Cablegate: Politics in Kisii Land

DE RUEHNR #1948/01 1271308
R 071308Z MAY 07





E.O. 12958: N/A

B. 06 NAIROBI 5393

1. Summary: The Kisii community, accounting for four
percent of Kenya's population, have been loyal to FORD-People
party baron Simeon Nyachae, who supports the Kibaki
administration. Now that Nyachae has announced his
retirement from politics, opposition politicians are eyeing
the Kisii vote. Widespread dissatisfaction with government
services in the district gives the opposition an opportunity
to pick up four percent of the national vote that had
previously been in Kibaki's column. End Summary.

2. Simeon Nyachae, Minister of Roads and Chairman of the
pro-government FORD-People party, has declared his intent to
retire from politics effective later this year given health
concerns (he is 75 years old). FORD-People completely
dominates the political landscape of Kisii district in Nyanza
Province, located in western Kenya on the shores of Lake
Victoria. The district is home to the Kisii (or Gusii)
people, a Bantu ethnic group that comprises about four
percent of Kenya's population. All 10 Members of Parliament
(MPs) from the densely populated district represent
FORD-People. The party splintered from FORD-Asili in 1997,
which in turn is an offshoot of FORD (Forum for the
Restoration of Democracy). Nyachae joined FORD-People in
1998 after falling out of favor with then-President Moi. His
astute political mobilization tactics created a Kisii voting
block that increased FORD-People's representation in
parliament from three to ten, but also removed any claim of
the party to have a national character.

3. Nyachae,s leadership of the party has been described as
overbearing and dictatorial, allowing little room for dissent
or challenge to his tight political control. But there are
signs that Nyachae,s hold on the Kisii community may be
slipping. Despite his strong advocacy throughout 2005 for
the government sponsored draft constitution, the majority of
Kisii voters rejected the draft in the November 2005 national
referendum, including voters in his own constituency. While
publicly stating that he will not formally ally FORD-People
with NARC-K (Kibaki's likely party for the December 2007
General Election), Nyachae and his party are firmly in the
pro-government camp. Recently, however, Nyachae has faced
competition within the Kisii community for representing the
government. Some pro-NARC-K campaigners are seeking to
convince Kisii voters the NARC-K ticket is the way to go,
especially given Nyachae's proclaimed retirement intentions.

4. In distinction to their firmly opposition-oriented Nyanza
Province neighbors, the Luos, the Kisii community tends to
favor the Kibaki government. Nyanza Province's population is
overwhelmingly Luo, which is Kenya's largest Nilotic ethnic
group. As a Bantu ethnic group, the Kisii have more cultural
and linguistic affinities with Kibaki's Kikuyu community than
they do with their Luo neighbors, and so ten d to support
the President. In Kenyan politics, factors of ethnic
identity matter a great deal (see reftels). That said,
dissatisfaction with the delivery of government services and
unmet infrastructure promises have opened a window of
opportunity among the Kisii electorate for the opposition
ODM-K coalition. The Principal District Officer for Kisii
explained to poloff that the national level economic growth
rate of six percent has not resulted in improvements in the
lives of ordinary Kisiis. Despite improved access to
education, he said, few would report that they are better off
now than they were in 2002 when the Kibaki administration
came to power.

5. Although increased access to education is among Kibaki's
top re-election campaign themes, the Kisii District Education
Officer (DEO) emphasized to poloff that this line does not
resonate in the district due to the deplorable state of
education in Kisii. The DEO explained that students score at
the bottom on the national exam. He reported an acute lack
of teachers and poor infrastructure, in both absolute terms
and relative to other districts. He stated that there is
currently a shortfall of 900 teachers to absorb the increase
in students attending primary school. Seventy percent of
rural schools in the district lack most essential
infrastructure (classrooms, desks, toilets, etc.).

