From cheering to jeering: Why Mt Kenya region is heckling Ruto

When President William Ruto visited Meru County on a development tour. [George Kaimenyi, Standard]

For the past month, President William Ruto has experienced the other side of Mt Kenya region that he did not know about, the heckling and jeering side.

The president was a darling of the region in the run-up to the 2022 elections, such that those who did not associate with him lost in the polls.

Whenever Ruto’s name was mentioned, women wailed in frenzy due to his ability to pull crowds.

But that has changed as the electorate who abandoned their son, former President Uhuru Kenyatta, to back Ruto, now heckle him in public.

While Mt Kenya leaders have for a long time held the view that the Nyanza region is the most vocal in voicing dissent, Mt Kenya region seems to be rehearsing day and night to overtake it.

On November 19 last year, Energy and Petroleum Cabinet Secretary Davis Chirchir was heckled as he attempted to address a congregation in Bomet in the presence of the president.

When the CS greeted the congregants, they started heckling and refused to calm down to let Chirchir address them.

Nakuru residents heckled their governor in the presence of the Head of State last month. They could not let her speak as local politics played as the president watched. 

Two weeks ago, the president during a three-day visit to Meru discovered the other side of Mt Kenya as agitated residents booed Governor Kawira Mwangaza.

This time, the president lost his cool and reprimanded the irate residents by reminding them that they should desist from such behaviors during the ‘president’s meeting”.

President William Ruto at Mt Calvary Baptist Church Lanham, Maryland with leaders Musalia Mudavadi, Salim Mvurya, Josphat Nanok, and Anne Waiguru.

“I want to tell the youth that we have come here to plan jobs for them and I don’t want such kind of politics in a president’s meeting, it is a lack of respect. I want leaders to be respected, heckling is for ODM and we don’t want ODM shenanigans in UDA. We do not want this kind of nonsense. We want a united country,” Ruto said.

Despite the admonishment, the heckling was witnessed during his tour of Kiambu that ended on Friday.

This time, Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua read the riot act to the residents and leaders, accusing them of hiring crowds to cheer them and jeer opponents “in the presence of a king who was in the region to bring development.

“This behaviour of heckling in front of the king does not belong to Mt Kenya people. That is an ODM behaviour. As your leader, I do not want to see that again,” Gachagua said.

The second in command said he was embarrassed by the act that brought disrepute to the president.

“If you want to bring youth to cheer you don’t bring them from far but from within. Any leader who will bring chaos in this region, we shall chase him away in the elections. This is our king, the president of Kenya. He has bought us development but you are bringing embarrassment.”

While many contend that the jeering is largely ‘local politics at play’ others believe it is an indirect indictment of the president and the Kenya Kwanza government.

In Meru, the governor is facing a strained working relationship with MPs while in Kiambu, the 2027 game plan has divided the leaders between Governor Kimani Wamatangi and National Assembly Majority Leader Kimani Ichung’wah.

In Nakuru, Susan Kihika is having it rough with politicians led by Nakuru Senator Tabitha Karanja and former Bahati MP Kimani Ngunjiri among others.

However, according to political analyst Charles Njoroge, reads more to it and wonders why the residents did not engage in shouting matches during the electioneering period.

“Most of the candidates in the 2022 elections vied on the ticket of the president’s party. Those who vied on tickets of sister parties were given a chance to address the crowd during the rallies that the president attended. The issue of local politics is a decoy,” Njoroge told The Standard.

He attributed the matter to lack of trust, saying Mt Kenya residents feel betrayed after the president failed to implement campaign promises.

“Kenya Kwanza mandarins made Mt Kenya region feel like their problems had been caused by the Kenyatta family through the infamous state capture. They had great expectations with the Kenya Kwanza government and whatever they are doing is venting in front of the man who promised them heaven,” Njoroge observed.

Jubilee Secretary General Jeremiah Kioni holds a similar opinion. 

When former President Uhuru Kenyatta and then Deputy President William Ruto were welcomed in Bungoma by Governor Ken Lusaka on December 15, 2016. [File, Standard]

“It is just a matter of time and you will see leaders you never thought would speak openly coming out publicly to tell the president off,” he told The Standard.

He accused the president of turning Mt Kenya residents into beggars due to the poor state of macadamia, coffee and tea sub-sectors.

According to Kioni, Kenya is also reaping the seeds of discord it sowed during campaigns.

“They planned and masterminded heckling of the former president and that is how the electorate learned that it’s no big deal to heckle others in the presence of the president.

However, according to James Mwangi, the president, as a leader who receives intelligence on the state of affairs, is going to the grassroots to maintain his grip.

“The president must be aware of what is happening and unlike Uhuru who was briefed and did nothing, Ruto seems to be going to the people so that in 2027, he will not be judged alongside his troops who are engaged in vicious fights. His presence will also help him know the popular candidate for elective positions,” noted Mwangi.

Eala MP Maina Karobia said the leaders engaged in booing want to leverage on the continued growth of the economy hence the infighting.

“The economy is taking shape and every leader wants to use that to advance their political popularity and that is why they are fighting. But the leaders need to focus on the scorecard as that is what will be used to gauge them. They should focus on development and not be lost into campaigning,” Karobia told The Standard.

Kirinyaga Woman Representative Njeri Maina said the jeering had nothing to do with the president or the performance of the Kenya Kwanza administration claiming it was a creation of warring local politicians.

“This is a habit most governors are perpetuating and which is an abuse of tax-payers money. Unfortunately, they forget that the public perception casts aspersions on the popularity of the regime as a whole. And if the trend continues, it will have far-reaching consequences. The president must call to order such politicians and their ilk,” she said.