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Will Mutahi Kagwe jolt Mt Kenya, tilt race to State House?

By Biketi Kikechi | September 27th 2021

Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

The ongoing discussions to have Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe run for President could complicate matters for aspiring presidential candidates jostling for Mt Kenya votes.

Deputy President William Ruto, ODM leader Raila Odinga and Amani National Congress (AMC) leader Musalia Mudavadi have pitched tent in the region to woo the vote-rich region. With months to the General Election, residents having not identified a person to take over as Mt Kenya leader from President Kenyatta, the presidential hopefuls want to dangle the carrot of a running mate to the region.

A team led by former Kikuyu MP Lewis Nguyai has been meeting over the past few months to craft a strategy for the Health CS, who like his Interior Ministry colleague Fred Matiang’i, is seen as a possible contender though he is not publicly declared his interest.

Nguyai was a former Jubilee party stalwart and the only witness who appeared for President Uhuru Kenyatta when he was tried for post-elections violence in Kenya at International Criminal Court before he was elected.

“When you are still serving in government, it is difficult for you to come out and make such a statement because you may upset the appointing authority or open yourself to unwarranted attacks in this politically charged country,” says Kiambu Governor James Nyoro.

He, however, thinks Kagwe will make a brilliant leader if Kenyans give him the opportunity because he has proved both as the Minister for Information in President Mwai Kibaki’s administration and now as the CS for Health.

He, however, argues that his only undoing could be that he comes from Nyeri, an area that has already produced a president and therefore the people of areas like Murang’a county that have not had one may object to his candidature.

Kiambu Governor James Nyoro. [Courtesy]

Asked why his name is popping up now and not earlier, Nyoro says an earlier caucus that was meeting last year, had wanted him to be a running mate to Matiang’i in the 2022 presidential race, but the idea was shelved.

“He has steered the country well in the Covid 19 pandemic and made Kenya a shining example in Africa on how to manage a crisis of such a big magnitude and that also puts him in good stead,” added Nyoro.

Prof Herman Manyora has, however, dismissed the MK ticket, saying: “The only serious candidates are Deputy President William Ruto and ODM leader Raila Odinga, the rest are just jokers.”

Former Dagoreti MP Dennis Waweru who was also the convenor of the Building Bridges Initiative told The Standard that they are considering Kagwe among other candidates from the region. The man who has also had presidential ambitions in the past added that the CS is on top of the list of leaders who will be tasked with the responsibility of negotiating for community interest in the Uhuru Kenyatta succession debate.

He argued that they will need to have someone with great understanding of what is happening both in government and in the political landscape and who can also be trusted and respected as a credible leader, a box that Kagwe ticks.

“He is among our most credible leaders today and that is why we are seeking to have him run for President or to be at the centre of whatever discussion that will emerge after February next year when he will be free to engage in politics,” said Waweru.

But at the moment all the groundwork will be done by other political players allied to him as he covertly pulls the strings from behind the scenes without attracting much attention. Also roped in the MK ticket discussion is former Kajiado North MP ole Sakuda who is campaigning to run for the Senate seat in Kajiado County next year.

Sakuda is also behind and he will be pushing Kagwe’s agenda among the Maa community in Kajiado as he also campaigns for his candidature in the expansive county.

“He is a sober guy who understands the issues of the day and the political terrain of our region and that is why the Maa community should welcome his entry into the race,” said Sakuda.

Former Kajiado North MP ole Sakuda. [Peterson Githaiga, Standard]

The Maa community has already been courted by Raila who met leaders from the region led by Governor Joseph ole Lenku in Ongata Rongai two weeks ago and Ruto whose team is led by Kajiado South MP Katoo ole Metito.

But Sakuda argues that the more candidates seeking their support the merrier because that means their agenda will be taken seriously by whoever becomes President although he will be rooting for Kagwe.

Though political pundits see Raila and Ruto as leading contenders, this has not stopped leaders from the Gusii region for example hinting at forming their own political party after a recent meeting.

Kitutu Chache South MP Richard Onyonka says the MPs will welcome and listen to leaders who will guarantee the larger Gusii region their economic growth because they are united for that purpose. Where that leaves CS Matiang’I and his presidential ambition is not clear although together with Kagwe, and perhaps Treasury CS Ukur Yatani, they have been mentioned as possible contenders.

Political activist Tony Gachoka who is also among those in the Kagwe camp, says they will mount a good campaign because those backing him are seasoned political players who have supported winning teams over the years. But Prof Joseph Naituli of Multi-Media University says it is very late for any emerging players to make an impact in the crowded political space but if they can convince the young and hungry voters who are 56 per cent of the population will carry the day.

In the ongoing discussions, the question of his possible running mate has also cropped up, with the name of Senate Speaker Kenneth Lusaka being mentioned in various forums.

The choice of Lusaka was debated alongside that of a Cabinet Secretary, but the former who has a wide political network in the western region appeared to be more appealing.

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