6. Given Nyachae's announced retirement plans and widespread
discontent in the district with the government, ODM-K
campaigners have achieved the previously unthinkable:
campaigning in the district. In previous years, parties
other than FORD-People were prevented from campaigning in
Kisii by violent intimidation from Nyachae supporters.
Nyachae recently came under fire from Kisii ODM-K and NARC-K
supporters for remarks deemed intolerant and undemocratic,

NAIROBI 00001948 002 OF 002

when he stated that parliamentary aspirants must join
FORD-People if they wish to contest the coming elections in
the district. These new challenges to his supreme control of
the region may have contributed to his decision to withdrawal
from politics.

Comment: The "Kisii 4 percent" is up for Grabs
--------------------------------------------- -

7. Nyachae,s announcement of his intent to retire may be
genuinely related to his ailing health, may be an attempt to
avoid the humiliation of losing Kisii to ODM-K, or may even,
as some allege, be a ploy to drum up support for his and
FORD-People,s continued role in national politics. Since
his announcement, his allies and supporters have expressed
disbelief, and are calling for supporters to urge Nyachae
back. Should he indeed leave the stage, this would certainly
loosen the hold of FORD-People on Kisii politics, making his
protgs political orphans. A significant realignment of
party loyalties in the district is a likely result. In a
hotly contested presidential election, four percent is well
worth fighting over. The Kisii are likely to receive many
political suitors in the coming months. End Comment.

Background on Kisii District

8. Located in Nyanza Province, southwestern Kenya, Kisii
District is predominantly populated by members of the Kisii
(Gusii) community, a Bantu ethnic group. The region is a
rich agricultural area with a highland equatorial climate
receiving ample rainfall. The district is hilly, very
densely populated, with land-poor farmers terracing steep
hill sides, thereby contributing to a significant erosion
problem. Tea is the major cash crop for the district. Other
important crops are bananas, coffee, pyrethrum and sugar
cane. The area is also renowned for its lucrative soap stone
quarries and brick making industries. The district capital
is Kisii Town; estimated population: 120,000. Strategically
located on the busy Kenya-Tanzania highway, with good road
access to Kericho (and a restoration of the Kisii-Kilgoris
road planned), Kisii town is the economic and transportation
hub for the region. A visit to the town on a market day
revealed the main street bustling with traders, both in
agricultural products and commercial goods.

Biographical Portrait of Simeon Nyachae

9. Born 6 February 1932 in Kisii District to the powerful
British-appointed Paramount Chief of the Kisii. Educated in
the U.K. Entered the colonial civil service in 1960 as a
District Officer for Kangundo Division. He rose through the
ranks of the provincial administration, serving as Provincial
Commissioner, and later appointed by President Moi as Chief
Secretary for the Kenyan Civil Service (1984-87). Upon

retirement from his successful career in the civil service,
making him a prominent public figure among the Kisii
community, he entered politics in 1992, representing
Nyaribari Chache constituency on a KANU ticket. He served as
Minister of Agriculture 1992-97 and Minister of Finance
1997-98. After he publicly declared the government bankrupt,
Moi transferred him from Finance to the Minister of Industry.
Nyachae declined the appointment and so fell out with Moi.
He quit government in 1998, joining FORD-People, which was
then an opposition party.

10. Nyachae ran for President in 2002 on a FORD-people
ticket, but was defeated by Kibaki, coming in third place out
of a field of five. He garnered 5.8 percent of the national
vote, thus attracting some voters outside his Kisii commuity.
Nyachae,s political skills played a role in his inclusion
in the cabinet, as Minister of Energy, following Kibaki,s
2004 cabinet reshuffle when the President reached out to
opposition politicians to form the Government of National
Unity. Nyachae was appointed to replace Raila Odinga as
Minister of Roads and Public Works in the next cabinet
reshuffle which followed the government's defeat in the
national referendum on the draft constitution. Nyachae is
enormously rich, with wide-ranging business interests
throughout Kenya. He has four wives and more than 20 children.

© Scoop Media

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