Mt Kenya has leaders for top seat in 2022 polls

Narc Kenya leader Martha Karua. [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

What exactly is the Mountain up to, as Kenya begins the homestretch to next year’s general elections? The notion is on the rise that the Mt. Kenya region has no formidable candidate for President next year.

Accordingly, the region is expected to mark its time, and rally behind an outsider who means well. Both the super-rich in the Mt Kenya Foundation (MKF) and those who wear the Hustler Nation garb seem to be agreed on one thing. They will rally around an outsider next year. The only point of contention would seem to be which outsider. Could the Mountain throw everybody the wrong way at the last minute? 

Eager to buy into the ‘no-formidable candidate’ narrative, non-indigenes, led by Deputy President William Ruto, and ODM leader Raila Odinga, have turned the Mountain into a regular hunting ground. Elite politicians are literally falling over one another, keen to market themselves as best suitors. Even when they assemble and arrive as one group, such as the One Kenya Alliance (OKA), individuals within the group foreground themselves as the persons to trust.

No shortage of leaders

MKF is having a jolly-good time, listening to pitches from a fawning non-indigene political class.  But, just supposing the Mountain turns around at the eleventh hour to reject all the grovelling suitors? Supposing it elects, instead, to field its own formidable presidential candidate? Where would it leave the eager suitors? 

First, it is not true that the Mountain does not have a solid candidate to sell in the region and beyond. Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe, for example, is as good as they come. He is at once a solid political figure and a hands-on executive. He understands politics and policy alike. He has the charisma, the gift of presence and no shortage of resources.

Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe. [File, Standard]

He served as a Minister in the Mwai Kibaki cabinet, and left behind him a stellar portfolio, before serving as the first Senator for Nyeri County. Kagwe was in charge of the information and communications portfolio. He played key roles in regulating innovation in the blue-chip Safaricom company, including the introduction of the globally respected Mpesa platform. 

Elsewhere, Kagwe was the person behind the establishment of the East African Marine System, a hugely successful platform, and the first of its kind. But it is as Health CS that Kagwe has stood head and shoulder above the average CS and politician.

He is also related to the financially and politically powerful and influential Michuki family of Murang’a, through marriage to the respected Ann Mutahi, a powerhouse in enterprise development. And Kagwe has many other political pluses. Nothing makes it difficult to market the health CS in his home region and beyond, except the will. 

Enters Speaker Muturi

National Assembly Speaker, Justin Muturi, has already thrown his hat in the ring, eliciting mixed reactions within the Mountain region, even as the rest of the country looks on, unsure of what to make of the proffered candidature. The portfolio he occupies is, however, a critical one. Constitutionally, he is the third most powerful state officer, after the President and Deputy President. If the Mountain were to decide that it wanted to galvanize itself around him, the tide would be far too great to stem easily.

The challenge around him pertains to the region beginning to display uncharacteristic schisms between what has now been christened the Mt Kenya East and West divide. If this should be bridged and the Mountain elects to speak with one voice, and act in one motion, Muturi would be hard to stop.

National Assembly Speaker. [File, Standard]

So, too, are other political personalities like Narc Kenya leader, Martha Karua, Agriculture CS, Peter Munya and a raft of other leaders. They are not any less seasoned for higher political office than President Uhuru Kenyatta was when the late Michuki declared him the spokesperson for the Mountain in 2012.

Then Michuki warned everyone that the region would not listen to them if they did not work with Uhuru. The seasons may have changed and the circumstances be significantly different. Yet, nothing stops the Mountain from rallying together, behind a son or daughter of the region. And if they did so, there would be heavy external casualties.

Ruto and Raila, especially, have huge cause to worry about such possibilities. Raila has all but burnt his boats with OKA leaders who supported him before. Restoring political factory settings with ANC’s Musalia Mudavadi, Wiper’s Kalonzo Musyoka and Ford Kenya’s Moses Wetang’ula could be quite a task. Both Ruto and Raila would appear to have forgotten that there are votes elsewhere in the country.

Ruto, especially, has broken Sun Tzu’s rule of war that says, never fight the last war. Probably governed by the old thought of the ‘tyranny of numbers,’ his approach is to tie up the Rift Valley and the Mt Kenya vote, and hope to fill in the gaps with votes from other parts of the country. He is buoyed in this strategic approach by the masses that throng his rallies in the Mountain region.

Above all is the knowledge that the tyranny worked, the last time. It is a thin-ice approach. It could misfire badly, were the Mountain to decide, as it did in 2012/13, that it had a candidate in Uhuru Kenyatta. If the new candidate should be Kagwe, Ruto’s goose in the region would be cooked, and perhaps his entire presidential dream.

President Uhuru Kenyatta. [File, Standard]

But even worse is Raila who, on his own admission, is still learning how to climb the Mountain. He has been marketed in the region as the devil incarnate. Even as MKF toys with the idea of rallying behind him, he must know that he has the massive population to convince. What has changed to make him a saint? It does not help matters that when meeting the leaders of OKA, MKF announced that they had not yet decided whom they would rally behind.

What is the club up to? How much should anyone trust it? It is of little wonder that Raila is having his political campaign cake and eating it at the same time. On the one hand, he is busy campaigning. He is painting pictures of a glorious future under his presidency. Yet, conversely, he is also saying that he will announce later if he is in the race or not. Part of this is because he is waiting for a definitive signal from MKF, as well as for encouraging reports from ongoing secret opinion polls that ODM has commissioned with two leading pollsters.

Good reports

If the pollsters begin returning good reports, Raila will announce his candidature. He will stop campaigning from behind smokescreens. Reliable sources within polling circles indicate that for now both Ruto and Raila would have it hard, if the Mountain rallied solidly around one of its own locals. The acuteness of their predicament is somewhat blunted by the thought that with running mates from the region, their fortunes should not be so bad.

Yet, other indications are that if the Mountain has its own formidable candidate going for the ultimate prize, the region is unlikely to rise to the bait of DP. The marginalization of Ruto by Uhuru in his second tenure is, particularly, making a region that knows the meaning of political power to begin to be unenthusiastic about the running mate carrot. 

ODM leader Raila Odinga. [File, Standard]

Finally, it is instructive that leading politicians in the region have begun talking of ‘upping the Mt. Kenya vote to 10 million.’ Every presidential aspirant from outside should read carefully into this. Ten million votes are likely to be just about half of the voter register next year.

And nothing stops a turnout of 99.9 per cent in the Mountain.  IEBC’s projections are placing the expected 2022 voters register at between 21 million and 22.

A region that registers 10 million is virtually ready to elect the president of Kenya on its own.