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Injected with “Yellow Fever” jab, GEMA roots for Ruto in the elections

Kenyans voted for a new leader on 9 August and few would have predicted how the GEMA nation would vote. Mt Kenya took the heaviest beating from United Democratic Alliance (UDA) and the “yellow wave” reigned supreme. William Ruto-led party secured a majority of votes from the GEMA region, turning the yellow to a red card for Kenyattaism in central Kenya. But why did GEMA go against the grain?



In March 2020, I wrote an article entitled Fear and Loathing: Why Kikuyus May End Up Voting for Ruto in 2022 on why William Ruto was gaining popularity among the Kikuyu nation. I said come 2022, they would unanimously vote for him. The article came after visits I had made in December 2019 and January/February, 2020. In December, I was in Kiambu County and in January, I travelled up northwest 350km in the North Rift region, the bastion of Ruto’s electoral base and the region with the largest Kikuyu diaspora.

This is not to say I had not been keeping tabs on the political goings-on among the Kikuyu electorate, especially after President Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga shook hands on March 9, 2018. The write-up was jeered and sneered at by some handshake supporters, hellbent on not relinquishing their long-held view stereotypes on the Kikuyu voting patterns and their ostensible “blind” allegiance to Muthamaki.

Even crafting the article’s title by the editors was a problem: How do we say, Ruto’s popular among GEMA without saying he’s popular?  The article’s biggest sceptics said it was preposterous to even imagine or suggest that the Kikuyu nation – famous for their blindsiding ruse when it came to who they would ultimately vote for – a clear two-and-half years away. “Kikuyus can never disobey their king”, said the sceptics. “They can never vote for Ruto,” thundered the naysayers exuding gusto and finality.

Both statements were anchored and overborrowed more on (recent) history and less on analysis. The critics also hinged their criticism on a third reason: “A week in politics is a long time.” They were hacking back to Harold Wilson, the two-time British Labour Prime Minister’s now prophetic statement. They critics were persuaded they understood the Kikuyus political psyche very well, they wondered rather convincingly – what would be the odds that Kikuyus would act against the script. The odds in their view were zero. 


Kenya’s post-independent body politic is benchmarked on ethnic (tectonic) plates, since 1963. Ethnic communities bandy around their tribal war lords, and that is how politics has always been organised in Kenya. How different was it going to be in 2022? More so, for the GEMA nation which, since the advent of multiparty elections in 1992, had built a reputation for not voting against their own and against their presumed ethnic interests.

William Ruto of the United Democratic Alliance and his running mate Rigathi Gachagua. Photo credit: William Samoei Ruto via Facebook.

To this extent, the “big five” – Kikuyu, Kamba, Luhya, Luo and Kalenjin – whose tribal messiahs purportedly canvass and trade political interests on behalf of their tribes had never acted out of the script and were not expected to, come 2022, so who were Kikuyus to act any differently.

Hence, Kikuyus can never disobey their Muthamaki was premised on this fallacious fact that they were forever tied at the hip with their king. They, therefore, cannot go against his wishes; whatever the case. Besides, of course the ethnic factor, “Kikuyus would never vote for Ruto” is a consequence of the post-election violence of the December 2007 general election that was largely carried out in the North Rift region and the fact that Kikuyus always voted for their own and the fact too that they had never voted outside of their tribe.  

The North Rift “uprising” mainly targeted the Kikuyus. The official government statistics said more than 1000 people were killed and half-a-million people displaced. The truth of the matter is that as many as three times the official figure died. So, how is it that Kikuyus can now even contemplate voting Ruto who is reputed to have been the “uprising’s” mastermind?

How is it that Kikuyus can now even contemplate voting Ruto who is reputed to have been the “uprising’s” mastermind?

The flip-flopping newspaper pundit, a Jubilee Party hawk and an Uhuru Kenyatta loyalist Peter Kagwanja had this to say on his Twitter handle last week: “We are witnessing the greatest revolt in Mount Kenya since the Iregi and Mau Mau. An average of 81.5% rejection of the Kenyattas. The anger is palpable in the region’s first-ever non-violent rebellion by the vote. Embers of the 2022 revolt will continue to smolder (sic) for generations.”

