Big guns flex muscles as Kibra race turns into 2022 dress rehearsal


By COLLINS OMULO
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Deputy President William Ruto’s wife, Rachel, on Friday hosted McDonald Mariga, the Jubilee candidate in the Kibra by-election, for a prayer service at their Karen residence, underscoring the significance the second-in-command attaches to the seat at the heart of the capital city.

Photos of Mr Mariga kneeling down as Ms Ruto interceded for him were widely circulated on social media.

The same day saw ODM leader Raila Odinga traverse the constituency in a last-ditch attempt to woo voters to elect Mr Bernard Okoth.

The battle for Kibra seat is turning into a dress rehearsal for the 2022 elections, as political bigwigs with eyes on the presidency use the platform to flex their muscles.

Rarely has a by-election garnered so much attention.

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The November 7 mini-poll has courted unparalleled attention, with the campaigns ceasing to be about the candidates and spiralling into a contest of who-is-who in Nairobi politics, and to a larger extent, a measure of relevance nationally.

Despite claims to the contrary, the contest is shaping up into a show of might between Dr Ruto, his political nemesis Odinga and ANC leader Musalia Mudavadi.

This has been exacerbated by the fact that most of the contestants are political novices, with only Amani National Congress candidate Eliud Owalo having had a close brush with politics when he worked as an aide to Mr Odinga – he was ODM party’s strategist.

Mr Mariga, a former footballer, had largely kept away from politics. Until recently, he had never registered as a voter.

Mr Okoth, alias Imran, was managing the CDF kitty during the tenure of his late brother Ken Okoth.

Last weekend, Dr Ruto, Mr Odinga and Mr Mudavadi – all having interest in the presidential seat – stormed the constituency to drum up support for their respective candidates

But rather than focus on the mini poll, they turned the lights onto themselves.

First to speak was the former premier, who pleaded with the residents, who had thronged ODM’s rally in Laini Saba grounds, not to “embarrass him”, declaring that “a vote for Imran is a vote for me”.

The ODM leader went on to underscore his development record when he served as the area MP, saying he stopped land grabbing, punitive rent and started slum upgrade programmes.

But seeming to have listened to Mr Odinga before making a grand entry aboard a chopper into the Lindi grounds, a kilometre or so from where his rival had just completed addressing his supporters, Dr Ruto tore into his former friend-turned-political enemy, castigating him for making Kibra to be synonymous with poverty, violence and underdevelopment.

“It is now or never to change the face of Kibra. We will never be lied to again. We still have water, electricity and infrastructure problems in Kibra, but we will work with McDonald Mariga, Jubilee Party’s candidate, to change this,” said Dr Ruto.

But why the high stakes in the seat? The constituency, hived off the larger Lang’ata constituency ahead of the 2012 elections, has been Mr Odinga’s political base since 1992 when he was elected area MP.

Mr Odinga has enjoyed a near-fanatical support there and oftentimes it has been more like his shrine, where he has always retreated to during his low political moments.

When he was appointed Prime Minister after the 2008 post-election violence, the first port of call was Kamukunji grounds within the sprawling slums.

After the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) declared President Uhuru Kenyatta the winner of the 2017 presidential election, Mr Odinga launched his protests at the same grounds that culminated in his mock swearing-in in January 2018.

And he acknowledged this over the weekend, saying: “Kibra residents were at the forefront at my swearing-in at Uhuru Park before the handshake was born.”

Given the importance of Kibra to Mr Odinga’s political career, Dr Ruto knows too well the significance of Mr Mariga emerging triumphant in the by-election.

Former Westlands MP Fred Gumo rallied residents to stop a plan by the DP to embarrass Mr Odinga by dethroning him from his “bedroom”, adding that there are some seats that “we cannot allow to go to the other side”.

For Mr Mudavadi, he is testing waters, with a significant number of votes for Mr Owalo meaning he should not be taken lightly in 2022.


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