The naming of Deputy President William Ruto’s running mate was delayed yesterday amid last-minute horse-trading from two contestants jostling for the position.
What Ruto’s United Democratic Alliance (UDA) had promised to be a short affair ended up late into the night as allies of Tharaka Nithi Senator Kithure Kindiki and Mathira MP Rigathi Gachagua failed to agree.
A day-long meeting at the Deputy President’s official Karen residence could not immediately resolve a tussle arising from the race to succeed President Uhuru Kenyatta as the Mt Kenya region kingpin.
And as a result, a decision that was meant to be Ruto’s - picking a running mate - was surrendered to politicians from Mt Kenya, most of whom had threatened to take a backseat from the DP’s campaign had he chosen Gachagua.
Hours before Ruto was to make the announcement, the majority of politicians from the Mt Kenya region were planning a final push to convince Ruto to reconsider his running mate choice. The DP had settled on Gachagua, which was yet another change from his initial choice of Kindiki.
As of Friday night, all was set for Gachagua to take up the Kenya Kwanza Alliance running mate slot. But allies of Kindiki, led by a three vocal Mt Kenya MPs, protested the move.
By the time the haggling started, 130 kilometres away from the capital, there was a celebratory mood in Mathira where Gachagua’s supporters had started pouring out in the streets of Karatina.
Here, the Kenya Kwanza Nyeri Chapter had organised a Caravan to kick off celebrations in anticipation of an announcement.
But as minutes turned into hours, anxious politicians and their supporters from across the county, who had camped at a Karatina Hotel, became restless.
What started as excitement turned into anger and despair which eventually gave way to angry chants and protests.
Led by Kariithi Wambui, a UDA youth leader in Nyeri County, the supporters vowed they would not support DP Ruto if he announced a different candidate from their preferred choice.
“We have been supporting DP and Rigathi has stood with him sacrificing everything to support his campaigns. We shall not accept this betrayal,” Wambui said.
He said Gachagua had been a key mobiliser for the party and failure to give him the position would cost the DP the region’s votes.
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“If you do not give Gachagua the DP position you will not get our votes. It's that simple. We shall not accept anything less from Ruto,” He warned.
The crowds chanted ‘No Rigathi No Ruto’ emphatically but gradually dispersed from the venue. And then frustrated politicians drove off from the venue in different directions.
In Tharaka Nithi too, the air was pregnant with expectations. Their son who had risen to be Deputy Speaker of the Senate was now poised to be Ruto’s running mate, putting him just a heartbeat from the presidency if Ruto won. But they too had to wait.
Back in Nairobi, different groups converged at some city hotels, making final touches on their last-minute pitch to the DP. About 43 of the MPs had met several times in the last week and with more intensity when the DP sent out word that he had settled on Gachagua.
All but three Mt Kenya-leaning MPs supported Gachagua to take up the slot. Embakasi Central MP Benjamin Gathiru and Naivasha’s Jane Kihara were express in their support for the Mathira MP. Bahati MP Kimani Ngunjiri also supported Gachagua but he did not mind Kindiki taking up the running mate position.
Their alleged gripe with Gachagua was that some MPs term him a bully. “The DO (District Officer) is too abrasive and he is not a team leader,” a source who sought anonymity said.
Rigathi reportedly confronted two Mt Kenya MPs who don’t support his bid on Tuesday, who responded that Nyeri had produced a former president, with Kiambu having had two.
They also opposed the Mathira MP’s selection owing to the corruption case he faces in court. They said he would taint the Kenya Kwanza ticket given that rivals of Ruto have also previously linked the DP to graft claims.
Those supporting Kindiki argued that he was a safer choice for the DP, as he has no corruption scandals dogging him. They also felt it was time Ruto selected his deputy from the Mt Kenya East region, which has always voted in tune with the former Central province.
But the Sunday Standard has established that all that may have just been a smokescreen. At the heart of the anti-Gachagua campaign was the race to succeed Uhuru as the region’s kingpin.
“The feeling is that Gachagua would have an upper hand succeeding President Kenyatta as the region’s kingpin,” a source intimated to the Sunday Standard.
They perceive Kindiki as malleable and his selection would still level the playing field in the region to be the leading light, as he does not come from the larger Kikuyu community.
Several politicians from the region, including Moses Kuria (Gatundu South), Kimani Ichung’wa (Kikuyu) and Ndindi Nyoro (Kiharu) and former Kiambu Governor William Kabogo have seemed to prime themselves as possible inheritors to Uhuru’s throne.
Ruto was reportedly comfortable with both choices. In Gachagua, he saw an experienced administrator and a mobiliser with deep pockets. In Kindiki he has a loyal ally, who could inspire freshness into his candidacy.
But the DP had made up his mind on picking Gachagua, a decision made to avert a possible backlash from Central Kenya amid growing disquiet over the 30 per cent stake handed the Western region in a Ruto-led government.
And to this end, he had set the announcement for 10am. He had sent out invitations to that effect. But then the last-minute lobbying from those opposed to Gachagua forced the DP to call for a crisis meeting of Mt Kenya MPs alone at his official Karen residence.
Those present at the meeting included National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi, brought in, reportedly, as a voice of reason. There were reports that Muturi was to be a wildcard choice.
“It is between Gachagua and Kindiki. It is heated,” another source had said.
And amid an unending deadlock, which saw the DP ask Mt Kenya leaders to solve the matter and present a name to him, the unveiling was pushed to 1pm. Then 3pm. Eventually the DP’s team gave up on saying when the announcement would come.
By 4pm, unidentified persons had seated at the residence’s lawn, the prospective venue for the announcement. The Sunday Standard has learnt that the politicians were taking a 30-minute break after the earlier talks collapsed.
Some minutes to 5pm, Kindiki left the DP’s residence. Gachagua followed minutes later, driving in the opposite direction. Both had been asked to leave the venue as the decision “was not theirs to make.” They returned later on.
No white smoke
Addressing the press at 6.30pm, Kabogo said that the DP was “at ease.”
“We have many things to discuss about Kenya, not just the number two position,” Kabogo said.
At Ruto’s Karen residence, politicians invited to the unveiling ceremony, not from Mt Kenya region had been streaming out for the better part of the day, casting doubt over whether white smoke would emerge from the tense running mate negotiation inside.
Sources doubted whether the matter could be resolved by today, saying that there was still enough time before tomorrow’s deadline, set by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission.
At 7pm, party leaders in the Kenya Kwanza coalition who come from outside the Mt Kenya region were called to help break the stalemate.