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Uhuru succession and the battle of grasshoppers

A fight between Ndindi Nyoro and Maina Kamanda is like deadly combat between two grasshoppers. Most people would not notice. But Nyoro shot to the national limelight last week, his pursuit and arrest by police treated as breaking news by all the major media houses.

Did the media overdo the coverage, as some critics grumbled? Was Nyoro accorded national prominence he did not deserve, distracting public attention from maendeleo to a non-issue? Did the media elevate a village contest to a matter of national public interest?

Quick recap: Youthful Nyoro is the Jubilee MP for Kiharu in Murang’a County while Kamanda, a veteran Nairobi politician, is a nominated MP of the ruling party. On Sunday, September 8, the duo clashed at a fundraiser in Gitui Catholic Church in Kiharu.

News reports said Nyoro arrived late for the event to find Kamanda introducing guests he had come with. This got Nyoro’s goat. How dare Kamanda acts host in the MP’s constituency? When Nyoro took the mic, he refused to give it back, saying it was his duty to introduce guests to his turf.

Then hell broke lose on holy ground. Push and shove. Raised, angry voices. Panic. Security men rush in to try to separate combatants from tearing each other to pieces with their bare hands. Congregation in shock. Shouts and cries drown out appeals for calm. Ten minutes of chaos.

Police attempted to arrest Nyoro but he escaped. The fundraiser continued. Later that evening, Nyoro turned up at the premises of Royal Media Services in Nairobi for a talk show on the Gukuyu language TV station Inooro. When police learnt of his whereabouts, they laid an ambush to arrest him after the show.

But Nyoro got wind of the plan and announced he would be spending the night inside the RMS studios. With him were Elgeyo Marakwet Senator Kipchumba Murkomen, Kandara MP Alice Wahome, Kikuyu MP Kimani Ichung’wa and Dagoretti South MP John Kiarie. They all vowed to go to bed at RMS.

Police gave up, or rather changed tack. On Monday, they trailed Nyoro to Murang’a where he was to take part in another Inooro TV live show. Police stormed the venue and arrested Nyoro on live TV.

All media houses had been following the Nyoro story since it broke on Sunday. At prime time on Monday night, TV stations interrupted their news broadcasts to report the breaking news of Nyoro’s arrest in Murang’a. He was later released without charge.

For much of last week, Nyoro hogged the media limelight. Critics – particularly keyboard analysts – castigated the media for paying way too much attention on an inconsequential politician whose only claim to fame was a comment in 2017 that President Uhuru Kenyatta should evolve into a dictator.

Well, the criticism makes some sense. The media will drop everything to report the arrest of a politician, who is then given all platforms to declare that the country is returning to the dark days of tyranny, a reference to the dictatorship of President Moi lasting a whole 24 years.

But the daily arrests of innocent Kenyans by police mostly for purposes of extortion, or the unexplained disappearances of persons and rampant extrajudicial killings, get little attention. Such state oppression never alarms politicians or the media that Kenya might be returning to the dark days.

But the media did a terrific job on the Nyoro story. That was journalism with its finger on the pulse of the nation. What was witnessed in Gitui Catholic Church was a clash of national importance. MP Nyoro is with the Tangatanga wing of Jubilee that supports Deputy William Ruto’s ambition to be the President in 2022. Kamanda leads the Kieleweke wing opposed to Tangatanga.

These two wings of the ruling party have been going for each other’s neck for well over a year. There was no way any journalist worth their salt would ignore the fight between Nyoro and Kamanda, given the huge political forces each of them represents. Pundits are especially fascinated by what appears to be a totally unexpected split in Central, which has always carried itself as a single political bloc.

So, the Gitui church clash and its aftermath wasn’t a battle between grasshoppers. It was a significant episode in the Uhuru succession.

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