Ndiritu Muriithi’s two wars in Laikipia and Raila race for State House

Laikipia Governor Ndiritu Muriithi during an interview with the Standard in Nairobi. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

The decision by ODM leader Raila Odinga to appoint Laikipia Governor Ndiritu Muriithi caught many by surprise. Such a development would have been unimaginable, for instance back in 2007.

But one day in politics can be quite long. Muriithi’s role have been reversed. From a fierce critic of Raila and his brand of politics, the governor is now the strongest defender of the opposition leader and is driving his presidential campaign.

Consequently, Muriithi is fighting two wars at once. The stakes are heavy in both. One is Raila’s fifth run for State House. The other is his battle to retain Laikipia governor’s seat. In 2017, he fought a titanic battle. This was at a time when Jubilee Party’s popularity had grown to a tyrannical level, and to the extent that candidates who did not secure the party’s ticket went to President Uhuru Kenyatta or Deputy President William Ruto pleading. Muriithi lost the Jubilee ticket and was forced into uncharted waters.

Ultimately, he won the bigger war and today enjoys a status only one other governor does. He was elected on an independent ticket. The other is Isiolo Governor Mohammed Kuti. During this interview at Serena Hotel in Nairobi, Muriithi’s election as an independent governor quickly makes a way into our conversation.

“I think you the media have often portrayed me, and I accept, as a bit of a maverick. That I don’t follow the beaten path,” he says.

People of integrity

“I was elected as in independent candidate in Laikipia in spite of a major onslaught by Jubilee. At that time, of course, the President and the Deputy President were together and they would come there and campaign repeatedly, yet I still won. Why? Because Kenyans respect people of character, people of integrity, and people, above all, speaking the truth and have a proven track record.” It is a test for Muriithi. A test of his political organisation skills and a test of the trust the people have in him. In the August 9 polls, he will once again face off with former governor Joshua Wakahora Irungu and other aspirants.

“I feel very confident that I will retain my seat and that in fact, Raila Odinga will carry the Mount Kenya vote,” he says.

And as Mt Kenya prepares for the elections, the region’s vote will be as decisive as ever with Muriithi walking a fine line between his own political career and managing Raila’s re-election. Yet he does not see it that way. At least not entirely.

“Obviously, it is a balance. But to he who much is given, much is expected. It is a responsibility I wear and I carry very happily,” he says.

Muriithi is proud of the manner in which Azimio la Umoja movement has been holding their campaign rallies. He is happy to point out, using a football analogy, despite absence of Raila over the past few days, their campaigns have been running smoothly.

“That is the difference our coalition is offering the country, it is not a one-man show. It is based on a team and a captain. The captain can be away and the team is playing. What Azimio brings to the table is dozens of seasoned leaders and experienced technocrats and nationalists, who are not guessing as to what is to be done and they’re not waiting for direction from the captain,” he says.

“Show me one day when our competitors have gone out even in their own neighbourhoods to a campaign if their captain (Ruto) is not there,” he says.

He says the perception that Ruto has made inroads was only a façade that started crumbling the moment Raila’s team began campaigning.

“So there was that perception, but it was only there because that competitor was competing against himself. The rest of us were busy working. Now we are in the field. We’ve been in the field for less than two months. And you can see we are already ahead. In every poll now, in Mt Kenya, we are well ahead of him,” he claims.

But the campaigns have not been organised towards issues and policies but at times coalesces around insults and baseless accusations. Speaking against insults and inflammatory statements in political campaigns, Muriithi is as much talking about DP Ruto’s Kenya Kwanza team as he is talking about the Azimio orchestra where he, by being the campaign manager, is the stage manager.

“Why do you feel the need that every day you have to insult your competitor? Even if you become Olympic champion for insults it does not create one single job in Kenya. So please, let us debate and campaign on the basis of positive ideas that can help Kenyans,” he says.

Status quo

In recent days, DP Ruto’s camp has claimed that Raila was a State project designed to advance the status quo. Muriithi disagrees. He contends that they have something that their rivals can covet and are just crying sour grapes wishing they have the support of President Kenyatta.

“When we were young we used to call it kimng’athu,” he says. People are feeling jealous that the president was pro-Azimio, he says. “He has a vote and we want him to vote for Raila. Secondly, a president in his own capacity is a person of immense influence.”

By proposing Raila, Muriithi says, Uhuru was carrying out his responsibility to ensure Kenya is left in safe hands that continue the work he has been building on. “To the extent that a president is seen as leaning or as supportive of Azimio, as supportive of succession and transition to the best team that is his responsibility. Stop being jealous. You can even sell your ideas, if you had good ideas, maybe the president would also buy your ideas,” he says. He adds: “We need a president who is going to build on what Jubilee administration has achieved and on what President Kibaki has achieved. There is no doubt in anybody’s mind that that person is Raila Odinga.”