Kalonzo tests the waters in Rift

Saturday October 29 2011

By MAZERA NDURYA [email protected]

He called it “home coming” and Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka’s visit to Baringo an Uasin Gishu counties last weekend could well have been, politically speaking.

The visit gave him an opportunity to gauge his popularity and come face-to-face with a community that is torn between many political parties that are trying to stake political claim in the region.

But the VP was making a political statement to a community he feels close to, having cut his political teeth under retired President Moi’s watch and a region where the African Inland Church (AIC) is predominant.

AIC is the church, Mr Musyoka grew up in. For three hours, the VP was on his feet at Lake Bogoria Hotel where he hosted more than 300 leaders from the various communities in Baringo county persuading them to back him in his presidential bid in the next General Election.

To remain focused on his strategy to win the larger Kalenjin community Mr Musyoka took time to explain why he fell out with his mentor, the former President, in 2002 by rejecting Uhuru Kenyatta’s candidacy.

From the recognition that the Vice-President received from elders in Baringo, opinion is divided on whether his visit left any mark.

Translate into votes

But the leaders who spoke said he was better placed to be president because of his experience in politics. But it remains to be seen whether the support will translate into votes.

He was given a traditional walking stick by the Tugen elders – a sign of leadership recognition – and held a successful meeting with leaders from the three communities of Tugen, Pokot and Njemps.

“When I crossed River Molo, which separates the County of Nakuru with that of Baringo, it just felt like I was now coming home,” the VP said.

“I have come here to ask for votes knowing very well that the G7, to which I belong, is going to form the next government after the General Election.”
The leaders, who included the Baringo County Council chairperson Elizabeth Chesang, said they supported him.

“We will support you because we recognise your leadership capabilities. By coming and talking to us about your intentions and explaining what you will do for us is enough to see your commitment in making this country much better than it is now,” Ms Chesang said.

Mzee Daniel Cheklagat Kipkebut, a retired chief and who vied in the constituency on an ODM-Kenya ticket in 2007, said the Vice-President had made a big impression through his speech whose message was repeated in Baringo and Burnt Forest’s Cheptiret in Uasin Gishu where he ended his three-day tour of the region.

Baringo Central MP Sammy Mwaita, who was among the MPs who attended the meetings in Baringo, likened the VP to a suitor who is looking for a girl’s hand in marriage.

“According to our tradition, a man has to appear at least four times in the home of the girl before getting the nod to marry. But it is the first visit that will determine whether the man will succeed in his mission.

“We have been impressed in your first visit and, on the subsequent visits, you can send emissaries and, in this case it could be your ODM-K point man Samuel Poghisio or any other person, before you make the final appearance to take the bride,” Mr Mwaita said during the meeting.

Other MPs who attended the meeting were Prof Hellen Sambili (Eldama Ravine), Mithika Linturi (Igembe South), William Cheptumo (Baringo North) and Victor Munyaka (Machakos Town).

“By inviting student leaders to Baringo leaders meeting, the VP has shown respect and recognition and we shall reciprocate by supporting and working closely with him,” said Collins Kiboino, the chairman of Baringo University Students Association.

Earlier, at the start of his tour, the VP held a closed door meeting with civic and religious leaders in Bungoma before witnessing a peace agreement between the Bukusu, Teso and Sabaot at Mabanga.

But can Mr Musyoka be trusted? Kipkorir Menjo, a Narc Kenya official in the North Rift, said the VP’s past record while in Kanu and his tendency to always wait for other people to take risks and then jump onto the bandwagon could have a negative impact on his campaign.

“Many people seeking political leadership think that by going through elders and church leaders will get a smooth sail but that is no longer the case as it was during the Moi era. The elders no longer hold sway and cannot be used as the benchmark for one’s popularity.

“For the Rift Valley voter, it is more to do with how much a leader will do to help in adding value to agriculture which is the backbone of the local economy,” Mr Menjo said.

He said that it is still too early to rate the VP’s standing from the recent visit. The politician said Mr Musyoka needs to be more assertive and not be seen to be getting political capital out of certain situations like his involvement in the controversy surrounding the Moi Teaching and Referral and Hospital, on which he clashed with Medical Services minister Prof Anyang’ Nyong’o.

Massive following

The Rift Valley vote is not as easy as it may seem given the massive following Eldoret North MP William Ruto has in the area.

Just when the VP was making a foray into the region, Mr Ruto toured Elgeyo Marakwet, Uasin Gishu and Busia county.

Mr Ruto was accompanied by Trade Minister Chirau Ali Mwakwere and other local MPs. He made it clear that he was also running for the presidency and indicated he would team up with Mr Mwakwere come the next General Election.

“We supported Uhuru Kenyatta in 2002 and Raila Odinga in 2007 and this time round we will not be playing second fiddle.

I expect Uhuru to support me for the presidency,” Mr Ruto said at a political rally in Iten.

With the Eldoret North MP in the picture, the Rift Valley vote still remains a tricky one to grab for Mr Musyoka but some political observers say it will depend on how he plays his cards.