The jury is still out on whether President Uhuru Kenyatta’s sacking of Mwangi Kiunjuri and the move to inject resources to resuscitate the struggling agricultural sectors key to the Mt Kenya region will douse the rebellion in his backyard.
Many Uhuru backers in the region are also placing their hopes on the ability of new Agriculture CS Peter Munya to deliver, citing Kiunjuri’s lacklustre performance as having given the President headache.
The former CS is also a close ally of Deputy President William Ruto, and has not shied away from publicly declaring where his heart is. By sacking Kiunjuri and appointing Munya, a Ruto critic, President Kenyatta appears to have tipped the scales in ex-Meru governor’s favour.
Just last month, Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria sensationally claimed Munya had called him and warned him against visiting Meru if his intention was to chip away at the support President Kenyatta had in the area.
Munya leads a team of other CSs, among them Joe Mucheru (ICT), Sicily Kariuki (Health), James Macharia (Transport), principal secretaries and parastatal chiefs whose agenda is turning around the fortunes in Uhuru’s political base.
It is this group that was said to be meeting at La Mada Hotel to plot the DP’s assassination, a claim that they dismissed as populist.
Political commentator Kobia Ataya thinks that by denying Kiunjuri a coveted platform, Uhuru also hopes to send a warning to his critics that he still packs a punch even as he trudges to the end of his second term.
“Uhuru is no lame duck. He has teeth and can bite. Agriculture is key to the appeasement of the Mt Kenya region. The new price of Sh33 per litre of milk has already gone far in calming the nerves,” says Prof Ataya.
But will the rebellion by the pro-Ruto forces mainly composed of sitting legislators subside?
When we asked one close Uhuru ally this question, his answer was “they had no option because they would soon discover that they can’t politic against the one person Kenyans had given the highest mandate and still deliver to their constituents.”
Murang’a Senator Irungu Kang’ata said Tuesday’s reshuffle was principally intended to assert Uhuru’s authority as the region’s kingpin, and the situation was unlikely to change.
“Every local politician will have to toe the line and a clear political road map for the region has been drawn,” the senator said.
But not everyone thinks that way. Most of the Tangatanga MPs did not wish to stick their necks out against the President, but one of them speaking off record said Uhuru just bought a two-week peace interlude with the Tuesday changes.
“The President is doing the right thing to those who are not performing their duties properly. I hope in future, this country will run smoothly. God is watching everything,” says Mathira MP Rigathi Gachagua, an ally of the DP.
It has been clear that the President can count on only half of the legislators in his neighbourhood of Kiambu and Murang’a, two MPs in Nyeri, one in Kirinyaga, two in Nyandarua, Meru and Embu. The entire parliamentary group in Laikipia and Tharaka Nithi are all allied to his deputy.
In Nairobi where Jubilee shares the-17 member parliamentary group with the Opposition, only three legislators are firmly in the President’s corner and the rest openly align with his deputy.
There are two narratives that the President’s move could make or break Kiunjuri.
There is a section of Mt Kenya that subscribes to the narrative that Kiunjuri worsened the woes of farmers during his tenure as agriculture minister.
Should Munya succeed where Kiunjuri failed, the narrative will be given credence.
But politicians supporting Kiunjuri believe that he was set up to fail and Munya has the goodwill of the Presidency that Kiunjuri did not have.
It seems inevitable that Kiunjuri will try to recover from his fall, but by losing the lucrative Cabinet slot, has he been armed or disarmed?
Nominated Senator Isaac Mwaura believes Kiunjuri now has a free hand to lead the political conversation in Mt Kenya.
“Kiunjuri has been given the firepower to contest the leadership of Mt Kenya region because power is never given,” he says.
Nyeri Town MP Ngunjiri Wambugu argues that Kiunjuri had used his office to catapult himself into the leadership of the region instead of helping farmers.
“Now, he is going to have to look for a different platform,” the MP said.
Political commentator Herman Manyora advised the ex-CS to hold back his hand in taking on the President and reinvent himself.
“The Head of State has instruments to help him clear anything you bring up against him,” Manyora said.
Igembe Central politician James Mithika, however, observes that though Mt Kenya region has never forsaken the President, there was growing perception that it was sliding away from his grip.
“Was Mwangi Kiunjuri another axis of power or influence? The answer is No,” Mithika said.
“Kiunjuri is a slow punctured tyre with an ego bigger than common sense who politically has never won a seat outside Laikipa East. His performance in Cabinet is not impressive either.”