About a decade ago, Cyrus Jirongo and Kipruto arap Kirwa fell out with President Daniel arap Moi. The two were youthful legislators in the ruling Kenya African National Union (KANU) and felt unappreciated by Moi.
In revenge, and fully aware of Moi’s loathing for multi-party politics, Jirongo and Kirwa founded the United Democratic Movement (UDM). The new party electrified crowds in the Kalenjin heartlands, long considered Moi strongholds. In reality, the duo didn’t say anything new but their open opposition to Moi in his own turf raised eyebrows. UDM soon got backing from other Kalenjin politicians hitting back at Moi.
The government declined to register UDM. Within months, Moi had bought off Jirongo and Kirwa by giving them plum positions in his government. Kalenjin politicians who had joined UDM were later seen in press photographs sharing hearty jokes with the president. After that, UDM became dormant. Until now.
UDM’s rise as a third force in the Rift Valley was sparked by dissatisfaction with electoral nominations in the ODM party. The Kalenjin had thrown their weight wholesomely behind ODM and its presidential candidate, Raila Odinga. They were so fond of Raila that they baptized him, ‘arap Mibey.’
Last November, there was intense competition for the party’s ticket among Kalenjin politicians. By then, it had become clear that whoever was nominated as the ODM candidate would have a walk-over during the General Election. Lots of candidates were disappointed by the chaos of the nomination exercise, with claims of favoritism and intimidation. A few of the candidates were nominated directly from Nairobi. That is when UDM emerged as an alternative political vehicle in the Rift Valley.
Both its founders ran for the discredited 2007 polls in other political parties. Kipruto Kirwa contested the Cherangany seat in President Mwai Kibaki’s Party of National Unity (PNU). Meanwhile, Jirongo ran for his Lugari seat in another self-created party: the Kenya African Democratic Development Union (KADDU).
As stated earlier, the ODM wave in Kalenjin land was too strong and Kirwa was swept out of Cherangany by a new comer. In Lugari, Jirongo associated himself with Raila’s ODM and managed to retake the seat after five years in the cold.
UDM was back in the limelight after the elections. There was a by election in Ainamoi constituency following the murder of its legislator, David Kimutai Too, days after he was sworn into parliament. The ODM command settled on his brother to succeed him, resulting in disquiet among other party functionaries. One of them defected to UDM and ran against the ODM candidate. Campaigning by Eldoret North MP, William Ruto, helped ODM win back the seat.
Now, UDM is exploiting the troubles within ODM over impending party elections and the Mau forest saga. Politicians from the Kipsigis community felt short-changed in cabinet appointments to the giant coalition last April. The late Kipkalya Kones was appointed as Minister for Roads but his death in June robbed the community of a major political personality. None of the current politicians can fill such a high-profile position. However, that hasn’t stopped them from making their discontent obvious.
There is a perception within the community that President Mwai Kibaki had fired many Kalenjin after he took over the presidency from Moi in 2003. ODM capitalized on these sentiments during the 2007 election campaigns and promised to re-appoint senior Kalenjin professionals into government.
By far the greatest reason for Kalenjin supporting ODM was the promise of a Majimbo federal constitution. Majimbo was expected to give the Kalenjin a greater say in the management of land, taxes, minerals and forests within their Rift Valley homeland.
The Kalenjin are unhappy with Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s decision to evict their ethnic compatriots from the Mau forest. The government says that the Mau forest water catchment is being destroyed at a fast rate and could endanger the flow of water into Lake Victoria. The Kalenjin say they have legitimate title deeds to land in the Mau forest.
Deep down though, and something that is not spoken openly, the Kalenjin are unhappy with Raila’s rapprochement with President Kibaki and the Kikuyu community. An announcement that Raila would be anointed as a Kikuyu elder did not amuse ODM supporters. The Kalenjin also believe that thousands of their youths were arrested over post election violence and want them released before they allow the return of internal refugees mostly from the Kikuyu and Kisii ethnic groups.
The manner in which candidates for the Sotik and Bomet by elections were selected also fed the discontent. In Bomet, ODM nominated a widow to the late Kipkalya Kones while in Sotik, the party’s candidate is a sister to the deceased legislator.
As campaigns for this week’s by elections in Bomet and Sotik heat up, Kipsigis politicians are backing candidates from other parties against those sponsored by their own ODM party. In Sotik, Isaac Ruto, who is emerging as a dissident voice within ODM, openly defied Raila and campaigned for a UDM candidate. Observers see the move as an open declaration of war.
With dissatisfaction brewing within ODM in the Rift Valley, the party to watch could by UDM. It’s not clear what agenda the party has but it’s a fact that UDM can no longer be ignored as a protest party.
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