Mt Kenya jigsaw puzzle for Raila, OKA bosses

OKA chiefs - Kalonzo Musyoka (Wiper), Gideon Moi (Kanu), Musalia Mudavadi (ANC) and Moses Wetang’ula (Ford-Kenya) with Mt Kenya Foundation (MKF) team. [Edward Kiplimo,Standard]

The race for State House is becoming more dizzying for top contenders as they grapple with the challenge of securing a stake in the vote-rich Mt Kenya region.

Barely two weeks after ODM leader Raila Odinga met with the Mt Kenya Foundation (MKF) team, a group of billionaire businessmen from the region, in Nairobi, thoughts that the direction the mountain might take had become clear were premature.

On Thursday, OKA chiefs - Kalonzo Musyoka (Wiper), Gideon Moi (Kanu), Musalia Mudavadi (ANC) and Moses Wetang’ula (Ford-Kenya) - met the group, and it emerged that region has no confirmed candidate.

Raila has made several high profile campaign rounds in the region and OKA chiefs have also been making inroads there on their own.

The Mt Kenya group led by banker Peter Munga is planning a final meeting in Limuru to decide on the candidate they will back.

Whereas some analysts argue that the billionaires will have a big say in who becomes president because of their financial muscle, others say they will have little influence because the people will still have to decide.

“Any potential candidate who wants votes in the Mt Kenya region should avoid those people because some are more interested in protecting their business interests and not those of the ordinary people,” says Prof Gitile Naituli of Multimedia University.

He said some of the businessmen should be emulated but others are keener on having a government that will help them clinch more business deals.

Their own kingpin

Prof Naituli said that the whole idea of Mt Kenya tycoons meeting the aspirants may boomerang on them when they pick their preferred candidate.

“The majority is not interested in those meetings and they will, therefore, have little impact on who will receive votes in the Mt Kenya region,” said Prof Naituli.

Prof Peter Kagwanja, the CEO of Africa Policy Institute and a former Government advisor, acknowledges that the stakes are high because Deputy President William Ruto has sprinted ahead and everybody is playing catch up in the region.

Prof Kagwanja says the leaders in the region are also keen on the Uhuru Kenyatta succession and, therefore, need to have their own kingpin with whom they can negotiate.

He argues that although presidential aspirants like Raila and Mudavadi have traversed the region to directly reach out to the voters, that may not necessarily be the best approach.

“The game on the ground is that the local leadership is first focused on who is going to succeed Uhuru as the regional kingpin and, thereafter, use that person in the larger national political discussion,” says Kagwanja.

President Uhuru Kenyatta. [PSCU]

He argues that having cumulatively ruled the country for 45 years, it will not just be that aspirants will walk there and pick one person as their running mate.

A more focused approach will, therefore, involve either the OKA/ODM leadership, Ruto or whoever will contest. This will re-engineer a successful transformation within the region, and produces a leadership that can work for them.

Does Raila need a donkey to climb the mountain?

No. Kagwanja says he only needs authentic leaders to help him do the pitch battles in hills and ridges across the expansive region. 

Region is more settled

“You are going to see Mt Kenya meetings as they seek to agree on the kingpins lineup that will represent interests of the region and also decide on the running mate of whoever they will support,” says Kagwanja.

His understanding is that Mt Kenya will most likely have three people with National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi, who is Uhuru’s longtime lieutenant, representing Mt Kenya East because the region appears to be more settled.

Political scientist Prof Amukoa Anangwe says that the region will be unpredictable now that one of their own is not a front runner.

“Most will change according to personal interests and some will not even be listening to what the president will tell them by end of the  year,” says Anangwe.

Prof Kagwanja also foresees some turbulence erupting in Ruto’s team in the region.

That is because previously Ruto was the only aspirant touring the region because other players had not entered the race.

He also argues that leaders like Martha Karua (Narc Kenya), Moses Kuria (Chama Cha Kazi) and Mwangi Kiunjuri (The Service Party) are not bargaining for the leadership of Mt Kenya but are instead positioning themselves as the third force.

What is clear though is that a candidate from Mt Kenya region will most likely occupy the number two position, which some leaders argue should be reserved for them because of the number of votes they will bring to the table.

Martha Karua (Narc Kenya) and Moses Kuria (Chama Cha Kazi) are positioning themselves as the third force. [File, Standard]

The big challenge also is how the Mt Kenya kingpin to take over from Uhuru as spokesperson will be picked.

No senior politician from the region has been in meetings between the president, Raila and OKA bosses to discuss the succession.

Kagwanja agrees that the OKA and ODM meetings chaired by Uhuru should have given such a person publicity.

His guess is that Uhuru is deliberately prolonging his influence in the region by not picking a representative.

Kagwanja agrees that the business community will also influence the choice of the next kingpin and how their interests will be taken care of by the government.

And that is the constituency that Raila and OKA have already reached out to through MKF as opposed to Ruto who has largely invested in the political class across the region.

His strategy has also been to directly deal with the people.

The jostling between the business community and the political class is a serious issue although some political leaders comprising a few MPs and governors have been in discussions with Mudavadi and Raila.

“The business community has a big voice in the region but as for the political groupings, they are more in the hustler alignment unlike in Jubilee where the only discussion is the coalition framework,” says Kagwanja.

A majority of the senators and MPs are working with Ruto, while many governors have been seen with Mudavadi, Raila and Kalonzo.

Kagwanja describes it as a contest between county structures and the legislature by those supporting Ruto against the rest.

His analysis is that hustler politics seems to be having a lot of influence in the region especially in Embu, which he describes as ‘the hotbed of hustler politics’.

That is where most of the MPs and the senator are with Ruto, the only exception being Muturi.

DP William Ruto. [File, Standard]

“He (Muturi), is finding himself lonely because he is the only one with the president and so he has come to join the rest of Mt Kenya,” says Kagwanja.

Unreliable noisemakers

According to him, Muranga is now gravitating towards the OKA/ODM side but Laikipia is still with Ruto, while Nyeri is 30 to 70 percent in favour of the president.

So will the politicians in the region remain loyal to Ruto until 2022?

Kagwanja again thinks that Ruto’s fall could be caused by MPs seen in some quarters as unreliable noise makers, who can easily decamp.

“He could one day wake up and realise that they are nothing more than dew that melts with the first ray of the morning sun,” says Kagwanja.

He also thinks it is dangerous to bank on the MPs to deliver victory because history shows that almost all of them are never re-elected.

Prof Macharia Munene of USIU sees a difference in the luncheon the businessmen held with Raila about two weeks ago, where they literally ‘endorsed’ him, and last week’s meeting with OKA.

He cited Jirongo’s address to those gathered at the OKA function where he spoke strongly against the idea of having a ‘preferred candidate’.

Munene also said that the group has the blessings of the president which is why they say he will attend their Limuru III meeting where the final decision will be made.

The luncheon, he argues, also thrust MKF into the national limelight and they are now seen as a team of powerful people who have a big stake in deciding the direction the country will take because.

He says they are in competition with other groups like Nchuri Ncheke, Kiama Kiama, the Mukurue wa Nyagathanga elders who endorsed Speaker Justin Muturi, the Martha Karua led Mt Kenya Forum and others but they are now more visible.

He also noticed the praises Mudavadi and Wetang’ula had for Karua saying, “It is good for her and they had a message they felt strongly that Kenyans needed to know.”