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Rise of Generation X in Nairobi closes door on veterans

When Maina Kamanda lost the Starehe constituency Jubilee Party nomination to Nairobi-born musician Charles “Jaguar” Kanyi, it signaled the end of an era for a generation of leaders from Murang’a, Kiambu and Nyeri that had controlled Nairobi politics for eons.

That millennials and members of Generation X are taking over city politics is no longer in doubt.

Kamanda, aged 66, was part of a group that had graduated from City Hall into Parliament having first contested the Parklands seat in 1983, two years before Jaguar was born.

Like Jaguar, Kamanda was then 31 but, unlike the Kigeugeu singer, he only managed to get a paltry 915 votes against lawyer Samuel Kivuitu’s 2,500.


When he called a press conference this week after he was forced to hand back the nomination certificate to Jaguar – who had initially been declared the loser – Kamanda blamed his loss on the support he gave to former Gatanga MP Peter Kenneth, a Johnny-come-lately into Nairobi politics, who was vanquished at the nomination stage by 42-year-old Mike Mbuvi Sonko by more than 72,000 votes.

Also by Kenneth’s side was Nairobi Woman Representative Rachel Shebesh, the 46-year-old daughter of former Nairobi Mayor Samuel Mbugua, whose record was like that of Nathan Kahara.

Kahara is the man who surprised many when he became a councillor in Nairobi at 23, and later became the youngest mayor of Nairobi.

Kahara’s tenure was however cut short in 1983 by Minister for Local Government Moses Mudavadi – father of Musalia – who claimed that the City Council was inept, corrupt and had mismanaged its coffers. By the time it was dissolved, Parliament was told, Nairobi had only Sh10 million in its bank accounts and a monthly payroll of Sh30 million.

Interestingly, the commissioners who were brought in to manage the city, Timothy Ramtu, Dr Eric Mngola, Fred Gumo, Ngala Mwendwa and others did not help either and Nairobi sank into waste.

Though Kahara tried to worm his way back into Nairobi politics by vying for the Lang’ata seat in 1983, he managed (just like Kamanda in Parkland) to garner only 915 votes, a crushing defeat to Phillip Leakey’s 10,244 and Achieng Aneko’s 8,758.

Had the Murang’a-born Kahara won that race, the story of Nairobi politics – which was at times weaved with Murang’a politics – would have been different. He is today one of the high-profile Nairobi mayors, besides the late Margaret Wambui Kenyatta, who failed to make it to Parliament.


Times have now changed and whether Sonko, 42, will be able to dislodge Nairobi Governor Evans Kidero, 60, is neither herculean nor impossible given that in the last General Election, when he vied for Senate, Sonko polled 808,705 compared to Kidero’s 692,483 votes. Kidero’s challenger for governor Ferdinand Waititu got 617,839 votes.

With Waititu out of the race in Nairobi, having gone to his home-county of Kiambu where he dislodged William Kabogo, the race for Nairobi will be minus any of the 1980s politicos. It will be in the hands of millennials and Generation X.

The age-old enmity between Kiambu, Murang’a and Nyeri also appears to be withering away, thanks to the Nairobi-born politicians.

Nairobi was always the hotbed of national politics ever since the mission-trained Harry Thuku arrived in the new town in 1911 and started to organise public protests through his East African Association together with the likes of Jesse Kariuki, Job Muchuchu, Joseph Kang’ethe, Norman Mboya and Jomo Kenyatta among others.

But with the arrest of Thuku in 1922, a protest was staged in Nairobi setting stage for African nationalism. Thuku was then only 27.

After that, Nairobi politics revolved around the dominance of Kiambu, Murang’a and Nyeri politicians which had dominated what was known as the African quarters in Nairobi’s Eastlands followed by Luos and Luhyas – in that order.


It was only after the 1953 crackdown following the Mau Mau uprising in central Kenya and parts of Rift Valley that the Kikuyus lost their dominance on Nairobi politics after all adult males were arrested and taken to detention camps.

From the beginning, it was the entrepreneur Central Kenya businessmen who drove the Nairobi politics from the humble grounds of Kiburi House.

While Kiburi House, the one storey building along Kirinyaga Road, is little-known, it was not only the base of indigenous African entrepreneurship, but also the centre of politics. It hosted the Mau Mau war council and various trade unions and offices of leading politicians including Jomo Kenyatta.

Now a national monument, the story of Kiburi House is also the story of one of the first indigenous limited liability company, Kenya Fuel and Bark Supplying Company Limited which purchased the building in 1948. Documents held by the company show that it was registered on May 2, 1946 and its founder chairman was Kiburi wa Thumbi.


