Treasury Cabinet Secretary Ukur Yatani interacting with Mount Kenya Foundation chairman Peter Munga on November 11, 2021, at Safari park Hotel during luncheon for Mount Kenya Foundation with ASAL leaders. [Edward Kiplimo,Standard]

The Mount Kenya Foundation (MKF) has confounded many following its intense political engagements in recent weeks as next year’s presidential election fast approaches.

The group, comprising billionaire businessmen from central Kenya, appears to be positioning themselves as the gateway for those seeking the support of the Mt Kenya region, buoyed by the region’s approximately six million votes.

In the recent past, MKF has hosted opposition leader Raila Odinga and One Kenya Alliance (OKA) teams to discuss the region’s economic empowerment.

On Thursday, the group met with leaders from the Arid and Semi-Arid areas (ASAL) led by Jubilee joint secretary and Upya Movement patron Adan Keynan. It brought together representatives from Mandera, Wajir, Marsabit Isiolo and Garissa counties as they sought to widen their scope.

Keynan, who is also the Aldas MP, said that the engagement with MKF was to ensure ASAL counties are included in the next government, which would in turn ensure development. 

MKF Communication Director Joe Murimi said the meeting with the ASAL area leaders was part of a wider plan to ensure they bring together every community from across the 47 counties “for unity of purpose.”

In 2017, MKF organised a dinner fundraiser during which almost Sh1 billion was raised in less than two hours to bolster President Uhuru Kenyatta’s re-election campaign kitty at a time when he was facing a strong competition from ODM leader Raila Odinga.

The genesis of the foundation dates back to the disputed 2007 presidential election when many groups (including MKF) came out to support President Mwai Kibaki amid the challenged outcome.

Since then, the lobby has increasingly been visible but more or less politically covert in their operations.

But in the build-up to next year’s General Election, it is shedding its stealth mode and is now more open and politically assertive. In the last two months, MKF has brought together five presidential aspirants in what they said was to assess their agenda for the Mt Kenya region.

On September 28, it hosted Raila at a Nairobi hotel where they tabled their region’s interests to the ODM leader and assured him of their goodwill.

Weeks later on October 7, MKF hosted OKA principals; Gideon Moi (Kanu), Musalia Mudavadi (ANC), Kalonzo Musyoka (Wiper) and Ford Kenya’s Moses Wetang’ula and presented its interests. Pundits now argue that the group of billionaires is positioning itself to play a bigger role in influencing who becomes President Kenyatta’s successor.

Also more critical will be their role in who will deputise the next president with the view to having one of their own as running mate.

Notably, the group has not hidden its preference and has indicated that it has a soft spot for the ODM leader, who was once Uhuru’s harshest critic turned political ‘brother’.

The group is led by retired banker Peter Munga, Royal Media Services chairperson SK Macharia and Lapsset Corridor Development Authority chairman Titus Ibui, who also serves as vice-chairman.

Others in the exclusive club include former Dagoretti South MP Dennis Waweru, George Muhoho (the President’s uncle), James Mwangi, former Kenya Revenue Authority Director General Michael Waweru, and Pius Ngugi, who is the owner of Kenya Nut Company.

The group has come under sharp criticism from Deputy President William Ruto and his allies with the DP accusing them of pursuing selfish interests by striking deals with those eyeing the presidency.

“Our competitors are still in boardrooms being interviewed by billionaires,” Ruto said in past function.

In August, MKF played a critical role in quelling the growing divisions between Mt Kenya West and East counties after governors Muthomi Njuki, Martin Wambora and Kiraitu Murungi protested opposition to the installation of National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi as the region’s spokesperson yet they have historically supported those from the West. Muturi is eyeing the presidency.

Ibui, who hails from Meru, was deployed to convince Kiraitu to support Raila. He later also brought Muthomi and Wambora on board with Muturi being forced to seek the ticket of the Democratic Party after Kiraitu abandoned plans to form a party.

Gatanga MP Nduati Ngugi, who defending the group’s involvement in politics, said the region controls the country’s economy “and as such they have every right to guide the electorate on who will safeguard their interests once Uhuru retires.”

“A tree without fruits is never attacked by small boys. They know the influence of MKF and that is why they are running helter-skelter. They know their financial might and how they will be given a run for their own money when the campaigns officially start,’ Ngugi said.

Waweru said it is their responsibility to guide the region on the best way forward politically.

“We don’t push our interests and our critics know that. We have sponsored needy students to their schools of choice. We have issued high-end cars to our security bosses in the counties. Are these still selfish interests?” he posed.

Nominated MP Maina Kamanda said that MKF’s aim is to ensure Ruto does not ascend to the presidency “because he does not have the interests of the people of Mt Kenya at heart.”