Why the race for Mt Kenya kingpin will be tough and complex

President Uhuru Kenyatta makes his remarks during a meeting with over 7000 leaders from Mt Kenya at Sagana State Lodge, Nyeri County to discuss the region's development as well as other pertinent national agenda including the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) - [Courtesy].

The race to succeed Uhuru Kenyatta in Mt Kenya region has been further complicated by last weekend’s entry of Senate Speaker Justin Muturi and photo hints of former Kiambu Governor William Kabogo mingling with the president.

Muturi’s coronation at the Njuri Ncheke shrine in Meru appeared to have stirred mixed reactions with some local leaders coming out to reject the move.

This  was somehow supposed to calm the unsolidified political scene in Mt Kenya region but the scene keeps changing.

Photos circulating on social media recently show the former Kiambu governor relaxing with the president at a private garden.

Power brokers

Kabogo failed to answer queries on where this happened and whether it was a political statement but some insiders claim the regional power brokers could have just widened the search of the kingpin successor.

Flamboyant, outspoken and sharp, Kabogo has never been the favorite of many in the Jubilee right-wing and powerful barons in Mt Kenya.

That he would be under serious consideration for Mt Kenya kingpin would be an interesting twist in the regional Uhuru succession.

Mt Kenya County Assemblies chairperson Charles Mwangi Ng’ang’a said Uhuru could have most likely met Kabogo for a reconciliation after the latter rejoined the fold after initially appearing to have fallen out.

“Until recently, he was a vocal critic of BBI and Kenyatta’s administration. His closest ally and musician Muigai wa Njoroge has been composing anti-BBI and anti-Uhuru songs. Soon, even those artistes that have been supporting Ruto may be brought into the fold by Kabogo,” predicted Ng’ang’a.

Multi Media University’s Leadership and Management lecturer Prof Gitile Naituli said his interpretation of those photos was Kabogo had sought blessings to return to the helm at Kiambu.

Muturi’s coronation comes barely a year after Peter Kenneth was crowned as the Agikuyu cultural ambassador by Kikuyu Council of Elders at Mahiga Matatu Cultural Centre in Nyeri county.

The region that crowned Muturi as spokesman comprises of Embu, Meru and Tharaka Nithi counties with significant ‘diaspora’ in Isiolo and Laikipia counties and usually grumbles that it has always been relegated to playing the second fiddle in Mt Kenya politics.

Insiders in Muturi camp said he was considering a run for one of the top two seats nationally, meaning he will be seeking to be president or deputy president.

Genesio Mugo, a Mbeere South aspirant in 2017 and a Ngome elder, confirmed that Muturi is positioning himself for top national office in next year’s elections.

“Muturi is the senior most politician in Mt Kenya East. Let’s not forget he has been speaker for two terms,” said Mugo.

According to Josephat Murangiri, the Njuri Ncheke Secretary General, the Meru elders have been scouting for a Mt Kenya East spokesman for ages and nobody else came forward.

“We are leaving our options open. We welcome other prospective contenders and we shall eventually evaluate them all and decide the one to steer our Canaan moment. As an early bird, Muturi definitely has a head start,” said Murangiri.

Captain Kung’u Muigai, Uhuru’s cousin and National Council of Elders chairman, said the the coronation was an elders agenda drawn from a long held regional grievance within Gikuyu, Embu and Meru (Gema) community.

“This didn’t start those deliberations at the Sagana River State Lodge meeting in January. It is only that the issue was raised there. I am also here in my individual capacity and not as anyone’s emissary. Don’t forget that I have my platform as elders chairman,” Capt Muigai said at the Njuri shrine.

But James Mithika, an Igembe Central politician and political commentator, said Muturi’s coronation was an effort in vain.

“In politics, there can never be two centres of power and for now Uhuru remains our regional kingpin,” said Mithika.

Prof Naituli saw it differently saying of all the contenders in the crowded race to succeed Uhuru in the region, Muturi was the best hope for Mt Kenya East.

