By Matiko Bohoko
With end of the month of June drawing close, when the Building Bridges Initiative task force is expected to hand over it’s report to president Uhuru Kenyatta, an unusual excitement is sweeping across the Kuria community anticipating that the report would recommend for a Kuria county.
Heightened anxiety is seen among the rank and file of the community with talk that the BBI team had been convinced that a Kuria county was important to replace Nairobi. The BBI preliminary report had indicated that Nairobi county could be placed under the national government.
Early this year, a section of the community travelled to Nairobi to present their Memorandum to the BBI committee sitting at the Laico Regency Hotel.
In a Memorandum read by the Kuria east member of parliament, Marwa Kitayama and his Kuria West counterpart, Mathias Robi, the community made a passionate appeal for their own county citing discrimination and unfair resource distribution in migori county as among the reasons why they wanted their own county.
Before devolution, Kuria was a Municipal council which combined both Kuria west and Kuria east constituencies.
Discussions in market places in Kuria, WhatsApp groups and other social media forums patronised by largely Kurias are awash with binges of praise to president Kenyatta and retired prime minister Raila Amolo Odinga over the anticipated Kuria county.
Elitist groups, professional associations and top politicians in the area seem to be all convinced that the report would recommend for creation of a Kuria county which they say would be game changer in socia-economic and political dealings with the community.
A snap shot of the Kuria East legislators comment’s on social media reveal a complete change of heart towards the ODM party leader. “ I fully support president Uhuru Kenyatta and his brother Raila Odinga in their efforts to unite the country through the hand shake”.
Mr. Kitayama is a first time MP and has been a close associate of the deputy president William Ruto. He was elected on a Jubilee party ticket in 2017. “ Am a servant of the people of Kuria who elected me to parliament. And as it appears Kuria people have decided to work with baba. Whom am I to say no when they are my employers. Infact a Kuria county will be a game changer that would trigger our political re-alignments in future”, one of his comments read.
Equally the Kuria west MP, Mathias Robi in one of the National television interview recently, indicated a softened heart towards the ODM party leader. “ We as a community will have no problem with Raila Odinga if he and president Uhuru Kenyatta gives us our own county. All we want is development for our people and that can only be achieved through having our own County” Robi is a second MP and Ruto diehard. He was first elected on a URP ticket.
Retired politicians within the community who have had a hardline stand against the ODM party leader are seemingly warming up to him.
Former Kehancha Municipal council Mayor mzee Nyahiri Muhindi had this to say in one of the press conference “ sisi hatuna shida na prime minister Raila Odinga, Kitu tunataka ni atupe kaunti yetu. Maendeleo yetu yamekufa, jiji letu la Kehancha limekuwa mahame”. A jubilee party MCA, Augustine Mwera, argued ” We are confident the president will give us our county. I was next to him during campIgns at Kegonga when he said that when an opportunity arises he will give us a county. This is now that opportune moment”.
Political observers in Kuria also seem to be agreed that the ODM leader could for the first time defeat all other presidential candidates in 2022 election if he played his cards right with BBI recommendations. “ In 2013 and 2017 we rejected him because he has been watching as we are being mauled like beef at the migori county. What stops us from voting for him 100 percent if he gives us our own county. After all he is our neighbour and the closest of all the other presidential candidates”. An argument in the Kuria professional association group reads.
There has been tribal tension in Migori county after every general election due to perceived ideological and political differences haboured by the Kuria and Luo communities. Kuria make up 35 per cent of the migori county population and are viewed as a “spoiler” vote in the ODM dominated Nyanza region.
In the August 2017 presidential election president Kenyatta garnered 41,951 ( 65 per cent) votes against Raila Odingas 21,202 (34 percent) votes. In the repeat presidential elections held in October 2017 and boycotted by the ODM leader, president Kenyatta got 13,156 votes against Raila 180 votes.
Kurias turned out to vote in the repeat poll boycotted by Luos in what was viewed as rebellion against Mr. Odinga over distribution of the county’s political seats in the general elections.
A position of senator that had been held by Dr. Wilfred Machage between 2013 and 2017 had been won by the late broadcast journalist Ben oluoch while the seat of woman representative previously held by Dennittah Ghati was won by Dr. Pamela Odhiambo. Only Nelson Mahanga Mwita retained his seat of deputy governor, a position largely viewed as preserve of the governor’s choice.
Kuria is the only region in ODM dominated South Nyanza region with two Jubilee MPs.
Before indipendence the Kuria found themselves in South Nyanza county council after the split with the Kisii. They boycotted the South Nyanza council between 1962- 1964 after their plea for their own council failed.
Community elders travelled to Dar es alaam to seek audience with the Tanzanians founding President Julius Kambarage Nyerere with a view of seceding from Kenya in 1963. The two communities fatally clashed in the battle of Lichota after the secession bid failed.
When Migori municipal council was hived off South Nyanza, Kurias were again denied their own council and were lumped together once more with Luos in early 1990s.
During the first multi party elections in 1992, Kuria was the only area in the ODM controlled Nyanza region that voted overwhelmingly for president Daniel Arap Moi as a sign of revolt.
Moi reciprocated by rewarding them with their own district and the Kehancha Municipal council in 1993.
In the 2010 referendum which ushered in the New constitution, the community voted against it on grounds that they were denied their own county.
In the 2013 presidential elections, Uhuru defeated Raila in both Kuria west and east despite having a huge presence through strong ODM parliamentary candidates.
Kuria has 350,000 population ( 2019 census) and about 94,000 votes by the 2017 voter registration.
Matiko Bohoko is a consulting journalist based in Migori.