- It is is resilience that the 49-year-old professor will rely on to navigate the rugged political terrain, where he has twice campaigned and triumphed.
- But in a retreat to county politics, Prof Kindiki will have to face Governor Muthomi Njuki, who, in the ever-changing alignments, has cast his lot with President Kenyatta.
In his allegory "Kusadikika", Shaaban Robert writes that when a cow is injured it pulls itself home to the pen, where it would be consoled and assisted.
And in Tharaka, where Prof Abraham Kithure Kindiki comes from, there are two such havens where he can take refuge and reflect after his ouster as Senate deputy speaker on Friday.
First, there is Karii ka Mburi (a pond where goats drink water), the oasis in the parched, desolate land that is the place of his ancestors on the border of Kitui and Tharaka-Nithi counties.
Then there is Irunduni (solid rock) in Mukothima farther north, where his father, a Methodist priest, moved and where the law professor has built a home across the Thanantu River.
But the former law lecturer will not be coming home to herd goats or grow finger millet, the mainstay of his people.
Since his re-election to the Senate, the man with a boiling ambition couched in a baby face, wide smile and soft voice has not hidden the fact that he wants to be governor of Tharaka-Nithi.
To marshal enough votes to be the county chief, however, he will not only traverse the vast and arid Tharaka, but also campaign in the Chuka, Mwimbi and Muthambi highlands.
The personification of the dictum that there is nothing personal in politics but only interests, Prof Kindiki was a key behind-the-scenes strategist for Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto’s defence in the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
The duo had been charged with crimes against humanity following the 2007/2008 post-election clashes. Prof Kindiki even attended the court proceedings a few times.
He rode on this wave to win the Tharaka-Nithi Senate seat in 2013 and was promptly rewarded with the majority leader’s position for his role in leading a team that crafted the Jubilee coalition agreement that brought together Mr Kenyatta’s TNA and Dr Ruto’s URP.
As majority leader, he gravitated towards DP Ruto and for some time entertained the dream of being his running mate in the 2022 elections.
Facing a stiff re-election challenge at the time after opponents painted him as “a Nairobi man who flew too high” (he had been a member of the ‘Sky Team’ that moved around in helicopters in the early years of the Jubilee administration, wowing villagers in remote locations with generous cash donations), he changed tack and touched down to camp in the county.
Some of his antics on the ground proved sticky, such as when he joined men in kneading mud to wall a classroom, for which he took a beating on social media for “failing to build a better classroom”.
In another photo, he was seen campaigning on a bicycle, which projected him as a humble man. In the end, he was re-elected with a huge margin.
On returning to the Senate, his dream for the deputy presidency suffered a setback when his position was taken away and handed to his deputy Kipchumba Murkomen in a calculation that appeared to value a more forceful character rather than the humility of a scholar.
But the professor took it in his stride, though, and from that point he assumed formlessness and shunned the national limelight.
His party, however, doesn’t think he was circumspect enough and that his support for Dr Ruto was unequivocal.
If he has not been vocal in that support – in part owing to his position as an umpire in the House, and to be seen to be keeping the middle ground – matters came to a head last month when he sanctioned a debate of leaders opposed to President Kenyatta’s takeover of some of Nairobi’s functions.
In the motion, President Kenyatta came under sharp criticism from Mr Murkomen, who has since been axed.
The second charge is that Prof Kindiki snubbed a recent State House meeting that sacked Mr Murkomen as majority leader and Nakuru Senator Susan Kihika as majority chief whip.
President Kenyatta has been on the offensive in recent weeks and has waged a ruthless war to seize control of the Jubilee Party, long seen to be in the grip of his deputy.
And while the two former bosom buddies – through whom the word bromance entered Kenya’s political parlance – have been sizing up each other in the past two and half years for unclear reasons, it is only now that the President has gone for broke and kicked out disloyal lieutenants.
It is in this crossfire that Prof Kindiki found himself. Pushed to apologise rather than wait to be sacked, the lawmaker is said to have chosen to stick with DP Ruto because “the voters on the ground were with him”.
If the former University of Nairobi law lecturer’s rise in 2013 was eventful, the entry of his family onto the national stage in 2017 was a blast.
One of his brothers joined the campaign trail on the opposite end to support Raila Odinga, who was running against President Kenyatta.
After Mr Odinga picked Isaiah Kindiki, a maverick professor of soil science and a Methodist pastor, as his point man in the Mt Kenya East region, the fight for the votes of the larger Meru momentarily assumed the hallmarks of an epic duel, featuring two brothers of stellar academic titles facing off at the ballot.
But the move also offered a glimpse into one of the most academically endowed families in Kenya.
Besides Isaiah and Kithure, there are three other professors in the family, with four other siblings on their way to professorship – they are at different stages of work on their PhDs.
In my conversation with then Opposition-affiliated Kindiki at the time, he traced the go-getter streak in the family to a life of hardship and triumph that his father led, a spirit that he said runs through their bloodline to date.
Rev (rtd) Daniel Kindiki, the patriarch, rose from poverty to a respected cleric and elder in the region.
It is this resilience that the 49-year-old professor will rely on to navigate the rugged political terrain, where he has twice campaigned and triumphed.
His sacking has also offered him an aura of martyrdom in Tharaka-Nithi, where the local branch of the Njuri Ncheke and leaders such as former governor Samwel Ragwa and MPs Gitonga Murugara and John Mutunga beseeched President Kenyatta, in vain, to spare “their son”.
But in a retreat to county politics, Prof Kindiki will have to face Governor Muthomi Njuki, who, in the ever-changing alignments, has cast his lot with President Kenyatta.
As political shock waves lash the landscape, it remains to be seen whether Irunduni – the image for his grip of local politics – will be strong enough to shield the senator against the raging storm.
The writer is an editor at Nation Media Group