivasha), David Gikaria (Nakuru East), Martha Wangari (Gilgil) and Samuel Gachobe (Subukia).

When he visited the area on Tuesday, Uhuru singled out Ngunjiri for rebuke, asking residents of Maili Kumi if they agreed with the conduct of their MP whom he accused of insulting him.

“There is one man who has made it a habit to insult me. I decided to keep quiet and observe him until the day I would come to Bahati.

I am here to find out whether it is you who send him to hurl insults at me,” said Uhuru.

But Ngunjiri responded that he had never insulted the President, saying he was only championing the interests of his people. 

“I have never insulted him. He is my old friend because we have been together since those days in Kanu. I will not change my position because I haven’t done anything wrong,” he said. 

Ngunjiri is not an outlier. Nakuru has a reputation for producing rebellious and outspoken politicians.

From Mark Mwithaga, who made history when he was elected MP for Nakuru Town while in prison in 1966, to Koigi wa Wamwere who gave presidents Jomo Kenyatta and Daniel arap Moi a difficult time, the area has always been a home of firebrands and dissidents.

Others are Kihika Kimani and Kariuki Chotara  who left a mark in the country’s politics because of their vocal and abrasive nature.

During the Moi era, Nakuru branch Kanu chairman Wilson Leitich made a name because of his controversial statements.

He once instructed Kanu supporters to “cut off the fingers” of opposition party Ford supporters,

Colonial era

Another interesting figure is John Maina Kamangara, who was once accused of harvesting President Moi’s wheat.

Other notable firebrands were Mama Steel, Geoffrey Asanyo and lawyer Mirugi Kariuki, who was later elected MP for Nakuru Town.

In an interview with People Daily yesterday, Koigi traced Nakuru’s heated politics to the colonial times.

“Even before independence, there was radical white settler politics. Nakuru has a radical history. It has been like this since independence,” he said.

He said Nakuru people stand out because of their outspokenness, adding that this is something that makes the place a favourite hunting ground for politicians.

The former assistant minister attributed this to the fact that majority of the inhabitants are Mau Mau descendants who trace their roots to Central Kenya.

These are mainly immigrants whose forefathers resisted the British rule and the collaborators, adding that they settled in the area after they were displaced. 

“They came here because they had problems where they were or they were kicked out,” he said.

Lost stature

He added:“Nakuru is an important place politically that everybody wants to capture. I guess that is why people are flocking here to capture the flock before it is captured by somebody else.” 

Besides being a hotbed of settler politics, Nakuru remained important after independence because it was the political base of  presidents Kenyatta and Moi, both who own huge tracks of land in the county. 

Kenyatta spent a lot of his time in Nakuru being entertained by Nyankinyua dancers.

During Moi’s 24-year rule, Nakuru, once described as Africa’s cleanest town, he met delegations from various parts of the country at Nakuru State House and at his Kabarak home.

And, considering that Moi always ensured his visitors ate to their fill and that they also got “bus fare” the money trickled down and many businesses thrived. Hotels such as The Stem, Midlands and Kunste reaped big.

But when he retired, the town lost its lustre because his successor, Kibaki, rarely visited Nakuru, and spent most of his time in Nairobi.

Uhuru appears to be following in his predecessors’ footsteps. He has recently visited Nakuru twice in as many weeks. 

In one of the visits, he hosted a delegation of Kikuyu elders at his family’s Gicheha Farm.

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