When President Uhuru Kenyatta meets Mt Kenya leaders at Sagana Lodge tomorrow, his Deputy President William Ruto - a probable political casualty of the move - will be closely monitoring the unfolding events not very far from the venue in Nyeri County.
The meeting has been billed as a turning point in the relationship between the President and his deputy as the country counts down to August 9, the day Kenyans will vote to pick Uhuru’s successor.
The President has taken a different approach compared to his successor, retired President Mwai Kibaki, who refrained from openly campaigning for his preferred successor in 2013. Instead, Uhuru has thrown his hat into the ring, leaving no doubt that he intends to play a central role in his succession.
Part of his strategy will become clearer tomorrow when he holds the meeting with leaders from the Mt Kenya region in what has come to be known as Sagana III. As a rule, Uhuru usually hosts such meetings at the Sagana State Lodge whenever he wants to communicate to his supporters in the region, or when faced with a political crisis.
Last year in January, when Ruto and his allies launched an all-out charm offensive to oppose the proposed Constitutional Amendment Bill 2021 - famously known as the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) - Uhuru met ward representatives at Sagana, where he urged them to back the Bill which needed the support of at least 24 County Assemblies.
He prevailed and all Mt Kenya County Assemblies approved the amendment Bill only for it to be stopped by the courts. However, its proponents appealed in the Court of Appeal and later Supreme Court. A verdict of the Supreme Court is expected at any time.
During the Sagana II meeting, Uhuru pleaded with Mt Kenya leaders to delink his succession politics from the BBI process.
“I have never said I will support or not support someone (to succeed me), so I wonder why all the hullabaloo,” he said at the time. “I never said we shall elect so and so. I only said we shall support whoever was more popular than the others and I said we should widen our circle of friends so that we are safe, whoever is in power”.
This time round, however, he is expected to speak about his preferred successor and re-invigorating the Jubilee Party, which is expected to support the Azimio la Umoja presidential aspirant, Raila Odinga.
During Sagana II, he met about 7,000 delegates from across the Mt Kenya region and held talks with about 50 MPs. During the talks he criticised the ‘Hustlers versus Dynasty’ narrative, then advanced by the Deputy President, saying such a narrative was bad for the country.
Ruto has made significant inroads in the region and has three governors Anne Waiguru (Kirinyaga), Mutahi Kahiga (Nyeri), Muthomi Njuki (Tharaka Nithi )and several MPs from the region who have expressed their support for him and the United Democratic Alliance (UDA), the party expected to sponsor him in his quest to succeed Uhuru.
Last week, Ruto received the Speaker, Deputy Speaker, Majority Leader and 25 out of the 30 elected MCAs of the Nyeri County Assembly who said they were joining UDA. He also welcomed Nyandarua County Assembly’s deputy speaker, majority leader and 17 elected MCAs who also decamped.
During Sagana III, and with less than six months to the General Election, Uhuru is expected to take Ruto head-on. He is also widely expected to reveal why he fell out with his deputy, and why he has changed tune about backing him in the State House race. After that, he is expected to unveil a re-invigorated Jubilee Party and spearhead campaigns to regain his stronghold from UDA.
In an interview with KTN on Sunday, National Assembly Majority Leader and Kipipiri MP Amos Kimunya acknowledged that UDA had captured a large following in Mt Kenya. He, however, said that with the President throwing his weight behind Jubilee, the party would regain some of the lost ground.
According to Kimunya, the chips will begin to fall in place after the Sagana meeting.
“Ruto defied his boss on premature campaigns and he will pay dearly for this after Uhuru’s visit,” he said during the KTN interview.
He added that the President will outline how Raila is a friend of Mt Kenya region as demonstrated by his support for BBI, which would have earned Mt Kenya region more constituencies.
In a battle for political control, Jubilee Party members - who have christened themselves the ‘Red Army’ - said their aim was to eradicate the ‘Yellow Fever’ in Mt Kenya in a show of might that will make or break Ruto’s presidential ambitions. Yellow Fever is a euphemism for UDA, whose dominant party colour is yellow.
With a day to the meeting, the region has seen a flurry of political activities in both Uhuru’s and Ruto’s camps. Representatives from the clergy, youth and politicians have been finalising the list of invitees to the meeting. Kieni Deputy County Commissioner Etiang Okaka said they have forwarded the list of invited guests to the relevant authorities.
Murang’a Bishop’s Forum chairperson Stephen Maina said he had been tasked with selecting religious leaders from Murang’a County who will represent the other spiritual leaders at the talks.
Multiple sources told The Standard that about 30,000 people from across all sectors are expected at the meeting.
Both Uhuru’s and Ruto’s teams have been holding town hall meetings with grassroots leaders. Whereas Uhuru’s allies were seeking to revive the Jubilee Party, Ruto’s allies said they were collecting views to be collated in the UDA manifesto.
Interestingly, during his ongoing campaign rallies in the region, Ruto has avoided criticising his boss, instead focusing on selling his economic agenda. By Ruto restricting himself to his economic recovery agenda, he positions himself as a leader who is more concerned with the welfare of ordinary Kenyans rather than a leader interested in capturing or sharing power.
Muchoki Muthara a political scientist, opined that Ruto is being strategic by camping in the region and fashioning his message around the economy and bottom-up economic model.
“They (Ruto and his allies) want to sustain this narrative which will then act as counter-strategy should Uhuru visit the region to discuss politics,” opined Muthara.
Ruto’s allies have warned Uhuru not to force a candidate on Mt Kenya, referring to his preference for Raila.
Mathira MP Rigathi Gachagua asked Uhuru to launch development projects and avoid succession politics. Gachagua urged the Head of State to follow in the footsteps of Kibaki, who did not meddle in succession politics.
“When he comes to force us to vote for Raila we will differ and disagree with him; let him visit the region and launch development projects and we shall respect him,” he said. “The mountain has moved to Ruto’s camp. We wish he (the President) could prioritise the escalating food prices, high fertilizer prices and general poverty in the region instead of coming to discuss an individual”.
Nyeri Governor Mutahi Kahiga said that only Ruto was capable of ensuring continuity of the projects initiated by the Jubilee administration.
“Ruto had stood with Uhuru for a very long time and it’s only fair for him (Uhuru) to reciprocate. We don’t want Raila’s history since the only history we need is the Nakuru declaration of yangu kumi ya Ruto kumi,” he said.
After spending his day in Nyeri, Ruto moved to Murang’a where he enumerated the development projects he said were initiated together with the President. However, leaders from the region expect Uhuru’s meeting to counter Ruto’s narrative.
Gatanga MP Nduati Ngugi believes Raila will stand to gain politically from the meeting.
“What Ruto and Uhuru have is an irreparable, irreconcilable and irretrievable marriage and Raila stands to gain,” Nduati said. “Chickens are soon coming home to roost”.
Notably, both Ruto and his allies have been cautious not to create the impression that there is a contest between him and the President. They remain clear that their rival is Raila, who is set to be endorsed as a presidential candidate by both the ruling party Jubilee and ODM, barring any legal challenge. The two parties are scheduled to hold their National Delegates Conferences later this week and unveil Raila as their candidate at the weekend.
Murang’a Senator Irungu Kang’ata says they are busy preparing for a duel with Raila.
“We welcome the President to the region. We shall listen and give him audience and since he will not be on the ballot, UDA is preparing for an epic dule with Tinga (Raila),” he said. “We shall not put any energy towards rebutting His Excellency’s actions. Doing so is mistaking who our real competition is”.