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Politicians cry foul as Mt Kenya tycoons push for higher stake

By ALLAN MUNGAI and WAINAINA NDUNG'U | February 19th 2017
Kieni MP Kanini Kega helps an elderly woman as she heads to an IEBC registration centre to register as a voter. MPs from Nyeri have been accused of lacking interest in mobilising their constituents to register as voters in the ongoing voter registration drive. Photo by JOB WERU/Standard.

Trouble is brewing in Central Kenya between elected leaders and a group of wealthy elites forming the Mt Kenya Foundation (MKF).

Reports indicate that members of the elite club have identified friendly candidates to front for all elective positions, prompting protests from incumbents that a huge resources will be used to unseat them in the August 8 General Election.

A more immediate concern for the elected leadership is the threat the well-to-do business people will pose during the fast approaching party primaries.

From Kiambu to Meru, activities of this influential group of businessmen are coming under intense spotlight, with speculation that they could have silently endorsed some select aspirants.

When MKF national coordinator Mutuma Nkanata addressed a consultative political meeting with director Titus M’Ibui in Meru town last weekend, for example, the import of their message was thinly veiled.

The two were flanked by Meru Senator Kiraitu Murungi, Senate aspirant Mithika Linturi and North Imenti parliamentary aspirant Mutea Iringo during the meeting between teachers’ unions and the foundation’s leaders.

Parliamentary majority

They called for negotiations to dissuade small Jubilee-friendly parties from fielding parliamentary candidates as this risked denying President Uhuru Kenyatta a parliamentary majority critical to run a government.

But some Meru MPs such as Rahim Dawood (North Imenti), David Kareithi (Tigania West) and Kathuri Murungi (South Imenti) opposed the foundation’s direct hand in individual competitions.

Dawood said should the elite club try to dabble in politics directly, it will fail miserably and this could be counterproductive and cost Uhuru votes in the region.

Kathuri said the group could be more productive if it utilised its energy to arbitrate the cause of aspirants moving to smaller parties.

Kareithi said there were genuine fears the lobby could interfere with the individual competitions using the leverage they had gained during the voter mobilisation drive.

“My advice would be that the group concentrate on encouraging people to register and fighting voter apathy, but keep off party politics and leave the people to choose their leaders freely,” said Kareithi.

In Nyeri, while the businessmen under the Mt Kenya Foundation and a separate group led by former Chief of Kenya Defence Forces Julius Karangi stepped in at the hour of need to shore up the voter registration numbers in Mt Kenya region, their involvement rubbed some legislators the wrong way.

The bad blood culminated in a walkout from a meeting chaired by Karangi to chart a way forward for voter mobilisation.

Some, such as Kieni lawmaker Kanini Kega, walked out of the meeting, while his Mathira counterpart Peter Weru did not show up.

Kega said a difference of opinion between the legislators and the businessmen made them opt out of the meeting and run parallel voter mobilisation campaigns. He, however, would not concede to an existing disconnect between the two sides.

“In every election there are people who will be interested in who is running and who will be elected, that is normal. What we should be worried about are tycoons who do not have good intentions,” Kega said.

Weru faulted the Karangi-led team for its involvement and knowledge of politics.

“I skipped the meeting because I did not think they could teach me -- a politician -- anything about voter mobilisation,” Weru told The Standard on Sunday.

He said the entry of tycoons into the political fray was not something he worried about since “we stand for two different things”.

Nyeri Town MP Esther Murugi disapproved of the involvement of the business magnates in the political process.

“Everybody has a right to vie for an elective post and whoever wants to unseat me is welcome. However, if any such group has identified candidates to support that will be total failure,” Murugi said.

In Meru, Dawood claimed the MKF utilised a wrong strategy by paying some youths a commission to identify unregistered persons.

Linford Mutembei, the chairman of Mt Kenya Youth Caucus, which has no direct connection with the MKF, claimed separately that in Meru, the resources availed by the foundation for voter mobilisation were “simply misappropriated”.

“They claimed to have hired boda boda riders to identify the unregistered voters, but nobody has any evidence this really happened,” said Mutembei, whose own group failed to get funding for voter mobilisation.

Nkanata, however, distanced the foundation’s secretariat from any fallout with the elected leadership, saying the group’s primary mandate was the economic empowerment of the region, a goal which they worked closely to achieve with the cooperation of area elected leaders.

“We have been working closely with all the elected leaders through their Central Kenya Parliamentary Caucus and our relationship is very fruitful,” said Nkanata.

MKF’s key leaders include Equity Bank Chairman Peter Munga, Wilfred Murungi, who is associated with Mastermind Tobacco, former Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) Commissioner General Michael Waweru and former Cabinet Minister George Muhoho, who is also a cousin of President Uhuru Kenyatta.

Conflict and accusations

During the mass voter registration, which ends today, money donated by the foundation was a source of conflict and accusations among the elected leaders and aspirants.

In Kirinyaga County, Interior Principal Secretary Karanja Kibicho, who was one of the top ranking government officials deployed in the counties to push for voter registration, faced an uphill task working with local elected leaders to bring in more people to register as voters.

Kibicho was accused by aspirants of withholding their funds meant for voter mobilisation. The same accusations were made in Nyeri, with some aspirants privy to the amount of money allocated for voter mobilisation putting it at Sh80 million.

Maragua MP Kamande Mwangi said there was no need for legislators to antagonise people over propaganda. “They are exercising their democratic right and if their involvement will mean that President Uhuru Kenyatta will have an easy victory then they should be encouraged,” he said.

Mwea legislator Peter Gitau said MKF did not have any representation in the county.

“Kibicho has greater responsibilities for the country that need his attention. It is good that they came to help increase the number of registered voters,” Gitau said.

“We are the ones who need those votes so we should be the ones mobilising people to vote. With the expiration of the registration period, their work here is done.”

He said each of the legislators played a big role in the election of President Kenyatta in 2013 and they were not “joyriders on the presidential ticket.”

In an apparent move to tilt the balance, the legislators have chosen to play their cards close to their chests, with some believing that the businessmen had usurped the role of the elected representatives.

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