The building is important in Nairobi politics because it was here that Fred Kubai organised the attempted assassination of the Kangema-born city councillor Muchohi Gikonyo in 1950 for betraying the other politicians and agreeing to accept the elevation of Nairobi into a City.

While Mr Gikonyo survived the attack, (the bullet went through his fingers), Kubai was charged and released later but not before he had successfully led a boycott of the event.

Another target was Tom Mbotela, a moderate KAU leader who was also shot at in 1950 and finally killed in 1952 for denouncing Mau Mau in public.

The post-independent Nairobi saw the re-entry of Kiambu, Murang’a and Nyeri politicians into Nairobi politics. That is how Murang’a-born Charles Wanyoike Rubia became the first indigenous mayor of Nairobi – his request for an expensive Rolls Royce notwithstanding – with Isaac Lugonzo as his deputy.

It is notable that when Lugonzo became the mayor, he only served for three years and was nominated to Parliament to pave way to Margaret Wambui Kenyatta.

In Parliament, the most dominant faces in Nairobi included the ever cosmopolitan Tom Mboya – a man who cut across the ethnic divide until chauvinists brought him down with a bullet in 1966. The man who pulled the trigger was the Bulgarian-trained marksman and motor vehicle dealer Isaac Njenga Njoroge of Kiambu.


The others who dominated Nairobi politics were Mwai Kibaki who was elected member for Donholm (later Bahati) seat but abandoned it in 1974 having narrowly won the seat in 1969.

Although some analysts say that Mr Kibaki left due to the fear of losing the seat to Mrs Jael Mbogo, she lost the seat when the lackluster Dr James Muriuki was fronted by Nyeri politicians to take over the seat from Kibaki.

The Bahati seat was always seen as a battleground between the Kikuyus and Luos – who alternated in holding the seat – until Sonko came to the scene and defeated both Reuben Ndolo and Dick Wathika in the 2010 elections on a Narc-Kenya ticket. By then, nobody knew Sonko and no media house had his photo!

From Kiambu, the most dominant faces of the 1960s and 1970s were Dr Njoroge Mungai in Dagoretti and Dr Munyua Waiyaki in Mathare.

While Dr Mungai, thanks to his relations to Kenyatta, had emerged as a powerful politician, his defeat came through little-known political scientist Dr Johnstone Muthiora on April 19, 1975 who, however died after only a few months as an MP.


Post-mortem report said he died of blood poisoning after cutting short his visit to India where he started ailing. Dr Waiyaki always faced a battle with Laban Odanga but was dethroned by former Mayor Andrew Ngumba.

Another entrant after Ngumba left for exile was Dr Josephat Njuguna Karanja, whose rise to Nairobi politics was cut shot by David Mwenje in Parliament after he moved a motion of no confidence. Dr Karanja was then the vice-president.

In Starehe, which will now see three millennials – ODM’s Steve Mbogo, Jubilee’s Jaguar and activist Boniface Mwangi – take on each other, the seat was always the preserve of the Murang’a politicos ever since Charles Rubia defeated Clement Lubembe in the 1969 election until 1983 when he was expelled and defeated by Murang’a-born Kiruhi Kimondo.

Rubia was accused of being an ally of Charles Njonjo then denounced as a traitor.

Others who have held the seat include the Kangema-born real estate billionaire Gerishon Kirima, Kiambu-born Steve Mwangi and Rev Margaret Wanjiru (two terms). Maina Kamanda has held the seat for three terms.

Other Murang’a politicians who took control of city politics included Maina Wanjigi who straddled the Kamukunji constituency scene like a colossus between 1969, when he took the seat from the assassinated Tom Mboya to 1988 save for five years. In 1979, he had lost the seat to Phillip Gor (thanks to Achieng Oneko’s support) before bouncing back.


Today, the changing demography of Kamukunji has seen the emergence of Abdi Yusuf Hassan who has gone for two terms. Perhaps that was the reason why Jubilee had to ask former MP Simon Mbugua to allow Hassan get the nomination on a Jubilee ticket.

In the larger Embakasi, David Mwenje also from Murang’a was the best known face of the constituency – and settled many illegally in the expansive constituency. His name still echoes in the constituency – perhaps with that of Ferdinard Waititu – the aspirant of Kiambu gubernatorial seat.

A new generation has now emerged in Nairobi – with few ties to the old. How the Nairobi politics shape with the Millennials and Generation X remains to be seen. But of interest is that the politics may not revolve around the tribal arithmetic of yesteryears. Or perhaps it will, a case of new wine in old bottles.