Three decades ago, a youthful Trans-Nzoia activist Kipruto Arap Kirwa made history by replacing one of Kenya’s independence era politicians Masinde Muliro in a by-election in Cherangany constituency during president Daniel Arap Moi’s one party Kanu regime.
Even after being appointed into the government as an assistant minister, Kirwa kept on poking holes in the government he was serving until he was handed a sack and went on to align himself to those opposed to the Moi’s rule and joined hands with the likes of Cyrus Jirongo and Fred Amayo to form the United Democratic Movement party. After losing the seat to Joshua Kuttuny, Kirwa has attempted to rebound by shifting from one party to another starting with Ford-Kenya associated with Bungoma senator Moses Wetang’ula, the defunct New Ford Kenya that was headed by Eugene Wamalwa and later ANC led by Musalia Mudavadi.
During the 2013 and 2017 polls, he contested the Trans-Nzoia senate seat on the NFK and ANC tickets respectively and lost to political newcomers Henry Ole Ndiema of FK and Jubilee’s Mike Mbito. In the 2013 polls, Kirwa is said to have solely financed all the parliamentary and civic NFK candidates in Trans-Nzoia while in the last general election, he is reported to have not received any penny from ANC for his and Mudavadi’s campaigns that almost rendered him financially incapacitated.
This is where the rain started falling on the former lawmaker. NFK managed to secure the women representative seat in 2013 through Janet Nangabo. Then in early 2020, Kirwa in a surprise but silent development moved away from ANC as the party’s deputy leader and built tent at the Tangatanga camp allied to William Ruto saying that as a Kalenjin elder, he was not bound to stand in to oppose the youthful DP in his quest for the presidency in 2022.
The question is, was Kirwa’s defection a miscalculation or a bold action? What was initially thought to be a bold move has, however, turned out to be a nightmare for the politician who is currently pursuing a PhD in International Relations and Diplomacy at the University of Nairobi. His defection to Jubilee was received with mixed feelings by the residents with some describing it too late prompting the Chepsiro/Kiptoror MCA Abraham Birir and activist John Njuguna vow to run against him for the Cherangany seat.
Kirwa had also resigned from the same position at NFK to join ANC after the then party leader Eugene reneged to back Mudavadi for the presidency in 2017 and instead rallied behind Uhuru Kenyatta in the Jubilee coalition following the collapse of NFK. One year down the line after the defection of Kirwa from ANC which is yet to ratify the changes, has the move made any political impact nationally and locally in his Trans-Nzoia county? What spells for his former ANC group of the 2017 gubernatorial candidate Andrew Wanyonyi with and the running mate Protus Chemonges whom they carried the party’s flag in the county in 2017?
And has he been to push for the DP’s agenda in the area? Since Kirwa moved away from ANC, the party has yet to ratify the changes with substantive replacements as the Lugari MP Ayub Savula agitates himself as the new party deputy leader. During the late Daniel arap Moi’s government, Kirwa was regarded as the second to the head of state within the Kalenjin community and was even relied on for political directions as was the case for the community legendary leader the late Jean Seroney.
Kirwa, who had been coroneted as a Kalenjin elder at a ceremony at Kaplamai in Cherangany, had his title to be later plucked by Ruto upon the latter taking over the role of the community to condemn the evictions at the Mau Forests and the assuming the DP’s office. The DP had also been appointed to replace at Kirwa’s former ministry at Kilimo House which gave him the opportunity to defend the interest of farmers within the Kalenjin-dominated Rift Valley region during the Mwai Kibaki-Raila Odinga coalition government.
During the burial of Mama Hannah Mudavadi, the mother of the ANC party leader, Kirwa could have been only Mudavadi’s former ally who shied away from the funeral even as Mudavadi introduced his former running mate Jeremiah Kioni amid protests from the mourners. The duo vied on the former UDF party which was rebranded as ANC. Today, Kirwa finds himself in a catch-22 position in both reclaiming his personal political career and campaigning for Ruto in his presidential bid and is headed for hard times as he comes face to face with all the Trans-Nzoia troops who attended the burial of Hannah and prove to him how he might have reached his political apex by detaching from Mudavadi at the time of need.
Starting with CS Wamalwa to Wetang’ula, from the newly-converted Kiminini MP Chris Wamalwa to veteran politician Noah Wekesa and from Cherangany lawmaker Joshua Kuttuny to his Kwanza counterpart Ferdinand Wanyonyi rallying behind Mudavadi, Kirwa’s side will have to work on a new formula to stop the growing Mudavadi’s influence in the county. According to the ANC county chairman Herman Malavi, the funeral of Hannah had opened a fresh chapter of the Luhyas and other tribes residing in the county to unite and make one choice of a presidential candidate who would cater for the interest of this cosmopolitan region.
