Until the March 9, 2018 Handshake between President Uhuru Kenyatta and Opposition leader Raila Odinga, the Mt Kenya region was Deputy President William Ruto’s for the taking — or so it was assumed — courtesy of a memorandum of understanding within the ruling Jubilee Party leadership.
But more than a year since that historic political rapprochement that calmed the toxic political and economic climate in the aftermath of the 2017 General Election, the region has been cast into an open arena for all political players, including National Super Alliance (Nasa) supremo Raila and his two co-principals Kalonzo Musyoka and Musalia Mudavadi.
It is now an open hunting ground — an attractive political bride — for all to court in the 2022 succession matrix.
While the DP was largely expected to inherit the President’s political constituency in Central Kenya courtesy of a presumed election pact, Uhuru threw the spanner into his succession dynamics late in July when he nonchalantly said he was not aware who would be the next President.
“Mimi sijui nani atakuwa Rais. Uchaguzi utakuja na Mungu ndiye hupeana uongozi. Tufanye kazi (I have no idea who will succeed me. Only God knows who will be elected in the upcoming polls. It is time to work),” he said in Ruiru, Kiambu County, where he opened the Sh20 billion Bidco Industrial Park.
A whirlwind tour of the region over the weekend has rekindled debate on whether the region remains a politically locked-up zone, or if it has finally opened its doors to other contestants from across the political divide.
While the DP is viewed by some within the ruling Jubilee Party as an obvious successor of Uhuru, the President has not been enthusiastic about his deputy’s political forays into his Mt Kenya backyard and apparent premature campaigns and has made his position clear.
On Sunday, for instance, the DP toured Nyeri and Kirinyaga counties where he helped raise funds for three churches and stopped at several town centres.
His main target of the attack, as has been the norm for a while, was Raila, whom he alleged was known for his “political theatrics and empty noises” that were of no value to the people.
He was this time around referring to Raila’s enthusiastic embrace of Building Bridges Initiative, a joint scheme with the President, and the prospects of amending the Constitution to expand the Executive to make it more inclusive.
Since the Handshake, there has been a flurry of political activities in the region with presidential hopefuls combing the region on a charm offensive, hoping to win the hearts of an estimated three million-strong registered voters.
It has seen the emergence of two Jubilee Party groups, namely Tanga Tanga, seen as sympathetic to Ruto’s presidential ambitions and Kieleweke, who are on the opposing side.
Like an attractive girl in a village, suitors are wooing Mt Kenya across neighbouring ridges and beyond. This is indeed a curious development, considering that the region was done deal the President’s two-time running mate, Ruto.
National deputy chairman of the Kikuyu Elders’ Council dubbed Kiama kia Ma, and former lecturer at Laikipia University, Dr Michael Mugo likens the situation to a bride on demand, who is yet to decide on the preferred suitor. Every man, says Mugo, will try to sweet-talk such a lady.
“When there are many beautiful girls in a village, men travel from far villages hoping to win their hearts and that’s the situation we, in Central Kenya, find ourselves in at the moment,” says the former don.
Murang’a Senator Irungu Kang’ata, who maintains the President’s grip on the region remains strong, concurs that the political situation has indeed changed in the region. He argues that the Kikuyu community is exercising the politics of moderation and liberalism.
“This is freedom of expression and political thought. Let us allow opinions to flourish,” the Jubilee Senate Whip told People Daily, adding the President will give political direction to voters in the region.
The Handshake has been credited with bringing common sense and sanity in the body politik — and courtesy of the truce, Mt Kenya region, which has traditionally been hostile to presidential hopefuls from other parts of the country, has lately been receptive to Raila and other party leaders Mudavadi of Amani National Congress (ANC), Kalonzo of Wiper Party, and Gideon Moi, the Baringo Senator. In fact, in some instances, the President’s lieutenants have accompanied the opposition leaders.
Surprisingly, it’s Ruto who has been experiencing hostility from some of the region’s leaders, but still, he has comfortably been doing his visits with warm reception in the Meru area, notably legislators from the former Upper Eastern region.
Mugo says the Handshake ended tribal political animosity and so leaders keen on 2022 are bound to court residents in the vote-rich region.
Raila has been receiving backing from past political foes, mostly from elected leaders led by Kirinyaga Governor Ann Waiguru, who was forced out of government as the Devolution Cabinet Secretary over allegations of graft related to the National Youth Service. The ODM leader was among the prime movers behind Waiguru’s exit.
The two have since mended fences and recently the governor said Mt Kenya region was ready to back Raila, adding that he is a political factor that cannot be ignored, a pronouncement previously unthinkable.
“We all understand that Raila controls roughly half of this country and anyone who imagines that you can actually run this country without his support or (that of) his supporters, I think (they) would be denying that fact,” said Waiguru.
Mudavadi, who has fashioned himself as the Opposition leader after Raila “joined” government, has also done a series of tours in the region besides holding meetings with opinion leaders as part of his entry plot in the region.
The ANC leader kicked off his tours on November 19, last year when he attended a church service at Ruaka in Kiambu where he hit out at the DP but maintained he was still a friend of the President.
In May, Mudavadi, who weeks earlier had held a meeting with Thika traders, visited ailing politician and businessman Nginyo Kariuki at Tigoni in Limuru where he hinted at working with the President.
A week earlier, he had presided over a fundraiser held at Elysian Resort off Kiambu Road in aid of the construction of a home for retired priests in Murang’a diocese. Here he met, among others, associates of retired President Mwai Kibaki.
Late last month, Kalonzo met some Mt Kenya leaders at his Wiper Party office. In February Kalonzo was at ACK St Paul’s Giachuki church in Gatanga where he was welcomed by area MP Nduati Ngugi, who is a member of the Kieleweke team that is opposed to DP Ruto’s succession plans.
Separately, Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria has urged the region not to go to the 2022 election disunited, saying it’s dangerous and akin to going to a dowry payment ceremony while riding in the in-laws car.