In February 2022, the Kenyatta family matriarch summoned a mzee from Kiambu County, an old-time friend of the family for a sit-down. The matriarch, Mama Ngina Kenyatta wanted to know just one thing from the 70-plus-year-old man: Why have the Kikuyu people turned against us? Us being the Kenyatta household, more specifically, against President Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta’s reign.
Until several months ago, the Kenyatta household did not believe that the Kikuyu nation had had enough of the ruling family’s stranglehold on a people who have been known to have erstwhile held the family in awe. But after two successive by-elections in Kiambu County in 2021, it had now dawned on the Kenyattas that indeed the Kikuyu people weren’t bluffing.
But, I’m running ahead of myself. Back to the sit-down. The matriarch wanted the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. The deliberations of that sit-down shall remain undisclosed primarily because it was a private conversation and because the mzee, who also happens to be my friend for many years, shared the sit-down conversation with me in strict confidence. To cut to the chase, the Kenyattas are struggling to understand how a people they have lorded over for half a century, have now turned against them, just when they need them most.
The Kenyattas are struggling to understand how a people they have lorded over for half a century, have now turned against them, just when they need them most
In 1969, my mzee friend was an “A” level student when he was yanked from boarding school and taken to Ichaweri village, Gatundu location, Kiambu County, then known as Kiambu District, the ancestral home of Jomo Kenyatta to be oathed. “It was a murky, tribal, blood-filled affair conducted in the darkly night,” the mzee recently reminisced, when we meet after his rendezvous with the matriarch. “People were asked to strip nude, drink a slaughtered lamb’s blood and made to swear that the they would always protect the leadership of the country from going to the Luo community.
1969 had been a terribly bad year for the Luo people, which had lost two of its most illustrious sons to a spurious road accident and an assassination. A third had been detained and then put under a house arrest. Argwings Kodhek was an erudite, British trained barrister who served as Jomo Kenyatta’s foreign affairs minister. In January 1969, he was involved in a freak fatal accident at the junction of Hurlingham roundabout and the slip road that leads to Department of Defence (DOD). Today that road that goes through Hurlingham is called Argwings Kodhek Road.
Six months later, an even more illustrious politician, the cosmopolitan, mercurial and urbane, Thomas Joseph Mboya was gunned down by a Kikuyu assassin, as he stepped out of (Channi’s) pharmacy at 1pm on Government Road, today’s Moi Avenue.
Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, Jomo’s first Vice President who had quarrelled with Jomo in 1966, had been cast away and replaced with Joseph Murumbi, had been put under house arrest the same year. Jaramogi the great nationalist had had a showdown with President Jomo, when he went to open the “Russia Hospital” at the lakeshore town of Kisumu, Jaramogi’s home town and bastion of his Luo support. After an exchange of words between Jaramogi and Jomo, a scuffle ensued and presidential security agents fired live bullets killing several people.
It is against this backdrop that the oaths were administered to the Kikuyu people, some of them forcefully. I remember having a heated argument with my uncle, just before the August 8, 2017 general elections in which he said the Kikuyu people took the oath to never vote for a Luo. “I took the oath, I can’t vote for a Luo. I’m sorry. We’d have to be de-oathed,” said my uncle.
So, the Kenyattas have thrived under this oath insignia, whose architect was Jomo and who for 15 years, from 1963–1978 ruled like an imperial president. For the longest time, the Kenyattas have used the oath to spellbind the rest of the Kikuyus into kowtowing to their political demands, always bullying them with threats of dire consequences befalling them, if they deviated from the ritualistic oath. The 1969 oath narrative has been handed down on the subsequent two Kikuyu generations like an integral part of their oral literature and history.
That’s why when you meet a 27-year-old well-educated and well-socialised Kikuyu young man and ask him why he cannot vote for Raila Odinga, he mumbles something about the oath that his father told him about, which his grandparents also cautioned his father about.