And with the imminent folding up of Jubilee party in the county following disagreement between CS Wamalwa and DP Ruto who held the party during the 2017 polls, the registration of the United Democratic Alliance allied to the DP is likely to take the centrestage in the politics of the area ahead of the 2022 general election. But Jubilee’s county chairman Richard Chesebe aspiring for the senate in 2022 does not buy this school of thought and says the party was still intact in the area adding that its MCAs were still contributing towards the running of its activities through deductions from their salaries and allowances.
It goes without saying that DP Ruto allies such as Janet Nangabo, his assistants in the office Kakai Bisau and Abraham Sing’oei will be the first among equals to be associated with UDA even as the Mudavadi influence sweeps across the county. But it is argued that the two will part ways and find their way to the ballot with each stating to have invested heavily for the governor’s seat in 2022 with Bisau heading for the third and perhaps the last trial.
Also on the UDA bandwagon would be Allan Chesang who has stormed the area with goodies to the youth, promising to bag the senate seat in next year’s polls. The Kikuyu community through their Gema chairman George Muchori says their people are bound to pay the debt by backing DP Ruto for the country’s top political office after he trooped the Kalenjins to rally behind Uhuru for two presidential terms in 2013 and 2017. The stand is supported by the Trans-Nzoia deputy speaker Stephen Njoroge from Makutano ward in Cherangany.
The same story is for the Sabaots whose spokesperson Sile Sisimwo who argues that it is only through Ruto that their community and other tribes in the county were guaranteed of peace and development adding that the will of democracy should be left to thrive in the forthcoming elections. But questions are abound, will Ruto rely on Kirwa to head his campaigns in the area as the senior-most politician in Trans-Nzoia? How is he prepared to counter other parties? Does he still wield the powers to marshal a presidential campaign on his behalf?
Throughout his political career, Kirwa had been elected on non-compromising stand on issues affecting the dairy and maize farmers, corruption and flawed democracy and it was going to be difficult for him to go well with those in the DP’s camp mentioned in various graft cases involving public funds. During last year’s Christmas season, two Kanu leaders and an entrepreneur are said to have hosted Kirwa for a luncheon at a resort club in Cherangany where matters of giving him a government job as an ambassador were discussed once he decamps the DP.
It will be recalled that Kenya is still embroiled in a diplomatic tussle with New Delhi in India where the nominee to the Embassy Willy Bett was being harangued with audit and integrity queries before he could be accepted substantively. For the two Kanu men and the businessman, Kirwa is a Nandi leader who can command the community unlike Ruto who has mixed blood of the Kipsigis sub-tribe. The hoisting of Kirwa by the Kanu operatives came on the heels of an abortive ceremony by a section of Nandi elders from the Talai clan to crown Baringo senator Gideon Moi as the Kalenjin spokesman as opposed to Ruto.
And as it has been the trend, is Kirwa prepared to make another U-turn and follow the Kanu politicians wooing him almost two years to the polls? Is he still relevant to the Kalenjin and Kenyan political classes to attract any one’s attention? It is not yet clear whether he will try his luck for the third time at the senate seat or stick to the Cherangany constituency as the area wakes up to an additional constituency with fierce opponent Julius Tunduria saying the former MP had outlived his usefulness while deputy governor Stanley Tarus leads a new pack of fresh minds calling for change of leadership of the area.
If Kirwa decides to vie for the constituency seat, he will be facing an acid test from the FK team of either Patrick Simiyu or Bernard Milimo while if he chooses the senate, he will still have to confront Allan Chesang, Richard Chesebe, Nixon Mutuku, Ken Simiyu and Mike Mbito if the incumbent does not shift to the governor’s race as anticipated. Kirwa does not have influence in the other constituencies of Saboti, Kiminini, Kwanza and Endebess where every aspirant allied to Ruto will have to fight out for himself or herself, leaving the window to the anti-DP side headed by CS Wamalwa.
It will even be an uphill task for him to propose the candidate for the women rep position. Endebess MP Robert Pukose could be the only DP’s ally who could run the campaigns without a hand from Kirwa for having what it takes to retain the seat. It remains to be seen whether another Ruto ally David Lazaro will stick with him as he tries to reclaim the Saboti seat he lost to ODM’s Caleb Amisi in 2017. Political parties were not convinced with Kirwa’s switching from ANC to Jubilee and according to the local Kanu stalwarts led by Pius Kauka, Kanu through its leader Gideon Moi is working on a remodeling formula on how all the branches will counter their opponents ahead of the 2022 polls.
For ODM, an official Washington Ngesa, was pushing for the empowering of counties to run for the nominations of candidates away from the tradition where the exercises were carried by the party headquarters to avoid the numerous cries of undue influence. And for the county governing FK party torn between factions allied Senator Wetang’ula and Kanduyi MP Wafula Wamunyinyi, the stalemate is sending signals of doom to the party members as the day of election beckons. Pundits say CS Wamalwa is watching the events as they unfold in the party before taking a stand.