Last Saturday, the hushed verdant village of Kiamugumo in the pristine county of Kirinyaga came to life as Governor Anne Mumbi Waiguru married lawyer Kamotho Waiganjo.
Owing to her political standing, observers following the event made it their job to look beyond the obvious, even as they sliced and diced the speeches and the non-verbal cues to quench their insatiable curiosity.
And as it were, beyond the song and dance, the kind looks and hearty laughter, one could pick up subliminal political endorsements and anecdotal contrivances that might inordinately shape the 2022 succession debate and the battle for the control Mt Kenya politics. And this is why.
In his 16th Century treatise The Prince, Italian Philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli says: “Whoever wishes to foresee the future must consult the past.”
In September 2014, an equally momentous function was held at Kiamugumo Secondary School, just a few steps from Kiamugumo Primary School - the venue of Saturday’s event. It was Waiguru’s homecoming after her appointment as the Cabinet Secretary for Devolution.
This was the official introduction of Anne Waiguru to Kirinyaga politics, a momentum that would build up steadily, leading to her win in 2017.
One factor is constant in both the 2014 and the 2019 ceremonies - President Uhuru Kenyatta.
In both events, Uhuru paid glowing tribute to Waiguru. His confidence in the governor was amplified by his comment to Mr Waiganjo guaranteeing him that he had married a “wonderful girl” who he had “worked with her in government and at the Treasury, and she is committed to everything she has done.”
Back in 2014, Uhuru’s remarks sounded more like an endorsement than rhetoric. So what was Saturday’s endorsement all about?
It is also worth noting that other leaders jostling to be the region’s political spokesperson like Governors Mwangi wa Iria (Murang’a) and Ferdinand Waititu (Kiambu), Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri, and Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria were absent. This may have been just a coincidence; but only if there is such a thing as coincidence, especially in politics.
Ruto vs Raila chase
The conspicuous absence of Deputy President William Ruto, whether strategic or inevitable, and the notable presence of ODM leader Raila Odinga caught many by surprise. In my preceding assumption, the contrary was bound to happen.
Waiguru had for long been seen as Ruto’s ally and a probable running mate in what has turned out to be a typical case of friend-turned-foe-turned-friend again. The infamous “cat walking na kizungu mingi” remark by Ruto against her in the face of NYS scandal, and his decision to retreat from her line of defence in the midst of attacks from Raila, strained their relationship.
But barely two years later, Ruto would grace Waiguru’s inauguration as the chief guest after she won a fierce governorship race. He would later make seven more visits to the county in one year. The two were often photographed walking side by side, exchanging niceties and sharing a hearty laughter.
It was therefore puzzling to see Ruto, together with his Tangatanga brigade, miss the event and instead visit Tharaka Nithi County.
Was it because of Waiguru’s open support for the handshake, and her involvement with Team Embrace? Was it because of the presence of Raila? Or was it because of the presence of Interior Principal Secretary and a perceived Ruto detractor Karanja Kibicho? I think it is a little bit of each.
And then there is the man who, in the run-up to the 2017 elections, ostensibly made Waiguru a campaign agenda, putting her political career in jeopardy. Of course after President Kenyatta’s handshake with Raila in March last year, Waiguru reconciled with the ODM leader leading to her withdrawal of a defamation suit against him.
As William Clay would say, in politics there are no permanent enemies, and no permanent friends, only permanent interests. Like Uhuru, Raila spoke highly of Waiguru. And with that came his endorsement: “I support calls for Anne to run for a higher political office (in 2022)”.
It is common knowledge that handshake support groups including the women-led Team Embrace is pushing for a change of the Constitution to end the winner-take-all model.
While supporting this push, Waiguru has been at the forefront in calling for gender equality in the political stratosphere, vowing to only support a referendum that would ensure a 50-50 sharing of political positions.
Raila’s visit to Kiamugumo may be his way of reaching out to Waiguru and his support base as he seeks to form a formidable force to contest in the 2022 elections. As you know, the world of politics is one of infinite possibilities.
Should that be the case, it would be interesting to see which position Waiguru would be given in Raila’s tag team and whether her support base would endorse the idea.
The governor has in the past openly endorsed Ruto for president, but never Raila. In recent times, however, she has tactfully kept off 2022 political debate and instead rallied her troops behind the handshake.
Mt Kenya succession politics
At an Embrace rally in Murang’a recently, Waiguru told the residents to rally behind Uhuru as the region’s kingpin, adding that anyone interested in the regions’ support in the 2022 elections has to go through him (the president).
And so, in the coming months, whenever discussions about the next Mt Kenya spokesperson come up, Waiguru’s name is bound to feature.
Besides, Waiguru has a historical background to boot.
The governor was born and raised in Kirinyaga, before moving with her family to Kiambu after her father, a police officer, was transferred. Her wedding to the lawyer from Murang’a might therefore spread her footprints in Central Kenya.
With proper political outreach, Waiguru can capitalise on these factors and galvanise the three counties while stretching her political influence to the counties of Nyandarua, Nyeri, Nakuru and Laikipia and the upper eastern regions of Meru, Embu and Tharaka Nithi.
Meanwhile, it would be foolhardy to rule her out of Kirinyaga politics just yet. She may as well choose to defend her seat since there in no law that bars her from doing so by reason of her marriage to a man from Murang’a.
And even if she chose not to seek re-election, her ubiquitous influence in the county’s political sphere cannot be ignored. Her endorsement would certainly be pivotal in the next county elections, and may be the difference between the winner and the loser.
- The writer is a Political Communication Strategist
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