Iregi is the Kikuyu word for rebellion, or to oppose. A flabbergasted Kagwanja couldn’t believe what he was witnessing, himself whitewashed in the senatorial seat competition in Murang’a County: “This is not victory. It is a massacre of Jubilee by UDA never witnessed before,” bemoaned the pundit.


Why did GEMA go against the grain, so to speak?

Several reasons: President Uhuru’s second term saw his government descend on Kikuyu businesses like no other regime – declaring many of the goods they imported especially from China as contraband. This crackdown was especially borne by the famous Nyamakima businesspeople, several of the businesses collapsed and others were bogged down by mounting bank debts. They couldn’t believe what was happening to them.

This business group had crowd-funded for Uhuru’s re-election presidential kitty, and to cup it all, they threw a night long bash on the half-a-kilometre-long Charles Rubia Road. Many cows, goats, sheep were slaughtered to celebrate his nevertheless contentious re-election. They had looked into the future and they had seen it was bright. Little did they know, the glory days were over, courtesy of their own son.

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga Photo: @UKenyatta/Twitter

The March 9, 2018 handshake: For all the time President Uhuru and Raila Odinga pursued the handshake, which birthed the Building the Bridges Initiative (BBI), they never understood what it was all about. President Uhuru never went to explain to the GEMA nation what was in it for its people. Suspicious of the document, the GEMA nation concluded President Uhuru wanted to sneak back to State House through BBI. That one, they vowed would not happen – at least not on their watch.

President Uhuru’s newest buddy in town, paradoxically, his political nemesis and fiercest competitor Raila Odinga, who GEMA had helped Uhuru “defeat” was now being sold to them as their redeemer. When, they loudly wondered, did that happen? Uhuru had, in his 2017 presidential campaigns, summarised Raila as three things to the GEMA nation: a mad man, an ogre and a communist, never mind for 50 years, the Kenyattas had weaved a narrative of antagonism and hate of the Luo community.

The 1969 oath administered by President Jomo Kenyatta at his Ichaweri home in Gatundu, which sought to bind the GEMA community and commit them to never relinquish the presidency to the Luo nation and specifically to the Odinga family, was as binding in 1969, as it was in 2022. Just three weeks to the election, some Kikuyu elders claimed the oath was no longer binding and Kikuyus were free to vote for Raila. Not so easy and simple like that, GEMA nation reminded the “hired” elders and by extension, President Uhuru.    


President Uhuru’s reneging on his promise to support his deputy – a gentleman’s agreement entered publicly between the Kikuyu and Kalenjin people boomeranged on the President, who couldn’t explain to Kikuyus, why in his second term, he had suddenly discovered Ruto to be unfit to succeed him. “Uhuru wanted to paint us as dishonourable people. We keep our promises and we are bound by our word,” said the GEMA nation.

The failure by President Uhuru to organise his succession ahead of time, by suitably looking for a fellow Kikuyu to replace him, left the GEMA nation with no choice but to resort to the theory of the lesser devil. Since they didn’t have a dog in the presidential fight, who then between Raila Odinga and William Ruto was the lesser evil? All factors held constant.

What about Ruto’s sins in the 2007/2008 post-election violence? “We were unwittingly caught in a war between us and the Kalenjin community,” said the Kikuyus. “In any war they are casualties. We bore our casualty, and suffered our collateral damage. That is the nature of war.” Yet, more fundamentally, they pointed out, “Ruto was not on the ballot, Raila was, he was the general leading the war, Ruto was his lieutenant. End of story.”   

That said, crestfallen Jubilee Party secretary general Jeremiah Kioni, last week held a press conference and had this to say: “Mt Kenya took the heaviest beating from United Democratic Alliance (UDA).” He observed the region had been overran by a “yellow wave” after the Deputy President William Ruto-led party secured a majority of votes from the GEMA region.

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