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Shaky mountain: How directionless Central has been exposed

POLITICS
By Special Correspondent | August 15th 2021

Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria, Narc Kenya leader Martha Karua and Service Party Of Kenya leader Mwangi Kiujuri at a press briefing the three are forging a unity of Mount Kenya ahead of the 2022 general elections.[Wilberforce Okwiri,Standard]

With less than 360 days to next year’s General Election, Mt Kenya region finds itself at a crossroads. The question pundits are wrestling with is whether the region can field a formidable presidential candidate for the election. Traditionally, Mt Kenya region has had political stalwarts that have been difficult to match.

Yet the region that produced Kenya’s founding president Mzee Jomo Kenyatta besides such other towering figures as James Gichuru, Kenneth Matiba, Mwai Kibaki, Dr Njoroge Mungai, Charles Njonjo, Jackson Angaine, Jeremiah Nyagah and Mbiyu Koinange, is today staring at an election in which it could be hard put to find a candidate that could fit in the shoes of the giants from years gone by. For the first time in six decades, the mountain is being perceived as a potential swing-vote region. 

Besides the absence of a unifying leader, there are also perceptions of “a Mt Kenya fatigue,” within the mountain and outside, even as other agenda also take prominence in the mind of the electorate. Already in 2012, even before President Uhuru Kenyatta was elected in March the following year, there was talk of resentment about an indigene of the mountain succeeding President Kibaki. The mountain, however, shook off any such indignation and resolved, at the 2012 Limuru II meeting, that it would field and vote for Uhuru. 

Environment Minister, John Michuki, announced to the country that central Kenya was rallying behind Uhuru. Anyone who wanted to do business with the community must talk to their leader. Michuki’s rallying call was heeded. The rest is now the Uhuru Kenyatta regime history that will be retired in August next year. 

However, as the clock ticks towards that hour, the mountain is groping about, for viable options both from within and without. The call for Limuru III has now been sounded, with the promise by a section of regional political elite to make a major announcement.

Narc Kenya leader Martha Karua, Moses Kuria of People’s Empowerment Party, and Mwangi Kiunjuri of The Service Party, assembled in Nairobi this week to announce that something big was in the offing. They have made a unity call for the region, vowing like others before them, that the region will speak with one voice in August next year, when Kenya goes to the polls. Will the Limuru III call include fielding a presidential candidate from the region, or will it be about rallying behind a politician from another community? 

It is a question that may have to wait for a while before the answer comes, even as potential suitors fall over one another, presenting themselves as hot favourites. They include Deputy President William Ruto, ANC’s Musalia Mudavadi, Kanu’s Gideon Moi, Wiper’s Kalonzo Musyoka, and ODM’s Raila Odinga, with President Uhuru holding the latter’s hand into the volatile region. 

Meanwhile, one thing is not in doubt. The mountain is pulling in different directions, with no one giant political figure that could bring the people and the interests together. President Uhuru and the Jubilee Government have often been accused of “neglecting the people of the mountain.” Now he is being accused of bringing ODM leader Raila Odinga to the region, having previously warned it against him. 

The Raila factor is, however, a minor grievance. The main grievance in the mountain mostly plays around the economic hard times that have come upon the region. Having long distinguished themselves as hardworking agrarians and livestock farmers, the residents have watched in disbelief as the tea and coffee sectors have collapsed, alongside their once thriving dairy production. Even small businesses and retail are coming up against hard times. In parts of Nyeri, Kiambu and Murang’a, farmers have uprooted their coffee and tea plants out of frustration from non-productivity.

The notion of aggressive frustration captures the mood in the region, bringing in its wake internal old grievances that have simmered beneath the surface over fifty-eight years of independence. Uhuru’s imminent retirement has brought back questions of the nine Kikuyu clans and their fortunes since independence in 1963. The Kikuyu are mythologically descended from nine daughters of Mumbi, the fabled tribal matriarch. Each of the nine clans is famed for something, good or bad. The Ambui clan, descended from Wambui, have believed that their role is to rule. And they have produced two of Kenya’s four presidents, as testament to this. 

