Mt Kenya sways as search for new political kingpin gains momentum

Former Gatanga MP Peter Kenneth (l), Muranga Governor Mwangi wa Iria (top) and Trade Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya are some of the frontrunners seeking to inherit Uhuru's political mantle in Mt Kenya. [File, Standard]

Identifying President Uhuru Kenyatta’s successor in Mt Kenya region is likely to get uglier in the last years of his presidency.

The clouds have been gathering over the political landscape of Mt Kenya region for some time now and the first clear sign of a storm came in a violent confrontation between members of opposing factions within Jubilee Party last week.

After the storm caused by the confrontation between nominated MP Maina Kamanda and Kiharu legislator Ndindi Nyoro in a Murang’a church last week, regional leaders are worried about the likelihood of a dangerous communal split and political violence between rivals.

The region could be veering towards bitter and personal political rivalry last experienced when second liberation hero Kenneth Matiba and would-be-latter President Mwai Kibaki ran against each other in the first multi-party General Election in 1992.

SEE ALSO :Waiguru: Mt Kenya is ready to support Raila

Yet for the first time since 1992, the region could go to an election without a regional candidate on the ballot.

As the incumbent, and like Kibaki his predecessor, President Kenyatta is of an apathetic disposition on the subject of his succession.

Disrupted functions

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Yet by lowering his baton, he has let the orchestra play to their own tune and songs of Tanga Tanga and Kieleweke.

Uhuru has been preaching an off politicking message and rightfully so. The next election is still three years away.

SEE ALSO :Leaders condemn rise of chaos in Mt Kenya rallies

“Some people think that just because I am retiring, I have nothing to say (on my succession). I will say something at the right time. And some people will get shocked,” he said.

The politics has become combustible since. The incident in Murang’a which captured national attention comes in the background of other previous attempts to disrupt functions hosted by either faction, mostly in Murang’a County and in neighbouring Nyeri.

With with no influential politician or a confidant of the President from among the current crop, they are rallying at the feet of the Deputy President for direction.

In contrast to Kibaki’s tenure when a word from the late Transport minister John Michuki was automatically taken to be State House’s position, no current legislator can claim to assert the authority of the President.

Instructively, Uhuru’s making as the axis of Mt Kenya region had little to do with the Kibaki endorsement but everything to do with Michuki.

SEE ALSO :Why Raila’s push for PM post is causing jitters in Mt Kenya

Generational change

During campaigns for the 2017 election, against stiff competition from independent candidates, Uhuru took the middle ground, advising voters to go for the best candidate provided they backed his presidency.

Ruto, on the other hand, was of the message that voters should go only for Jubilee candidates. A result is a group of elected leaders that are willing to back Ruto’s agenda. That coupled with a generational change - younger leaders are taking over - has made politics in the region combustible.

For instance, in Kirinyaga, all the current lawmakers are first-term MPs. In Nyeri and Muranga, all legislators save for Kieni MP Kanini Kega and Kandara MP Alice Wahome are serving their first term. Almost all of them owe their election to  Ruto and owe him their loyalty.

To fill the vacuum and nip Ruto’s growing influence in the region, a number of leaders such as Kirinyaga Governor Anne Mumbi are attempting to take up the mantle.

SEE ALSO :The dying towns of Mt Kenya region

Waiguru has publicly stated that Mt Kenya was ready to back Raila Odinga and she has been a firm advocate of the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI). But she is learning that by speaking up, she is also putting a target on her back.

On Thursday, a function she was presiding over at Kagumo turned rowdy after an MCA was prevented from addressing the crowd. Ruto has also dismissed her message that Kenyans were fed up of having two communities dominate leadership as tribalist ideology.

“Let’s be honest, Kenya has many communities and one or two cannot continue dominating the leadership of this country,” Waiguru said.

Implicitly, Waiguru was dismissing Ruto’s candidature, a direct attack that forced the DP to respond on Twitter.

Political analyst Dr Kobia Ataya, in a previous interview, warned about the dangerous political vacuum in the region, saying a vacuum eventually gets filled up even if by garbage.

There is similar concurrence from Murang’a Senator Irungu Kang’ata who describes intense jostling for positions as expected in any vacuum.

“That is likely to continue until the Uhuru successor is clear,” Kangata said in a recent interview.

A clear cut transition to Ruto at the end of Uhuru’s incumbency was all but certain, but Ruto’s inner circle is uncomfortable of the new found friendship between Uhuru and Raila.

It is telling that Raila is on record as asking the President to consider former Gatanga MP Peter Kenneth for a government job, perhaps to give him a bigger profile in the region.

Financial arsenal

Kenneth told Sunday Standard that the jostling among politicians was futile, insisting that the region was stable politically after Uhuru’s “handshake” with Raila.

Kenneth finds himself out public office since his presidential bid in 2013 and the ill-fated 2017 Nairobi governor bid. But he has public office experience, an enviable financial arsenal, political connections, and a non-confrontational persona.

Governor Mwangi wa Iria, another probable successor,  is punching above his weight with a political party already in place added to surprisingly bagging the mantle of the vice-chairman of the Council of Governors (CoG) last year.

But perhaps as a demonstration of how divided this race is shaping to be, the Murang’ front runners will have to contend with the rising profile of former Kiambu Governor William Kabogo, a shoot-from-the-hip operative with deep financial roots.

Kabogo has also surprised many by gaining political prominence while out of public office and is among the few Mt Kenya leaders who can publicly take on  Ruto in his presence as happened during the burial of Gikuyu benga icon John De Mathew in Murang’a last month.

Another is Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria who has said he plans to run for president.When sought for comment, Kuria said he was not aware of any plans to have a community leader.

“This new to me, who instituted the process behind our back?” he asked.

The last Central region aspiring kingpin is Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri who has recently amassed a financial war chest and is Nyeri and its diaspora’s best bet.

Yet those five are also competing with Mt Kenya Easts favoured sons, including CS Peter Munya. But he is entangled in the fractional Meru politics and is outranked by Meru Governor Kiraitu Murungi.

Selfish interests

Then there is the fading Senate Deputy Speaker Kithure Kindiki and recent suggestions on National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi as best bets from Mt Kenya East.

Asked whether it wasn’t time Uhuru explicitly or symbolically anointed a regional successor to quieten the rising din, former Jubilee Vice Chairman David Murathe offers a curt “No”.

Outgoing Mt Kenya South Bishop of the Anglican Church of Kenya (ACK) Bishop Timothy Ranji also wishes the President kept off the clamour for a kingpin.

“All these leaders, whether in the political left or the right, have selfish interests,” said Ranji. “They should leave the common mwananchi to come up with the type of leadership they want. That is why Kenya is a democracy.”

Bishop Ranji warns that instances where leaders are imposed on the people always result in political chaos the world over and would rather a leader emerged organically.

[Additional reporting by Boniface Gikandi]

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Mt Kenya regionKingpinUhuru KenyattaPeter KennethBBI