For five years, President Uhuru Kenyatta has largely kept off Mt Kenya where he hails from.
President Kenyatta visited the region only when it was necessary. The visits were few and far apart.
This was unexpected since the region had overwhelmingly supported him in the last two elections. Many had thought that he would reward his stronghold with development projects or be involved in several issues affecting the region.
On the other hand, his deputy has been a constant visitor to the region, attending church services, fundraisers and campaign rallies.
Last year when Jubilee remnants believed that Uhuru would lead the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) drive in the region, he did not. Instead, he met over 7,000 delegates at Sagana State Lodge.
The delegates drawn from 11 counties met the president on January 30, 2021, a day after the electoral commission announced the transmission of the Constitution of Kenya (Amendment) Bill to the county assemblies, following verification of over one million signatures.
He rallied MCAs, who were part of the delegation, to approve the Bill. To the Jubilee grassroots leaders, he sent them to marshal support for the Bill, promising to crisscross the region to do the same. Instead, he deployed a team of Cabinet secretaries, principal secretaries and senior government officials from Mt Kenya to rally behind the Bill.
On February 23 this year when he met over 5,000 delegates from the region at Sagana State Lodge, he made it clear that he would not support his deputy in the elections. His message set the stage for a bruising political battle for the heart and soul of Mt Kenya region.
He enumerated various challenges he encountered with his deputy, including starting campaigns early and failing to serve the public.
Speaking in Kikuyu, the president accused Ruto of undermining his administration, saying he was hardly in office.
Uhuru also promised to crisscross the region but that never came to be. He never held a political rally until Saturday, three days before the elections.
His allies in the region believe it was a political strategy. They say the president did not want to ruin the chances of his preferred successor Raila Odinga since the region had been turned against him.
To Ruto’s supporters, they feel they had unmasked the president to the electorate to a point that he could not face them.
Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria not only criticised the president for touring the region at the eleventh hour, but he also hit out at the head of state for using a chopper.
He said Ruto and his team had exposed the character and the person of the president so much so that he could not face the people of Mt Kenya.
“He has been too embarrassed to face his brothers and sisters for failing to deliver in the region. We have had cases of State capture under his administration and he has failed to keep his promise to Ruto but the community disagreed with him. He is all alone,” said Kuria.
Prof Gitile Naituli opined that the move by the president not to visit the region was tactical since, under his administration, the country had witnessed a high cost of living and the economy had deteriorated.
“Visiting the region would have worked against his political mission,” Naituli stated.
“Locals blame him for the high cost of living and if he decided to visit the region, Raila’s political stakes would not have been positive. Instead, he let Karua sell and popularise Raila in the region,” noted Naituli.
Ruto’s Deputy Presidential running mate Rigathi Gachagua, who has been leading an onslaught against the president, claims Uhuru lost touch with the people when he oversaw the destruction of property and businesses under the guise of ‘destroying counterfeit products’.
The exercise that the government conducted in 2020 saw counterfeit goods worth Sh100 million destroyed in what later led to the closure of businesses on Kirinyaga Road in Nairobi, businesses that were largely owned by Mt Kenya region residents.
“It is because of the president that many young Kenyans who earned a living by working in those businesses lost their jobs while the business owners were left with huge loans to pay,” Gachagua has been telling Mt Kenya residents and he believes that is why he has not been able to face them.
But Uhuru’s allies believe he has been waiting for an opportune time to visit and demonstrate what his administration has done to Kenyans.
Gatanga MP Nduati Ngugi said anybody who expected the president to visit the region all the time was politically naïve since he was not the president of the region but of the entire country.
“Government programmes have been running despite him not personally visiting, he would have created an impression that he was only serving his own community and that would not have augured well with other communities,” noted Ngugi.
Nyeri Town MP Ngunjiri Wambugu said Uhuru could not go to the region empty-handed, but at least to launch some projects.
“His move is a masterstroke and very smart. He needed to tour the region after visiting other regions and more so to launch development projects which have been politicised by Ruto as a way of demonstrating that he has been working for the people of Kenya.
“That has set him apart from his critics who visit the region empty-handed, but with sweet nothings. The move portrays the president’s willingness to leave the country to a worker but not to a politician,” added Wambugu.
Clifford Mutembei, Jubilee youth coordinator said: “Uhuru’s visit to the region at the last minute is symbolic that east or west home is best. And he did so in style, launching projects which we shall forever remember him for. He could not have visited before the projects were completed and so he was buying time for the completion.”