The intrigues behind mass transfer of would-be voters to Nairobi

Sunday March 6 2016

A voter registers at Kawangware Primary School in Nairobi on February 21, 2016. Mass transfer of voters to Nairobi  has been reported. PHOTO | EVANS HABIL | NATION MEDIA GROUP

A voter registers at Kawangware Primary School in Nairobi on February 21, 2016. Mass transfer of voters to Nairobi has been reported. PHOTO | EVANS HABIL | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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The main reason for the on-going mass importation and transfer of would-be voters into Nairobi is the age-old struggle for the control of the politics and economics (distribution of resources) in Kenya’s capital and economic engine, which is also East Africa’s leading financial conurbation.

At a casual glance, this pits the governing Jubilee Coalition against the Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (Cord). But when the electoral onion is peeled, it reveals a fight between The National Alliance (TNA) of President Kenyatta and the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) of Mr Raila Odinga.

Peeled further, the onion exposes a continuing head-on battle between the peoples that respectively dominate these parties, namely the Kikuyu, Kenya’s most populous and economically successful ethnicity, and the Luo, who are third in numerical strength and, historically, the fiercest political rivals of the Kikuyu.

Eight of Nairobi’s 17 constituencies were won by Cord (or the affiliate ODM) and the rest by Jubilee (or the affiliate TNA) in the 2013 General Election. The bitterly fought gubernatorial race between ODM’s Evans Kidero and TNA’s Ferdinand Waititu was eventually resolved by the Supreme Court in the former’s favour.

The bitterness harboured by TNA at the loss of the governor’s seat and eight constituencies became evident some time late last year. Then the grapevine went into overdrive with the claim that Dr Kidero was anti-Kikuyu, which is why county sentries targeted small Kikuyu-owned businesses for violent, extra-judicial and destructive treatment.

Not surprisingly, last month, a Kikuyu Council of Elders meeting resolved that the community must capture at least 10 Nairobi constituencies and the governor’s seat in next year’s General Election. The thinking is clear: Because Kiambu and Murang’a counties are secure TNA electoral enclaves, their numerous residents should register to vote in Nairobi.

There are four important points to bear in mind. One is that the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, the body that oversees Kenya’s polls, has made it clear that the transfer of voters is not illegal; therefore nobody is breaking the law. Two, this is not a new practice, would-be voters have always been ferried to register in the city and elsewhere.


Three, Nairobi’s proximity to the Kikuyu regions of Kiambu, Murang’a and Nyeri has also led to their domination of Nairobi’s politics. Their dominance of City Hall started at independence in 1963 with Charles Rubia as mayor and went uninterrupted until 1983 when President Moi dissolved the City Council and had unelected commissions run City Hall until 1992.

During this time, President Moi also appointed his close ally and political enforcer, the late Moses Mudavadi, Minister for Local Government. He had a brief to keep a close eye on City Hall. To most observers, unelected commissions and Mudavadi kept City Hall away from the clutches of the Kikuyu.

With the advent of multi-party politics in 1992, the dominance of the Kikuyu returned. It was only broken three times before the new constitution introduced counties and governors. Mr Joe Akech, a Luo, served as mayor between 2003 and 2004. He was followed by Mr Geoffrey Majiwa, also a Luo, who wore the mayoral chain between 2008 and 2010.

Last was Mr George Aladwa, a Luhya, who held the seat between 2010 and 2012. Dr Kidero, Nairobi’s first governor, is a Luo, who is not only regarded as something of a first among equals among governors, but also controls a multi-billion-shilling budget, which gives him power and influence over important financial and political decisions regarding Nairobi’s governance.

The fourth point is that when justifying TNA’s drive for a clean electoral sweep of Nairobi, Makadara MP Benson Mutura said that the party provides the major stakeholders in the capital. The upshot is clear: The owners of the businesses and services that make Nairobi a rich metropolis are justified to seek its political control.

It is this sense of entitlement that fuels the mass importation and transfer of would-be voters to register in the capital. But it also fuels a sense of exclusion and victimisation in non-Kikuyus, which compels their political elite to engage in the same manoeuvres and hence the cut-throat competition for elective seats in the capital.

Nothing captures this fierce fight better than last month’s declaration by Deputy President William Ruto that “Hatuwezi kuwa tunashinda kura ya Rais wa Kenya na tukose kushinda kura ya Gavana wa Nairobi. This time round, liwe liwalo, juu chini, kushoto kulia, lazima tupate Gavana wa Nairobi.” In a word? Jubilee (or TNA) must get Nairobi by all means.