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Why Central Province Votes Against Kanu

By Gitau Warigi, The Nation (Nairobi), 25 March 2001

One thing looks certain. President Moi's call in Kandara, Thika district, last week to the people of Central Province to put behind them their bitter feud with his government is not likely to be reciprocated. Chagrined Kikuyu Opposition MPs were dismissive of the call which they considered rhetorical and insincere.

Safina's Paul Muite, who is no friend of the Nyayo regime, did not want to dwell on the bitter issues of politics, of marginalisation, or even of the ethnic clashes which run deep throughout the province.

In his mind, the issue the President should have solidly focused on if he was sincere about "a miracle" of winning over the Kikuyu community were the bread-and-butter economic issues that are the lifeline of the province.

More pertinently in his view, it is time officialdom ceased looking at everything in terms of ethnicity and started to view communities and regions as part of economic units.

"Poverty is not confined to Central Province. Many districts in so-called Kanu zones are in worse poverty than in the province. If President Moi wants to be taken seriously, he should be telling the various people he addresses how his government intends to help them. How will he assist the pastoralists in the marginal areas to build dams, or slaughter-houses, or those other things that improve the assets available to them?" says Mr Muite.

The Kabete MP feels that, when the President looks at a region, he should look at the assets and resources available in that region. In Nyanza, for example, people there have depended on fishing, cotton and sugar industries, which have largely collapsed.

"In Central Province, it is coffee and tea. They (the Kikuyu) reject him not because he is a non-Kikuyu, but for his economic mismanagement.

If the President genuinely needs their support, he should go the economic route, by reviving the two sectors, and the infrastructure, and doing something about job creation," Mr Muite says.

He adds: "Their concerns are purely economic. Whether you love them or whatever, is beside the point. Love has nothing to do with it. Just manage the economy. That's all we ask!"

Mrs Beth Mugo, the Social Democratic Party MP for Dagoretti, was reluctant to respond at first, saying theremarks were "tribalistic."

But upon being persuaded to comment, she said: "When he (President Moi) started in 1978, the Kikuyu were the first community, led by Mwai Kibaki, to pledge their loyalty. That greatly fortified the President and his new government. To the contrary, the Kikuyus never rejected him. They had accepted him, welcomed him to office. President Moi is the one who abandoned the Kikuyu. He started to destroy their economic base, the tea and coffee sectors, which in turn has affected the entire economy."

"That is when they turned to the Opposition. You cannot be in a government that persecutes you. For the Kikuyu to go to the Opposition was politics of survival. Their people were systematically being driven out of top government jobs. Today, there is no single permanent secretary who is Kikuyu. So, if you want the Kikuyu back with you you show it by actions, not empty words," says Mrs Mugo.

Mr Njenga Karume, the patron of the Democratic Party and the figure who usually serves as the focal point of Gema, says it is not clear whether the President's reported proposal should be made much of at this point.

"I do not want to comment at this stage. Telling the people of Central Province to go back to Kanu is not an easy matter. A matter like that should not be treated lightly by anybody," he told the Sunday Nation.

Clearly, too much water has passed through the bridge between President Moi and the Kikuyu community for there to be any quick or easy rapprochement.

It is probably too late in the day for the President to swing perceptions to his favour in Central Province. A change of heart towards the government among the Kikuyu may have to await President Moi's successor, whoever this will be.

But why would the President want to appear to reconcile with the Kikuyu at this late hour, even when chances are he will not make headway? There could be one compelling motivation. At this point in time, what could be at the back of his mind is the nagging realisation that his term is ending and that whoever takes over from him will be persuaded, as a matter of good policy, to seek to mend fences with the Kikuyu, much as President Moi himself sought to do with the Luo community following Mzee Jomo Kenyatta's death.

President Moi is acutely aware that a highly sensitive dot of his presidency is the deep rupture between his government and the Kikuyu community, which is something that will feature prominently in any future contemplation of his legacy.

He definitely must find the idea that it will be somebody else, and not him, who will seek to mend this rupture deeply unsettling. As he leaves office, the last thing he presumably would wish is to have a sea of bitter people from the largest community in the country panting to latch onto a successor with the sole intention of getting even.

Kanu's Mr J. B. Muturi, the MP for Mbeere in Eastern Province, introduced an interesting twist to the matter when he speculated that the call in Kandara could have been linked to what transpired in Luoland at the burial of the late Kenya National Union of Teachers secretary-general, Mr Ambrose Adongo.

Said Mr Muturi: "The President had just been at Mr Adongo's burial. He clearly was not happy with how he was treated there. In any case, the call was a bit belated. I doubt whether it was in good faith."

Playing the tribal card is indeed an obsession with this presidency. And true enough, events at the Adongo burial may have left a bad taste in the President's mouth, all the more reason for the Kanu leader to be seen to hit back by dangling a purported carrot to the Kikuyu.

First of all, there was the enthusiastic cheering, upon arrival and in the course of the proceedings, accorded to Kanu arch-foe James Orengo, the Ugenya MP who is also a prominent figure in Muungano wa Mageuzi lobby.

Then came Raila Odinga's unflattering remarks about Kanu, whereby he explained his relationship with the party in terms of cohabiting with an enemy with the intention of learning his tricks.

President Moi was clearly miffed with this speech such that when he rose to give his own he wondered openly which enemy the National Development Party leader was referring to.

At the Kandara function, Kanu's pointman in Central Province, Minister Joseph Kamotho, was in his element, castigating the local community for their presumed political intransigence and warning them to "wake up."

Mr Kamotho had been involved in a tiff of his own with the DP MP for Kigumo, Mr Kihara Mwangi, who had openly lambasted the Kanu secretary-general, right in front of the President, for being a poor messenger for the ruling party in the province.

Mr Kihara was especially upset that, days earlier when Mr Kamotho had visited Kandara to lay the groundwork for the President's visit, he dismissed area Opposition leaders as maziwa lala, ostensibly because they did not initiate any development projects.

The Kamotho-Kihara exchange aside, the area members of parliament generally steered from getting confrontational, though it was apparent none of them took the call of trooping back to Kanu seriously. Instead, the MPs - Mr Kihara, Mr Joshua Toro (Kandara) and Mr Mwangi Kamande (Maragwa) - dwelt on general issues of local economic concern which they want the government to tackle.

Top on their agenda has been the problem of the collapsing coffee and tea sectors, and the whereabouts of some Sh11 billion committed by the European Union some years back to cushion coffee farmers in the event of a price tailspin.

The MPs also raised issues of theft of local public land by well-connected people, and the continuing controversy over whether the Maragwa District headquarters should be sited at Mariira (which residents of Maragwa constituency consider inaccessible) or elsewhere.

Mr Maoka Maore, the DP MP for Ntonyiri in Meru North District, believes there should not be too much fuss about the President's utterances in Kandara.

"If President Moi is looking for Kikuyu votes, that is his right, as with any other candidate. The only question is, is he asking for votes for himself, or for his party? If it is for himself, then that is a problem, as his term is supposed to be ending," says Maore.

He adds: "But as a Kanu supporter, it is his right to ask for votes for his party anywhere. That is what democracy is all about. What is unacceptable is if he is seeking the votes through intimidation and threats. Let the people of the province decide whether they want to go back to the party or not. It is up to them."

Copyright 2001 The Nation. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com).