Was Justin Muturi move a big blunder or he 'listened to the ground'?

Democratic Party of Kenya (DP) leader Justin Muturi. [Standard]

Was the decision by National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi decision to join Deputy President William Ruto a political masterstroke or a monumental blunder?

Three seasoned political analysts, two of whom worked closely with Muturi when he announced his presidential bid early last year, gave their opinions.

Prof Peter Kagwanja, a University of Nairobi political science lecturer, says Muturi made a big mistake by moving to Ruto’s Kenya Kwanza Alliance.

“There must be something that pushed him that far, but whatever it is, such an extreme move exposed his wanting political astuteness,” says Kagwanja, who is the Jubilee's candidate for Murang’a senator seat.

Prof Macharia Munene, formerly of United States International University, argues that Muturi should be ready for more hostility both in and outside Parliament.

He says Muturi’s choice was his political right but he should have expected the reverberations he is already facing in Parliament.

How it will impact his career? Prof Munene says that having held the third most powerful position in the country as Speaker, he can only aspire to be Deputy President at the very least.

“He can only go up to be the president of the DP but there are a lot of forces that will come up against him but if he is a politician who knows what he is doing and how he will overcome,” says Prof Munene.

He says it will however not be an easy ride for Muturi and he will therefore fall back to his advisors should he find himself in choppy waters. “If his plans do not work out, his advisors will give him options and it includes swallowing his pride and going back to Mbeere, then coming back with a bigger force."

National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi and Deputy President William Ruto exchange documents as ANC Party leader Musalia Mudavadi looks on at the Hermosa Gardens Hotel in Karen, Nairobi on April 9, 2022.[David Gichuru, Standard]

Politically prudent

Prof Kagwanja however describes Muturi’s decision as “a very big blunder” because this is a critical time when the country is going through transitions. “Whether it is in Mt Kenya or the national level, this is the time when you are moving fast but with every target in view."

And that involves making informed decisions like the one President Uhuru Kenyatta made by joining President Kibaki’s PNU alliance in 2007.

Prof Kagwanja argues that were it not for that decision that many colleagues thought was unwise, Uhuru would probably not have been president in 2013.

Some choices, he says, are made because they are more politically prudent but he thinks Muturi may have just crusaded without considering all options.

He also faults Muturi for moving to the extreme opposite of the president’s position when it was “his single vote” that made him hold the position he has had for 10 years.

Although the Speaker is elected by MPs, Kagwanja argues that the name is proposed by the party leader who ensures the occupant protects his interests in Parliament.

“He did not get any elective political position in his home area which literally means that he should have respected the vote that sustained his political career from 2013. It was one vote but very important,” he adds.

He further questions if what Muturi did was a betrayal to a true friend: “What happened to true friendship?”

He recounted how two former leaders put friendship first when dealing with political decisions that were very challenging.

He says President Jomo Kenyatta and Opposition leader Jaramogi Oginga Odinga fought in public, and the former said: "If you were not my friend, you could be in jail."

He also remembers the late John Michuki being against the Constitution but said: “If my friend Kibaki is on the other side I will join him.”

Prof Gitile Naituli of Multi-Media University knows Muturi well, having served in one of his think tanks when he declared his presidential bid.

Naituli says he attended meetings with Muturi in Embu, Meru and Tharaka Nithi that were pro-Ruto and that could have influenced his decision.

“If you are looking for political relevance, you have no choice but to go where the public is. That is why you hear Kenyan politicians saying I’m listening to the ground,” said Naituli.

He thinks Muturi did his best to campaign for one full year but then realised there are only two horses and decided to join one where his people are.

So what is Muturi’s game plan in Kenya Kwanza? Naituli says that he stands a better chance of getting the running mate position because he is from Mt Kenya.

“The Kikuyu - Kalenjin dominance thing is a tricky issue that cannot be wished away and so being a Mbeere from Embu, he can assist Ruto win dissenting voters,” he adds.

But can his entry create more problems in Mt Kenya, where those who joined Ruto earlier can feel more entitled for big position than Muturi?

Some leaders like Mathira MP Rigathi Gachagua had earlier argued that the position of running mate should be reserved for Mt Kenya.

Gachagua now however says he will be happy if he gets the position but if not, it will still be fine as long as they form the next government under Ruto.

Prof Naituli does also not see Muturi’s entry causing any friction in Mt Kenya since all politicians in Kenya Kwanza have set their eyes on winning the presidency.

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