The Ambui’s collective 25 years in power, by August next year, are a source of resentment among the Anjiru clan, descended from the matriarch Wanjiru. Besides, the Anjiru are internally and traditionally defamed as “envious and unreliable.” Their kinsmen have usually derided them as the clan that sold their son to the Akamba in exchange for food in a time of famine, in a gone age. Regardless, they too would like to have a bite at the cherry. They do not take kindly to the thought that President Kenyatta is trying to endear to them a candidate from outside the community. 

There are prominent billionaires to watch within this clan and, while they may not be offering themselves as candidates in competitive politics, they are keen to have a strong and loud voice within the mountain communities and beyond. They are the persons behind the presidential aspirations that have been roused in National Assembly Speaker, Justin Muturi. Coming mostly from Murang’a they also bring to the political table old grievances around past exclusion from the centre of political power. 

Murang’a has produced towering and influential individuals like the late Matiba, Michuki, Dr Gikonyo Kiano, Charles Rubia and Joseph Kamotho. Yet the ultimate prize has eluded them. In the heyday of the Jomo Kenyatta regime, it used to be common lore that the presidential motorcade should never go beyond the Chania River. This was to say that the presidency should remain within Kiambu, among the Ambui, from whom the county’s name is derived. 

Yet in 2002, the motorcade did not just cross the Chania, it went on to cut across the then Murang’a District, all the way to Nyeri. It pitched a camp in Othaya, among the agrarian Anjiku Clan, to which Kibaki belongs. While Murang’a placed aside its grievances in 2002 and 2013 to rally behind Kibaki and Uhuru from Nyeri and Kiambu, respectively, the sentiments of the 1970s and the 80’s have returned with a déjà vu of the spirit of the Murang’a Take Over (MTO) movement of the 1980s. 

It is not beyond a revanchist MTO to field a presidential candidate in 2022, and seek supportive allies from other parts of the country. MTO have been at the heart of commerce and industry not just in the mountain, but in Nairobi and other major towns in the country, too. Much of the edifices in Nairobi city centre east of Tom Mboya street are reputed to belong to the Murang’a business community. In the 1980s, they ventilated their grief at an uptown hotel with an indigenous name. When President Daniel Arap Moi called them out, they were forced not only to stop their meetings, but to also change the name of the hotel, located off Tom Moi Avenue.

Cracks in the mountain

Also feeling left behind, however, is the Mt Kenya East sub-region of the mountain, where the Meru, Embu, Chuka, Tharaka and Mbere have become openly defiant to their compatriots from the West. Assembling around Meru Governor Kiraitu Murungi, they have asked the West to support them, or forget the partnership they have had over three decades of multiparty democracy. It is instructive, however, that they are working with scholars and billionaires from Murang’a; the team that was behind the coronation of Speaker Muturi as the regional spokesperson on national political issues. 

The arrival of the hustler nation narrative and its bottom-up economic ideology has, meanwhile, thrown the spanner into the Mt Kenya works. The narrative has touched the cords of relevance with the wretched of the mountain, who have felt marginalized by successive regimes. It is common knowledge that the British colonial regime unlawfully took away land from Kikuyu families, especially, and turned them into European White Highlands, besides similar activities in parts of the Rift Valley. 

At the coming of independence, many indigenes expected to get back their land. To their credit, the British provided funds for restoration of a million acres of land to those they had displaced. Things did not turn out that way, however, as people who had previously been close to the colonial government took advantage of the scheme, leaving the poor from Mau families landless. Many from this class have scavenged on small holdings over the decades, nursing the hope that someday things will be better. In the fullness of time, their frustration is giving way to political aggression and rebellion. Dissipation among the youth, in the grip of alcohol and drugs is also a source of resentment. 

The political aggression in central Kenya, especially, has made it increasingly defiant to President Uhuru and more receptive to Deputy President William Ruto. Ruto speaks an economic language that poor Kikuyu people seem to understand better than they understand the Gikuyu language that Uhuru speaks.

The tide to be turned in the mountain region is a heavy one. For it is a tide against aggressive frustration that is six decades old. It will be interesting to see how President Kenyatta will fare in the region with his newly found ex-NASA friends. For their part, the ex-NASA chiefs also remain divided in internal competitions that must wake up to the reality that time and tide wait for nobody, and especially so in the mountain region that is now at a crossroads. 

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