The battle for the critical Maasai vote between President Uhuru Kenyatta and his main challenger Raila Odinga in the August 8 General Election is expected to be influenced by three critical issues: Land rights, Mau Forest and clan politics.
Since Mr Odinga’s June 15 comments warning the Maa against selling their land due to poverty, the place of the pastoralist vote was brought to the national limelight.
President Kenyatta later termed the National Super Alliance (Nasa) presidential candidate’s sentiments as inciting residents against migrant communities.
Maa-speaking communities collectively have an estimated 600,000 registered voters spanning Narok, Kajiado, Samburu, Laikipia and Baringo counties.
MADE LIVES BETTER
While President Kenyatta insists he has made their lives better, Mr Odinga disagrees, pointing out that they are no better than they were in 2013.
And the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) party leader has promised to change this state of affairs if elected next month.
READ: Leaders oppose Uhuru’s plan to lift ban on Mau
The Jubilee Party leader and presidential candidate has been using appointments to government, opening up of roads, a successful livestock insurance policy as well as a Sh1.5 billion waiver on wheat and sorghum loans as leverage to bag the region.
Mr Odinga, on the other, has been preaching the gospel of land ownership and implementation of the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) Report to endear himself to them.
“I never said that they should return people to where they came from,” said Mr Odinga on Monday night during the televised presidential debate.
“Those who have bought their land, no one will take it away.
READ: Stop ‘inciting’ Kenyans, Ruto tells Nasa
“All I said is that they should not continue selling the land if they are poor … Those that have large acres can go on and do that. Raila wants an integrated country.”
Mr Odinga insisted that he had at no time sought the eviction of any community.
Two weeks after Mr Odinga’s “inciting” remarks, the President pitched tent in Kajiado, where he said Jubilee had the solution.
“With this waiver, the Maasai people will not be forced to sell their land to offset these loans,” the President said of the Agricultural Finance Corporation (AFC) loans waiver.
He further ordered banks to release to the owners title deeds used by farmers to secure the borrowings.
Mr Odinga, who defended the expansive Mau Forest Complex and paid for it dearly with the loss of the populous Rift Valley vote in 2013, was unapologetic about what he says is dear to the Maa: Their land.
The story of the Maa and the battle to conserve the Mau is intertwined with that of the ambitious Deputy President William Ruto’s. When Mr Odinga led the evictions of families from the water tower, majority of them Kalenjin, Mr Ruto revolted, backed by the rebellious Bomet Governor Isaac Ruto, who is now a Nasa co-principal, in alleging that the then-Prime Minister was out to punish their people.
And two weeks ago, the Jubilee duo hit out at Mr Odinga, again, over the Mau.
They not only promised that no one will evict them as he did but also promised to rebuild schools burnt down by the Grand Coalition government, which Mr Odinga ran jointly with then-President Mwai Kibaki.
In 2013, President Kenyatta beat Mr Odinga in Kajiado by a slim margin — 138,851 votes against 117,856 — but lost in Narok and Samburu despite his Jubilee coalition sweeping the governor, senator and MP seats in the two counties. The ODM chief beat President Kenyatta 118,623 to 109,413 votes and 31,086 against 22,085 in Narok and Samburu, respectively.
READ: Arrest Raila over Kajiado remarks, Rift Valley elders say
Jubilee won five of the six Kajiado MP seats and 20 of the 25 MCA seats, clinched all MP seats and bagged 12 of the 15 MCA posts in Samburu. In Narok, it swept the MP seats and took 23 of the 30 MCA positions.
But President Kenyatta’s winning other seats but posting an unimpressive show in the presidential vote tally appears to have been the tip of the iceberg.
“The reward we got for voting in Jubilee governors, senators and MPs was that we were left to a dictatorial William Ruto, who took the Maa as an appendage of his Kalenjin kingdom,” Narok North MP Moitalel ole Kenta — elected on President Kenyatta’s now-defunct TNA party but today in Mr Odinga’s ODM — summarised the Maa “revolution” thus.
According to Mr Kenta, Mr Odinga is the community’s “one and only saviour”.
Said Mr Kenta: “The Maaland was fully Jubilee but they spat in our faces. Now, the Maasai have decided to be their own friends because those we had in Jubilee exploited our votes and resources.
“For Jubilee, it is a case of closing the gates when the goats have already bolted.”
But the Uhuru-Odinga battle for the Maasai vote did not begin in 2013.
For Mr Odinga, it is that of a man who in 2007 was overwhelmingly backed by the region for the top seat but is, in 2017, battling for a half of the votes, hardened by well-oiled, immensely financed Jubilee forays.
The local leadership has also been thrown off-balance and is almost in tatters — making it ripe for seduction — following the death of a man who bestrode the community and national politics like a colossus: Former Cabinet minister William Ronkorua ole Ntimama, who died in September last year.
READ: Nasa on day two vote hunt in Narok
In active politics for close to four decades spanning four presidents, Ntimama, an eloquent and master orator, had taken over the unofficial yet respected role of community spokesman, making it easy for the Maa to negotiate for space in politics.
The recent death of Interior Cabinet Secretary Major-General (Rtd) Joseph Nkaissery, a man earmarked as Ntimama’s heir, further dealt a blow to the Maa push for a united front.
Narok Governor Samwel Tunai, who leads the Jubilee brigade in his county, however argues that the Maa had charted their course and the only way their votes will count is if they go Jubilee.
“If we go to opposition, we will regret,” said Mr Tunai. “Let’s not blindly follow people. We have seen what the government has done for us in the past four years.”
He put the government’s support among the Maa at past the 50 per cent mark.
READ: Uhuru takes vote hunt to Kajiado
That Mr Tunai is from a minority clan, Siria, and appears to command the backing of the minority Kipsigis, who make about 40 per cent of the vote, and is facing two members of the populous Purko clan, is a plus for Jubilee.
In fact, internal rivalry in the clan — pitting the respected clansman Tiampati ole Musuni of ODM and Narok West MP Patrick Ntutu of Governor Ruto’s Chama Cha Mashinani (CCM) in the governorship race — is perfect fodder, especially with an increased bid to coalesce smaller clans and migrant communities.
In 2015, Narok Senator Stephen ole Ntutu, his younger brother Patrick ole Ntutu, Mr Kenta, MPs Korei ole Lemein (Narok South) and Johana Ng’eno (Emurua Dikir) led a protest against Mr Tunai — a revolt blamed for the Jubilee loss in Kajiado Central after Mr Nkaissery became CS.
The Narok demos reverberated to Kajiado, where a fast-rising Kajiado Central MP Memusi Kanchori beat Mr Patrick Tutui, to whom he had lost in the Jubilee primaries.
Former Interior CS Joseph ole Lenku leads the Jubilee team in Kajiado with Kajiado North MP Moses ole Sakuda and Kajiado South’s Katoo ole Metito.
For ODM, Mr Memusi is buttressed by Kajiado Governor David Nkedianye.