Mt Kenya the battleground for presidential aspirants

Hundreds of delegates arrive at Sagana State Lodge, Nyeri where they held a consultative meeting with President Uhuru Kenyatta. [ Kibata Kihu, Standard]

With the General Election 16 months away, Mount Kenya region has become the magnet of presidential suitors whose dream is to tap into the vote-rich bloc.

The pursuit is energised by the fact that the exit of President Uhuru Kenyatta in August 2022, after serving his second and last term, leaves the region without a heir apparent.

Deputy President William Ruto, Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) leader Raila Odinga, ANC’s Musalia Mudavadi and Wiper’s Kalonzo Musyoka are among the presidential contenders that have shown interest in winning the region’s support.

For the past two years, residents of the region have become restive and anxious about the possibility of an election, after the return of multi-party, where there is no clear aspirant to carry their aspirations.

Soothe region 

President Kenyatta, who is staring at a revolting backyard that has shifted part of its support to his deputy, has pitched camp for four days to soothe the region.

Two years ago, speaking in Karatina, Nyeri County, Uhuru told residents of the region that his choice of successor would shock them.

Through the push to have Building Bridges Initiative (BBI), his and Raila's pet project, Uhuru is sticking out to ensure that he can have a say in his succession.

Away from Uhuru, the four presidential contenders have their eyes fixed on the spoils in the nine counties that cumulatively had four million votes in the 2017 General Election. The counties are Kiambu, Murangá, Kirinyaga, Nyeri, Nyandarua, Laikipia, Embu, Meru and Tharaka Nithi.

The region voted overwhelmingly for retired President Mwai Kibaki and his successor Uhuru.

ODM party leader John Mbadi admits that the Mt Kenya vote is critical and offers advantage to a contender who manages to convince it.

“Mt Kenya votes as a bloc and this is a vote we cannot afford to ignore. For the first time, however, the region does not have an outright favourite presidential candidate since multi-party hence the scramble,” said Mbadi.

Raila has spared no effort to win over the region’s support, with the ODM leader hosting elders from Mt Kenya region at his Bondo home and a series of others in the region.

During an interview on a local vernacular radio station, Raila told the region that they had his debt and that of his father.

In 1960, Raila's father Jaramogi Oginga Odinga refused to take over the leadership of Kanu and lead it into independence. He instead demanded that Mzee Jomo Kenyatta be released to take over the mantle.

And in 2002, Raila shocked contenders at Uhuru Park when he declared ‘Kibaki Tosha’, a move that galvanised the country’s support to make him Kenya's third president.

Ruto has visited the Mt Kenya region several times, enjoys the support of over 40 MPs from the region, alongside a warm reception from local residents.

His allies have alluded to similarities between the change-the-constitution movement orchestrated by the so-called Kiambu Mafia in the 1970s and current push to pass the BBI spearheaded by President Kenyatta that they claim seeks to stop Ruto from succeeding his boss.

“What explains the interest of an outgoing president in changing the Constitution that Kenyans are comfortable with? The bigger plan is to attempt scrupulously to frustrate Ruto’s bid. It will not succeed,” said Belgut MP Nelson Koech.

In 1976, a group of politicians dubbed ‘the Kiambu Mafia’ began a proposal that the rules of succession be modified in what was aimed at blocking Moi from succeeding the first president.

President Uhuru Kenyatta makes his remarks during a meeting with over 7000 leaders from Mt Kenya at Sagana State Lodge, Nyeri.

Halted plot

The proposals would be halted by the then all-powerful Attorney General Charles Njonjo, who directed that it was a criminal offence for any person to encompass, imagine, devise, or intend the death or deposition of the president.

Mathira MP Rigathi Gachagua noted that any attempts to frustrate Ruto’s bid would fall flat.

“The people in the region feel his constant presence and his genuine concern. Others have never visited Mt Kenya are using brokers in Nairobi to access us. We know our genuine friends,” said Gachagua.

ODM Political Affairs Secretary Opiyo Wandayi said “what we are witnessing is normal and is to be expected in the countdown to a transitional election.”

“It’s too early to predict how the country and the region will vote. Politics is not a spirit but a marathon,” the Ujunja MP said.

ANC deputy party leader and Lugari MP Ayub Savula said the president has shown willingness to work with Mudavadi and repeatedly asked him to hit the ground running.

“In the next three months, we are planning a massive tour of Mt Kenya region once the president consolidates the region,” said Savula. Savula said what the president was doing was to soften the ground to accept a Mudavadi brand.

Kitui Central MP Makali Mulu said they had made a strategy to win back Mt Kenya region after a 10-year break of supporting Raila.

He said though no one can win without a running mate from the region, the presidential contest becomes easier if you have the support of the region.

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