In the lead-up to the March 2013 general election, candidate Uhuru Kenyatta, used this oath-filled tribal hypnotism to rally around the Kikuyu electorate into ensuring they voted for him and William Samoei Ruto, who he had picked as his running mate for a second time. And the Kikuyu people did not disappoint; they rose to the occasion, lived up to type and voted for the duo in an emotional ethnic blackmail. The magic had worked yet again: invoke the curse of electing a Luo president and everything else falls into place.
Mama Ngina was recently in the news again. She was burying her cousin in Gatundu. Explaining why Ruto, who she had blessed in 2012 by holding his head in her two palms, had fallen out with her President son, she said the Deputy President was ill-mannered because he hadn’t been brought up properly. Had he, he would not have “insubordinated” her son, resulting in their acrimonious fallout.
After the matriarch spoke, I noticed there was heightened social media activity from Jubilee Party aligned hawks, bloggers and ghost writers, hoping to drive her message home even further and sniffing for drivel from UDA aligned politicians and looking for a fight, which according to the script, would accuse them, including their “cheer leader” Ruto of insulting the first mother.
The Kenyattas really got alarmed by the Kikuyu people’s revolt in 2021 when two crucial by-elections took place in Kiambu County in May and July. Both by-elections were occasioned by the MPs getting sick and succumbing to their illnesses. Both by-elections were litmus tests for the ruling Jubilee Party, in which the MPs had contested their seats and won hands down in 2017.
The party was now under attack from the fledging opposition party led by Ruto’s United Democratic Party (UDA). More significantly, the test was to prove whether President Uhuru Kenyatta still called the shots within the region. Finally, the Kenyatta family eyes were glued on the by-election results. In a nutshell, the results would tell whether the family still had an iron-grip on the political fortunes of the county and the Kikuyus at large.
When the Juja results were posted, the family knew they were in big trouble: The Jubilee Party candidate Susan Njeri received a drubbing from George Koimburi of the nondescript People’s Empowerment Party (PEP) that is affiliated to Ruto’s UDA. PEP is an outfit run by quarrelsome Moses Kuria, the Gatundu South MP, Gatundu South constituency is the Kenyatta family’s ancestral home constituency. Koimburi got 12,159 against Njeri’s 5764 votes.
“Juja constituency is not the Kenyatta family backyard (Juja borders Gatundu South), they own it,” said an electorate from the constituency. “They own most of the properties in the constituency: the largest chunk of land belongs to the Kenyattas. In fact, the more than 1000 acres of land on which Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) sits on belonged to the Kenyattas. Some of the biggest stone quarries belong to the Kenyattas. The stranglehold on Juja by the Kenyattas has been total,” said the voter.
That said, in the past, the constituency was a preserve of the Kenyattas: President Uhuru’s eldest step-brother was one time an MP there. So was his nephew and uncle. The constituency has been an extension of their property.
So, when President Uhuru learned the ruling party had lost the seat, he hit the roof. “What am I going to tell my mum?” He’s reportedly to have chastised Jubilee Party Vice chairperson and bosom buddy David Murathe at State House. In a fit of anger, he chased away Murathe out of State House.
There was no respite for the Kenyattas two months after when the Kiambaa by-election was held. The hotly contested seat become also a site of battle between the powerful Kenyatta family and a recalcitrant electorate. Just weeks before the July by-election UDA’s front runner and popular candidate Kariri Njama re-defected to Jubilee Party. Jubilee Party was still smarting from the Juja debacle, they weren’t taking any chances: neither were the Kenyattas – the humiliating defeat in Juja had to be vitiated.
Paul Koinange, the Kiambaa late MP, was a Kenyatta family relative; the Koinanges’ are Kenyattas’ in-laws, their influence bestrode the constituency. A defeat here wouldn’t be tolerated. When the final results were read, Jubilee Party had lost by a mere 500 votes. Yet the razor-thin victory by UDA confirmed to all sundry that the Kenyattas’ had lost favour with the Kikuyus.
Why have the Kikuyu people turned against us? Is a question that must be causing the Kenyattas’ sleepless nights, four months to the August 9, 2022 general elections.