The intrigues and realignments in Ukambani politics are slowly taking shape.
Friends are becoming foes and those hitherto in different camps seem to be merging. The 2022 race has started in earnest and nobody wants to be left flat-footed.
When tycoon Peter Muthoka convened a meeting of Ukambani leaders at Stoni Athi Resort early this year, politicians from different parties turned up.
Among the notable attendees were Wiper party leader Kalonzo Musyoka and his long-time political rival, Kitui Governor Charity Ngilu.
But one man, former Machakos Senator Johnson Muthama, was conspicuously absent, as he had earlier skipped a Christmas party at Mr Musyoka’s Yatta farm.
Mr Muthoka’s entry into Kamba politics seems to have rattled Mr Muthama — a close-confidant-turned critic of Mr Musyoka, who used to fashion himself as the financier of Wiper Party.
In less than three years, Mr. Muthoka has emerged as a highly influential power broker.
Despite holding no elective posts, the two billionaires are now caught up in a political fight over the control of Ukambani politics, using their deep pockets to influence and sway the two million votes in the region.
As the clock ticks towards the 2022 General Election, the businessmen have reversed political roles, particularly with their support for Mr Musyoka.
In 2017, they were on opposite sides, with Mr. Muthoka leading Jubilee troops, while Mr. Muthama was rooting for NASA. Today, Mr. Muthoka is the main voice in Mr. Musyoka’s camp.
As the Jubilee pointman in Ukambani, he wrested three parliamentary seats from Wiper and remains President Uhuru Kenyatta’s eye in the region.
That’s why he has thrown his weight behind Mr. Musyoka — who recently signed a cooperation pact with the President — while Mr. Muthama has cast his lot with Deputy President William Ruto.
Although the former Senator has vowed to ensure the DP gets substantial votes in Ukambani, Mr. Muthoka commands more respect across the political divide, perhaps due to his calm demeanor as opposed to the former senator’s abrasive approach to politics. The tycoon was the brains behind the cooperation pact between Jubilee and Wiper parties. He not only chaired and hosted the talks, but he also pushed the deal through.
On the Jubilee side, President Kenyatta picked National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi, Jubilee vice-chairman David Murathe, and former Solicitor-General Njee Muturi, while Mr. Musyoka picked Senators Mutula Kilonzo Junior (Makueni), Enoch Wambua (Kitui), and Boniface Kabaka (Machakos).
In a recent interview with a local daily, Mr. Muthoka opened up on his wish to influence the direction of the community, by ensuring it benefits from the current administration although they voted overwhelmingly for Nasa.
He defended his efforts to craft a political deal between Wiper and Jubilee, saying, this would propel Mr. Musyoka to the top.
A telephone call
“During the repeat presidential elections in October 2017, Mr. Musyoka was in Germany nursing his wife, and my Jubilee team went round urging Kambas to turn up to vote, but it took only a telephone call from the Wiper leader for the community to boycott the election,” Mr. Muthoka said.
“It was a pointer that the community regards Mr. Musyoka highly and should therefore be unified behind him if they want to stake a serious bid for the presidency,” Mr. Muthoka said.
He added that Kenyan politics was about statistics, money, and the right alliances, not how sweet you talked to voters.
“In politics, negotiation is a continuous process; we’re still in talks with political and business leaders from various regions, but we have made good progress with the Mount Kenya region, which is the single biggest voting bloc.”
“Some people are wondering why I’m investing my time, energy, and resources in politics, yet I’m a businessman. I’m doing this to help my community reclaim its rightful place in the country,” he added.
Within Wiper circles, Mr. Muthoka is seen as an answer to Mr. Muthama’s confrontational style that has been blamed for the countless defections of leaders from the party.
International Criminal Court
On the ground, Mr. Muthama must prove to the community that his dalliance with Mr. Ruto is not motivated by sour grapes after failing to hammer a deal between the DP and Mr. Musyoka.
Last year, Mr. Muthama went public with alleged plans to have Mr. Musyoka team up with Mr. Ruto, an assertion vehemently denied by the former vice-president.
It’s after these claims that Mr. Muthama started openly castigating Mr. Musyoka.
Two weeks ago, the former VP narrated how Mr. Muthama caused the collapse of the G7 alliance in the run-up to the 2013 polls with a speech at a rally in Machakos that both President Kenyatta and Mr. Ruto deemed derisive of the cases against humanity they faced at the International Criminal Court.
It was careless of Mr. Muthama to speak in a manner that suggested he was angling to benefit from the ICC misfortunes of the Jubilee duo, Mr. Musyoka said.
“I don’t know if Muthama does these things by design or by default. He may have good intentions, but the answer to his actions is where we are as a community,” he said in reference to his decision to be ODM leader Raila Odinga’s running mate in the last two elections.
As he negotiates with other leaders, there are certain irreducible minimums that must be met — his name “must be on the presidential ballot in 2022”.
With Mr. Muthama pursuing his ambitions outside Wiper and Mr. Muthoka scheming to help Mr. Musyoka ascend to the top office, who between the two billionaires will carry the day?