“He really has no competitors. Kiraitu Murungi is too aged for this. (Agriculture CS) Peter Munya is too abrasive to work with professionals and Prof Kithure Kindiki just lacks the gravitas,” said Prof Naituli

He said Muturi comes across as best representative for Mt Kenya and his politics transcends the tribal politics in Mbeere and Embu county.

“As the Speaker of National Assembly, he has been the third highest ranked player in the executive and would automatically become president in case of the absence of the president and his deputy,” said Naituli.

Kenneth has recently taken a low profile and many believe he has run out of favour with senior kingmakers in the region.

The former Gatanga MP still carries the tag of opposing Uhuru’s bid in 2013 and always going quiet after every contest only to re-emerge months to the next election.

His allies, however, say that Kenneth is still a formidable force and has been busy meeting with elected leaders at his Mayfair Building in Nairobi and other venues.

Kenneth launched a meet-the-people-tour last weekend touring Gatanga and Mathioya constituencies in his Murang’a backyard.

His ally, the Gatanga MP Nduati Ngugi said Kenneth has been busy networking with the people and Mt Kenya leaders are fully aware that power comes from the people.

“It is the people who matter in this political game,” Nduati said.

Kenneth has maintained that there is nothing that forbids Mt Kenya region from producing presidency due to the population strength.

Others contenders for the regional kingpin include Governor Mwangi Wa Iria (Murang’a), former Agriculture CS Mwangi Kiunjuri (The Service Party leader) and his successor Peter Munya.

Kiunjuri has said his party has elected to negotiate a pre-election coalition agreement with Deputy President William Ruto’s United Democratic Alliance ahead of the 2022 government.

The former Laikipia East MP, who was fired over what he termed as ‘his closeness’ to Ruto, said he has learnt his lesson and will never repeat his past mistake where he folded his Grand National Union (GNU) to join Jubilee in 2017 General Election.

His party was among the over 11 others that President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy convinced to fold to transform Jubilee into a mass party reflecting the face of Kenya.

In an interview with The Sunday Standard, Kiunjuri maintained that he and Ruto have been betrayed for folding their parties only to be dumped.

“I did not join Jubilee party in 2017 as Mwangi Kiunjuri. I had joined it as a party. We have been betrayed but this will never happen again,” Kiunjuri said.

Seen as one of the possible front runners to deputise Ruto from Mt Kenya, Kiunjuri said he would only make up his mind on what seat to vie for once the outcomes of the much-anticipated referendum is clear.

“We feel 80 per cent of the BBI report is good. For Ruto, only two or three issues are contentious but he and his boss agree on 99 per cent. He will live by the outcome of BBI. Remember he has an obligation to support his boss and there is still room in future to amend the contentious issues,” said Kiunjuri

Wa Iria, who is serving his second term, is also eyeing the presidency and has registered a political party Usawa Kwa Wote where he hopes to use his leverage in Mt Kenya region to negotiate for a stake at the national level.

“Even if I don’t clinch presidency, I will be at the bargaining table and I will be representing Mt Kenya region interests at the national level,” Wa Iria said.

Kirinyaga Governor Anne Waiguru, a supporter of Uhuru’s administration, said she is qualified and experienced to represent Mt Kenya region at the national level.

While responding to a question on whether she shall defend her seat or she will join the national seat, the first term governor said once BBI is over, she will make up her mind.

“I’m very busy completing the projects I promised Kirinyaga people and selling BBI, but watch this space. Once BBI is over and it is six months to elections, we can have that conversation,” Waiguru said.

And although Munya has not declared his intention to return to competitive politics, indications are that he is still keen to have a say when it comes to Uhuru’s succession.

Munya has been visible in the region while aggressively carrying out reforms in the coffee and tea sector, which has given him an opportunity to interact with the locals.

Mt Kenya Assemblies Caucus chair Charles Mwangi has dismissed the clamour for kingship as disrespecting and undermining Uhuru when he was still in power.