The entry of Gen (rtd) Karangi and the Kikuyu Council of Elders (KCE) to help boost the perceived sagging voter registration drive brought to the fore the reality that Jubilee may be struggling to energise its base.
By stepping in to bring various factions together to support the voter registration drive, Gen (rtd) Karangi, currently the Kenya Airports Authority board chairman, set tongues wagging about a possible more prominent role in the political arena in the count down to an election heavily tinged with Uhuru Kenyatta’s succession intrigues.
The endorsement of retired chief of the military Julius Karangi as spokesperson for Nyeri County last Monday hoists him into the succession politics in Mt Kenya region where internal disputes in the Jubilee Party had paralysed operations on the ground.
The disputes and mistrust inside Jubilee are partly blamed on silent supremacy wars between the defunct The National Alliance (TNA) and United Republican Party (URP) wings over control of the re-election campaign machine, each with an eye to gaining traction in the inner lane of the post-election dispensation.
Holding two high profile meetings in a week with key players in Nyeri county, followed by endorsement of a proposal by KCE’s Mr Wachira Kiago to make him “spokesperson”, was the first time the retired general had openly waded into Central Kenya political waters since his retirement from the helm of the military in 2015.
His acceptance of the spokesperson designation, and his speech at the leaders’ meeting at the Nyeri Green Hills hotel also pointed to a possible beginning of another phase of his life.
Gen (rtd) Karangi’s initiative came after the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) reported Nyeri had captured only 34,000 voters ( translating to 20 per cent) of 170,000 voters expected by the first 15 days.
“My wish is to encourage voters to come out and register. We must also make it loud and clear that those elected to lead this county realise public money is for service delivery to the people and does not belong to their families and relatives,” he said.
Gen (rtd) Karangi convened a meeting of aspiring governors and senators in Nairobi the previous week where they all agreed to get involved.
Among those who attended the Nairobi meeting were candidates for senator’s post Mr Ephraim Maina and his rival Mr Wambugu Nyamu, candidates for governorship Dr Wahome Gakuru and Mr Githinji Kinyanjui and woman representative candidate Ms Rahab Mukami.
A second meeting was convened on Monday attended by an estimated 1,000 participants , among them 284 aspirant forum members, Kieni MP Mr Kanini Kega, Tetu MP Ndungu Githinji, and Woman Representative Priscilla Nyokabi, among others.
Governor Nderitu Gachagua, and Nyeri Town MP Esther Murugi did not attend. Senator Mutahi Kagwe and Mukurwe-ini MP Kabando wa Kabando are said to have sent apologies.
Mr Kiago said Nyeri had been without a unifying voice since President Kibaki Mwai Kibaki exited the political scene in 2013.
“For many years retired President Mwai Kibaki was our voice on the national platform. Since his retirement we have been like a rudderless ship. Gen Karangi is a respected son of Nyeri and can effectively play the role of bringing people together to speak in one voice,” Mr Kiago said.
The elders have lately become increasingly vocal on sticky political affairs of the day in the region, filling the vacuum left by local politicians, who rarely speak on critical issues, apparently afraid to be seen as rocking the fragile Jubilee boat.
On several occasions, KCE has publicly urged President Kenyatta to create time to meet elders from other communities.
Some view part of Gen Karangi’s unspoken assignment in his spokesperson role as meant to break through the layers of vested interests and bureaucracy to pass messages the county’s politicians have been unwilling or unable to get to State House.
The presence of Narc-Kenya leader, Ms Martha Karua, at the Nyeri meeting also sent hint a new regional caucusing was in the offing to harnessing re-election campaign mobilisation without insisting on Jubilee’s supremacy.
Mr Kiago rooted for what he called respect of all parties supporting Mr Kenyatta’s re-election campaign:
“My appeal to the Jubilee leadership is not to condemn those supporting the President from other parties. We gain little by denying the President the free labour and resources many candidates provide in bringing voters out on voting day. This competition mobilised 96 per cent turn out for President Uhuru in 2013 in Nyeri county,” he said
Ms Martha Karua’s arrival was also received with a rousing excitement and her introduction and by Gen Karangi as “an experienced Iron Lady” was loaded with political nuances.
Her presence at a Jubilee event could also have been a coded message of the need for a united front.
During an interview later about whether succession politics was on the cards, Ms Karua said: “If we lose sight of 2017 to focus on 2022 we miss the ball. President Kenyatta’s re-election is the priority, other things will come later. I only accepted an invite from my Nyeri neighbours to share ideas on voter mobilisation. I am sure when I call them they will come to Kirinyaga too” she said.
About Narc-K’s electoral chances against a strong Jubilee wave, Ms Karua said the terrain in Mt Kenya was changing, and no one party could claim hegemonious status any longer.
“The terrain is changing. The same people who were pressuring me to join Jubilee in Embu and Meru are now crossing to Maendeleo Chap Chap. The terrain and voters have changed, democracy is here to stay. It’s no longer Narc-K alone, others are also in the field” she said.