June 24 might have well been his lowest moment following claims he spearheaded a plot to eliminate Deputy President William Ruto. But over time, Trade Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya has skillfully turned the odds to his favour.
From an assassination plot suspect, Munya has emerged as perhaps the closest CS to President Uhuru Kenyatta from Mt Kenya region. Indeed, Munya’s is a typical tale of making lemonade from lemons.
And the CS does not shy away from blowing his own trumpet. Hinting at his rising political fortunes, Munya points to the fact that he is presently the “President’s man”, who draws direct power and mandate from the Head of State.
Defending himself against the Ruto assassination allegations in June, Munya said he was acting on Uhuru’s directives. He denied the La Mada Hotel meetings were geared at plotting elimination of Ruto. He explained he had been instructed by the President to coordinate meetings of elected leaders and top government officials from the region, including CSs and Principal Secretaries, with the view to addressing development gaps in the region.
Munya was not speaking for himself when he addressed the press after responding to summons at the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) headquarters on June 24. He was speaking on behalf of two Cabinet colleagues Joseph Mucheru (ICT) and Sicily Kariuki (Health) and other government officials from the region.
The choice of Munya as spokesperson of the Mt Kenya leaders is not accidental. Besides his vast experience in politics, which stretches 18 years, the former Meru governor is credited with his daring approach to political adversaries.
He is one of the few politicians from the region who can confront the high and mighty, including the DP. If indeed the idea behind Uhuru’s handlers was to get a bold individual to check his deputy, whom he has indirectly accused of premature 2022 campaigns, then Munya fits the bill.
And he has been speaking more confidently and authoritatively, each passing day. In June, for instance, he dismissed the DP assassination claims as “wild” and “unsubstantiated”.
“These are serious allegations, especially coming from the person of the stature of the Deputy President occupying an extremely powerful and important office. I would expect his office to undertake proper investigations before making unsubstantiated and wild allegations of that nature. This is irresponsible and unfair,” charged Munya.
The CS appears emboldened in his aggressiveness by the fact that Ruto reportedly campaigned for his main challenger in the governor’s race, Kiraitu Murungi, in the 2017 election. The DP and the CS have had a frosty relationship for quite some time.
In February 2016, for instance, Munya dramatically stormed out of a meeting convened Ruto in Nkubu, Meru to campaign for Jubilee ahead of the 2017 polls.
Addressing the meeting, Munya told Ruto that he would not bow to pressure to join Jubilee in the next elections.
“I have the right to select what party I chose to vie under in 2017. Nobody, and I repeat nobody, can force me to run on a Jubilee ticket,” said the visibly irate governor who was then chairman of the Party of National Unity (PNU).
Addressing the meeting after Munya left, the DP attacked political parties formed along ethnic lines saying the consolidation of parties under Jubilee Alliance was aimed at national cohesion.
The former chairman of Council of Governors went on to lose the poll to Kiraitu.
On September 4, 2017, an enraged Munya joined the Opposition Nasa, claiming his election was stolen.
“I cannot support the people who stole my votes,” he told the media at ODM leader Raila Odinga’s Capital Hill office.
But in a dramatic twist, he ditched Nasa barely a week later and vowed to campaign for Uhuru’s re-election bid in the repeat presidential poll.
From a disgraced poll loser in August 2017, Munya’s political star has been rising. He was appointed Trade CS in Uhuru’s administration after Raila’s Nasa boycotted the repeat poll.
Today, Munya is almost eclipsing his political nemesis, Governor Murungi. In fact, many local legislators regard him as the leader of the region.
According to East Africa Legislative Assembly lawmaker, Mpuri Aburi, Munya’s rise is giving some leaders sleepless nights. Nonetheless, he says this will not deter the CS from his quest to succeed Uhuru or become deputy president.
“There is no community without a kingpin. Raila is for the Luo, Uhuru for the Kikuyu, Ruto for the Kalenjin, Hassan Joho for the Coast, Musalia Mudavadi for the Luhya, and in Meru, we have Munya. Whoever touches or insults Munya is against the Meru,” Mpuri said last Sunday.
King of Meru
Today, Munya not only conducts himself as the de facto political king of the Ameru, but observers say he is gradually gaining recognition in the wider Mt Kenya region.
Besides coordinating the development agenda in the region, he has become a key defender of Uhuru and promoter of his government’s policies.
And while some have found it odd that a clique of ministers are engaged in regional development caucuses, the Trade CS has stood his ground.
Citing the freedom of association as liberty enshrined in the Constitution, Munya maintains there is nothing wrong in meeting as people from Mt Kenya region “as long as we are not planning anything criminal”.
The CS’s sentiments are agreeable to many in the region. Nyeri Town MP Ngunjiri Wambugu says Munya’s position resonates with many in Mt Kenya region.
Wambugu wonders why meetings of leaders from the region generate a lot of suspicion “yet other communities meet weekly at the Weston Hotel among other places”.
The people of Mt Kenya, argues Munya, are entitled to development “just like Kenyans from other parts of the country.”
And for his spirited defence of the region, the CS has earned himself a number of supporters. His PNU officials have particularly been quick to jump to his defence.
“Let them stop dragging Munya’s name in the mud. If they think he is too influential, they should prepare to face him at the ballot in 2022,” says Samuel Mwambia, PNU secretary, Isiolo branch.
The 50-year-old Munya first joined Parliament in 2002 as MP for Tigania East and was re-elected in 2007. He also served as assistant minister for East African Community.
There is no denying the turn of events has given Munya, a lawyer, a political lifeline. Only time will tell how long and far his luck will stretch.