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Kenya: Lessons from party primaries in Rift Valley

Analysis of implications for the general elections

Ngala Chome and Muthoni Kiguru

2013-02-13, Issue 616

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With political mobilization along ethnic lines going on in Kenya in the present campaigns, it looks likely that the winner of the closely contested presidential election on March 4 will be decided by the regions that do not have strong local parties

The experience of party primaries in the Rift Valley region of Kenya, the epicenter of the 2007/08 orgy of election violence, reflects a pure experiment at ethnic brokerage and craftsmanship, underpinned by the resolve to save the Jubilee coalition of Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto. Party nominations in the Rift have arguably disseminated to us much of the outcome of the general elections in that part come March 4. How we arrive at this can also be a useful an analysis for working out the up-coming electoral experience in other parts of the country.

A highly conspicuous zoning trend has been attempted in the Rift’s Kikuyu and Kalenjin dominated spheres. The electoral contest within Jubilee, we argue, has then been shifted over to spaces where an equally strong Kalenjin and Kikuyu presence is absent; think Maasailand, Samburu and Trans-Nzoia.


Uhuru’s party TNA, for example, doesn’t have gubernatorial, senate and woman county representative candidates in Uasin Gishu, Elgeyo Marakwet, Nandi, Baringo, Bomet and Kericho in the Rift Valley. The party has fielded only two candidates for the national assembly in all these counties. One of the candidates for the national assembly under a TNA ticket is the non-compliant Linah Jebii Kilimo. Not so long ago she was outraged by an attempt to register her as a member of Ruto’s URP without her consent. In these counties, there are also very few TNA candidates for county ward representative as URP has conversely fielded candidates for almost all the seats. On the other hand, TNA has supplied candidates for majority seats in Nakuru, Laikipia and Nyandarua counties of the Rift Valley.
A theoretical shift seems necessary in order to analyze what has often been designated as the elite mobilization of ethnicity. This zoning was constructed from above, as much as it was from below. From above, political elites gave currency to an established discourse of ethnicity and political party; and this is exactly how URP and TNA were received at the grassroots. Primarily, unless they were defections, it was understood from below that it was futile to run on a TNA ticket in a Kalenjin zone like Bomet, and vice-versa.


It is interesting that it is only in Samburu and Maasailand zoning did not feature. TNA and URP candidates will be in direct electoral confrontation with each other in these areas. It is more interesting to think about the reason why, for example, TNA was bold enough to field candidates for all seats in Samburu. What happened to KAMATUSA (Kalenjin, Maasai, Turkana and Samburu alliance)? Isn’t URP claiming the Samburu as it is the Pokot?

Red flags aside, there is a possibility that TNA and URP might not be drawing out daggers at each other there after all. Much since the traditional cleavage that has pitied the Kalenjin and the Kikuyu will be absent in Samburu. In fact, it is the cleavage between the Nandi-Kipsigis-Tugen axis versus peripheral groups within the expansive Kalenjin (read KAMATUSA) that are mainly resident in Samburu and Turkana but with similar sentiments expressive of Marakwet and Pokot, that might prove to be more salient a local discursive repertoire in Northern Kenya.

Rooted in recent rather than distant history, Pokot and Marakwet have always been led to suspect the endeavour that embodies ‘Kalenjin’. Their rebellion against Nandi-Kipsigis-Tugen domination works to shake up the structural integrity of the Kalenjin alliance. Occasionally they have rejected being Kalenjin, and have been led to assign contrasting meanings and values that emphasize their difference.

It might then be useful to remember the Pokot rebellion against President Moi that was symbolized in fiery cabinet minister, the late Francis Lotodo. Since then, this rebellion has tacitly been mirrored by the freedom that has been exercised by Ms. Linah Jebii Kilimo, a Marakwet, and Mr. Samuel Poghisio, a Pokot and the late Lotodo’s protégé. It is interesting to think about how Jebii feels more comfortable in TNA when the Kalenjin have a party in URP.

In the 2007 elections, Jebii comfortably won the Marakwet East parliamentary seat on a KENDA party ticket while supporting Kibaki’s re-election when the Kalenjin were strongly in ODM supporting Raila Odinga’s candidacy. Likewise in Pokot, Samuel Poghisio easily won the Kacheliba seat while supporting Kalonzo Musyoka’s bid. Generally, this can be understood as a rejection of the domineering narrative that is Kalenjin unity led by Mr. William Ruto. By extension this Kalenjin problematic and the seeming dearth of the KAMATUSA logic might work to explain Ruto’s apparent weakness in Maasailand.

TNA has fielded candidates for senate, gubernatorial and woman representative in Narok and Kajiado. It is noteworthy to remember sentiments expressed by local Maasai leaders that Kikuyus should ‘avoid’ presenting themselves as candidates for significant county seats. Consequently, TNA and URP candidates in Maasailand are from the Maasai community, a trend which has only been disturbed in the Nairobi satellite - Kajiado North Constituency.


Even as it appears that direct electoral confrontation underlining the conflict between ‘indigene’ and ‘settler’ in the Rift Valley has at least been avoided in the coming elections, it has clearly not been resolved. Odinga’s ODM, a party which in the previous elections was in the Rift Valley strengthened on a local discursive thread of perceived Kikuyu bias and communal grievance around historical injustices on land claims, could still retain some relevance. It might be relatively easy for the ODM party to mobilise disaffected youth around this idea; and it potentially provides a useful cover for anyone wishing to disrupt the numbers that URP claims upon the Kalenjin - think even Moi.

Disclaimers should not be overinterpreted nor underestimated. It is clear that anti-Railaism expressed around local discursive repertoires over the morality of the ICC cases on four Kenyans, interference by the international community on Kenyan affairs and the confusing Mau Forest conservation plan amongst other issues, will form a more potent mobilizing tool than the older debate on historical injustices around claims to communal land ownership in the Rift Valley. Zoning attempted by the Jubilee Coalition might work towards the survival of the largely in-organic and seemingly problematic alliance of convenience between Mr. Ruto and Mr. Kenyatta. It continues to be interesting to see how this coalition will hold after the general-elections in March.

Springing from our analysis of the Rift Valley nominations is our closing argument alluded to at the opening; that much of Rift Valley, as also with Nyanza, Central, Lower and Upper Eastern, with locally dominant parties, has already provided us with much of the result of the March 4 elections. With that in mind, zones of contestations and of the possibility of electoral violence will mainly be in swing vote areas; Coast, N. Eastern, Nairobi and Western.


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* Ngala Chome and Muthoni Kiguru are students of African politics. Ngala Chome; [email protected] Muthoni Kiguru; [email protected]

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