Several weeks ago, Water minister Charity Kaluki Ngilu – once famously known as Mama Rainbow – launched her presidential bid.
This is the second time the once fiery Kitui Central MP is gunning for the top seat. But this time, her bid raises more questions than answers.
Two questions come to mind – is the bid for real, and is it realistic? In 1997, she nearly broke the glass ceiling as the first serious female presidential candidate in Kenya’s history.
Since then, Mrs Ngilu has had a rather checkered political career. Among women, she’s been overtaken by Gichugu MP Martha Karua, now the first lady of Kenyan politics. Can Mrs Ngilu still hack it, or is her bid whimsical?
Methinks there’s more than meets the eye. Those who attended – and those who didn’t – the launch of her presidential run raised eyebrows.
Two high-profile female ODM legislators – Sotik MP Joyce Laboso and Nominated MP Rachael Shebesh – stood with Mrs Ngilu.
Did they come to give a “sister” gendered support, or to signal ODM’s support for Mrs Ngilu? If the latter, do they back PM Raila Odinga’s presidential candidacy under the banner of ODM? That’s because they can’t have their cake and eat it too.
Why would ODM want to support Mrs Ngilu? She’s an intriguer who would do anything to stop Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka. ODM may use her to destroy Mr Musyoka’s bid by splitting the Kamba vote.
The plot thickens when you consider the presence of two other highly visible MPs at the launch. The vocal Mutito MP, Kiema Kilonzo, once upon a time VP Musyoka’s key henchman – doesn’t leave Mrs Ngilu’s side these days.
Has he completely abandoned Mr Musyoka’s Wiper Democratic Movement for Mrs Ngilu’s Narc?
The Mutito MP wants to run for governor of Kitui County. He knows Mr Musyoka won’t support him, and that may be why he’s cozied up to Mrs Ngilu’s Narc.
But it’s doubtful he can win on a Narc ticket in a county where Mr Musyoka’s Wiper party is a political juggernaut. However, the challenge to Mr Musyoka is healthy for the growth of democracy in the county.
The other prominent MP to grace Mrs Ngilu’s day in the sun was Runyenjes MP Cecily Mutitu Mbarire.
The PNU MP, an erstwhile darling of civil society, has been closely associated with GEMA and the political fortunes of Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta. It’s a fact that Ms Mbarire was a protégé of Mrs Ngilu.
But they seemed to part company when Mrs Ngilu went to ODM, and she to PNU. Is she hedging her bets, or has she abandoned Mr Kenyatta and PNU?
Or is she just being a Kenyan politician – acting without regard to principle or loyalty to party? It’s also likely she was one of the few MPs Mrs Ngilu could corral to be present.
My guess is that the wily Ms Mbarire was probably hedging her bets because she was unsure which political party will be viable in her neck of the woods. The Mount Kenya region is in very murky waters.
I don’t buy the argument that the wins by Mr Kenyatta’s TNA in Kangema and Kajiado North mean the region is solidly behind him.
Two very predictable wins don’t a trend make. Energy minister Kiraitu Murungi’s many attempts to put the bloc in various “buses” have come a cropper.
Will, for example, TNA survive Mr Kenyatta’s woes at The Hague? My bet is that the party will be stillborn if he doesn’t – as I think he won’t – run for State House.
Which begs the question – what really is Mrs Ngilu up to given this maze of political imponderables? She came a distant fifth when she ran in 1997.
It’s clear that she carried most of the Kamba vote then, but nothing else. Even women in other communities – who would’ve been her natural supporters as the first serious woman candidate – voted for their ethnic kingpins. The tribe trumped gender.
Does Mrs Ngilu think she’ll fare better now with Mr Musyoka’s strong claim on the Kamba vote and Ms Karua’s run at the female vote?
How can her candidacy be more viable today when she couldn’t hack it in 1997 without any real competition for the Kamba and female votes?
Earlier this year, Mrs Ngilu pledged to support Mr Odinga’s run. In July, she reiterated her support for Mr Odinga.
Mrs Ngilu is certainly entitled to change her mind. But the public is also entitled to ask what changed between July and August.
She has said that she didn’t launch her bid as a bargaining chip for the post of running mate.
I am not Syokimau – the Kamba prophetess who foretold the coming of European colonialists – but I honestly can’t see a path for victory for Mrs Ngilu.
This means Mrs Ngilu isn’t telling us the whole story. She’s a cunning political animal. That’s why I think she launched her presidential bid to increase her “bargaining stock”.
I asked two questions at the start – is Mrs Ngilu’s bid for real, and is it realistic? The answer to both questions is negative. Her bid is smoke and mirrors. This is the one case where there’s smoke, but no fire.
She’s trying a magician’s wand on a gullible public. It’s nothing but a desperate tactic for relevance and political survival.
Look – I feel for Mama Rainbow. She helped deliver us from the deadly claws of the Nyayo regime. She’s had a very successful career in politics.
But it may be time for her to contemplate another line of work.
Makau Mutua is Dean and SUNY Distinguished Professor at SUNY Buffalo Law School and Chair of the KHRC.