Small parties funded by wealthy backers have made a comeback to the political scene in the race to succeed President Uhuru Kenyatta and upend the dominance of Mr Raila Odinga as opposition leader.
The Party of National Unity (PNU), Democratic Party (DP), Civic Renewal Party, Kanu, Chama Cha Mashinani and the Transformational National Alliance have been on a recruitment drive, publicity blitzes and holding high profile events, begging the question of who is behind their resurgence.
PNU raised the stakes on Friday when it held a National Delegates Conference that signalled an end to internal wrangles that have persisted since 2016.
Multiple sources said an outstanding Sh41 million bank loan taken by trustees to acquire the building housing the party headquarters in 2007 has recently been settled by unidentified benefactors.
Industrialisation Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya and Laikipia Governor Ndiritu Muriithi made “a special appearance” at the Moi International Sports Complex meeting.
Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria and a group of politicians from Mt Kenya have also registered TNAP.
The party seems to enjoy the patronage of Deputy President William Ruto’s allies.
Among the TNAP officials is The National Alliance (TNA) honchos like former Athi Water chairman Keen Wachira, who accompanied members when they received a provisional certificate. TNA dissolved to form Jubilee before the 2017 General Election.
Earlier this year, DP, which was formed in 1991 by Mr Mwai Kibaki, was in the news when it appointed former Principal Secretary Irungu Nyakera as its deputy leader.
The party also held a daylong meeting funded by a wealthy Mt Kenya senator and an aspiring governor from Nairobi.
It is being touted as an alternative to Jubilee should there be a fallout.
Mathira MP Rigathi Gachagua, an ally of Dr Ruto, said the formation or revival of small parties is taking the country “to the bad old days”.
“We formed Jubilee to unite and not divide us. But, we know some people want to use the parties as bargaining chips in 2022. Others want to undermine the Deputy President, but they will not succeed,” Mr Gachagua said.
Mr Nyakera, who is also the Political Parties Liaison Committee chairman, said the alignments are nothing more than democracy at work.
“The memories of shambolic nominations witnessed in Jubilee are still fresh in many people’s minds. People do not want to be in a position where they will be kicked out at the last minute. It’s all democracy,” Mr Nyakera said.
Former Gatanga MP David Murathe dismissed the parties, saying those forming or reviving them are wasting their time.
“Every region has a leader. That leader is the face of the party in that area. For Mt Kenya, it is President Kenyatta. If he were to go to another party, we would all join him. The so-called small parties would be vanquished in an instant were there to be a political realignment in the country,” Mr Murathe said.
“Mt Kenya is waiting to get political direction from its leader. Until the President pronounces himself on that matter, the small parties cannot move. Those groupings are wasting time. They cannot muster any following.”
In Rift Valley, CCM and Kanu have also been on a recruiting frenzy and reaping the benefits of the perceived fallout in Jubilee.
Among the bigwigs that have joined the parties is the 2017 Uasin Gishu gubernatorial hopeful Zedekiah “Buzeki” Bundotich, who is now in CCM, and Elgeyo-Marakwet Governor Alex Tolgos, who is being associated with Kanu.
Little-known Movement for Democracy and Growth (MDG) party leader David Ochieng defeated Mr Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement in the latter party’s stronghold in Siaya during a by-election early last month.
Political commentator Herman Manyora says the parties are emerging out of political uncertainty in their regions.
“It is a situation where nobody knows what the President is thinking politically. It could be to abandon Ruto, join forces with Raila, a set-up between him and Ruto against Raila, and such other possibilities. There are many scenarios,” he said.
The biggest loser of the revival of the prevailing situation may be Dr Ruto, who hoped to use Jubilee to ride to power in 2022.
“None of these parties will have the capacity to shake Jubilee and Dr Ruto,” Mr Gachagua said.
Dr Ruto would be the biggest beneficiary of the efforts to make Jubilee the dominant party in Mt Kenya and across the country as Mr Kenyatta’s term draws to a close.
Whoever bags Mt Kenya votes will have a head start going to the 2022 elections.
Mr Kenyatta, who still holds sway in the region, has had his popularity get a hit over what seems like his government’s policies that have been interpreted as strangling Central Kenya’s residents economically.
The ban on importation of a certain category of second-hand motor spare parts, plans to ban importation of eight-year-old vehicles and guidelines on restricting sale of milk and manure have led to the growing feeling that the President is losing touch with his core base.
Despite these challenges, Mr Kenyatta commands respect in the region and his voice would not be understated even as Dr Ruto warms his way into the hearts of the residents.
In a recent interview with Kameme FM, the Deputy President sought to endear himself to voters that he is in Jubilee to stay and would accept defeat if he loses in 2022.
He also asked Mt Kenya residents to remain in the ruling party.
The DP, who has made it clear through numerous visits to Mt Kenya that he would be seeking the region’s votes, has also repeatedly dismissed members of Kieleweke team opposed to his presidential ambition.
He took a swipe at Kieleweke when he said he has stood by President Kenyatta since 2002 and therefore sees no reason the group should be castigating him.
“These lawmakers in Kieleweke cannot teach me to respect the President. They have made no contribution to the government. We have been together since our days in Kanu.
“That is more than 20 years ago. Between me and the Kieleweke MPs, who would stand with the President? Of course, me,” he said during the radio interview.