Kenya’s post-poll political showdown likely to shift Eastern

Saturday April 22 2023
Kenya’s President William Ruto in Machakos

Kenya’s President William Ruto (centre) during a prayer service in Machakos County, Lower Eastern region which is considered an opposition political stronghold by virtue of having largely voted for opposition leader Raila Odinga in the last presidential election. PHOTO | PCS


Kenya’s Lower Eastern region, popularly known as Ukambani, is considered an opposition political stronghold by virtue of having largely voted for opposition leader Raila Odinga in the last presidential election.

A majority of Members of Parliament representing constituencies there belong to the Wiper Democratic Movement, which is one of the major coalition partners in Mr Odinga’s Azimio coalition.

But the region has been lukewarm towards the opposition’s latest mass action programme to push for a lower cost of living and electoral justice, with no major incident reported in any of its urban centres in March when street protests shut down Nairobi and some towns in western Kenya.

Urban centre protests

Former vice-president Kalonzo Musyoka, the Wiper party leader who is exploring a run of his own for the presidency in 2027 with the possible backing of Odinga, didn’t take the snub by his supporters lightly – challenging them to be as robust in their political expression as their counterparts from western Kenya.

Politicians in the ruling Kenya Kwanza coalition have been keen to play down the magnitude of the demonstrations by describing them as a “Luo affair” in reference to Odinga’s ethnic community.


The weekly opposition protests were called off early April after Mr Odinga and President William Ruto called a truce and agreed to parliamentary bipartisan negotiations.

The 14-member task-force met this week to set the terms of engagement after days of toxic exchanges over its composition, the issues to be brought to the negotiating table and threats of a walkout by the opposition almost scuttled the talks before they began.

Promises galore

But with the opposition leader adamant that their mass action will resume nonetheless after the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadhan and the government appearing jittery about the possibility of the protests spreading, areas like Ukambani are emerging as battlegrounds in Kenya’s latest post-election political showdown.

Last weekend, the President made two visits in three days to Machakos, one of the three counties in the region, where he appealed to residents to keep off the Azimio protests and promised them a bigger stake in his government in terms of public service appointments and development projects.

Ruto, while addressing roadside rallies on Friday, and an interdenominational church meeting on Sunday, also sought to counter Mr Musyoka’s political influence in the region, portraying the former vice-president as a tactless politician who had spurned offers of senior roles in government to abandon the opposition.

Local politics aside, concerns about protests spreading to urban centres in the region have also to do with the risks of major economic disruptions along East Africa’s most important transport corridor.

Two of the region’s three counties – Machakos and Makueni – have their boundaries stretching more than 200km between Nairobi and the coastal county of Taita Taveta.

Weekend tour

Time will tell if the President did enough during his weekend tour to stem the resurgent opposition tide.

But that is not the only direction he will be looking to put out the political fires being lit by his rivals.

On Thursday, Mr Odinga and his allies defied a police ban to address a town hall-type meeting in Murang’a County in central Kenya in what was seen as the opposition leader taking the battle to the President.

President Ruto enjoys a huge following in central Kenya, but local rivalries involving politicians loyal to his hawkish Deputy, Rigathi Gachagua, and those sympathetic to former President Uhuru Kenyatta and the government’s struggles reducing the high cost of living have provided political fodder to the opposition.

Former Murang’a County governor Mwangi wa Iria, who leads a fringe political outfit known as Usawa Party, has vowed to lead protests in the region.