No love lost: How Uhuru fell out of favour with his Mt Kenya region

Uhuru Kenyatta addresses religious leaders drawn from the Mt Kenya region during a non-denominational service at State House Nairobi in July 2022. [PPS]

In 2010, former Kangema MP John Njoroge Michuki made a remark that calmed divisions that were emerging over the political direction of Mt Kenya region.

By this time, a daughter and son of the soil, Martha Karua and Peter Kenneth, had started campaigning for the presidency and confusion had ensued.

Michuki’s remarks that Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta was the Mt Kenya region kingpin and the de facto leader of the Agikuyu community spelt doom for Karua and Kenneth’s political ambitions.

Michuki went on to state that Uhuru was the gateway to Mt Kenya and demanded that all those who were interested in seeking leadership positions must be endorsed by Uhuru.

A tough-talking Michuki exuded confidence that it is only Uhuru who had the ability to safeguard the interests of the region then. 

“Any Kikuyu leader who loves the Agikuyu nation must follow Uhuru Kenyatta. He will be the king of the Agikuyu forever and we must rally behind him,” Michuki had said. What followed was unexplainable admiration of the then Minister for Finance and Deputy Prime Minister which saw Karua and Kenneth being labelled traitors.

In his campaigns, his supporters thronged in hundreds of thousands and braved heavy rains to listen to their son who they had nicknamed Kamwana. Anyone who talked ill about him was seen as an enemy of the Agikuyu community.

Prayed for rain

Uhuru was adored and many people believed he was an enigma. January 21 2017 events in Nyeri saw Uhuru pray for rain after years of drought left many believing he had a connection to the supreme deity.

After praying for rain, it took three minutes and behold, the heavens opened. To his supporters, it did not matter whether there were clouds for rain.

“Ngai witu nitwakuhoya, Utuhe thayo bururini witu hamwe na mbura niguo ithui hamwe na nyamu ciitu cione giakuria (Our God, we pray, give us peace in our country), give us rain so that our animals can get something to eat, our land be productive, we eat and get strength…” went the prayer. Anytime Karua and Kenneth visited their natives to seek blessings, their campaign vehicles were pelted with stones and true to Michuki’s words, Uhuru not only took his natives to government but he took over from Mwai Kibaki.

Former President Uhuru Kenyatta addresses a rally after inspecting works on the Kenol-Sagana-Marua Highway in 2022. [File, Standard]

In 2013, Uhuru was Mt Kenya region’s Kamwana (son) and in 2017 during his re-election campaigns he was ‘Muthamaki’ or Mugathe (king) and many people maintained a king is never insulted.

However, in 2022, a new generation that did not care about Michuki’s supposed stand that had offered a direction to the region sprung. 

The defacto leader, feared and revered by many became the political campaign tool. The man who showed the region the political direction became the target for anyone with political ambitions.

The mammoth crowds that came to hear their kingpin speak turned their back on him and in the final days to the last elections, only a handful could show up. He was vilified together with his preferred successor, Azimio leader Raila Odinga.

The Azimio la Umoja coalition, which Uhuru chaired, perfomed dismally in his own backyard that even in his own polling center, Raila was floored by UDA’s William Ruto.

Karua, Raila’s running mate could not even persuade her own former Gichugu constituents, leave alone Kirinyaga County to rally behind her boss.  

What went wrong? Political analysts and elected leaders think Uhuru’s subtle political ending was informed by his own goodwill and his desire to change the political narrative in the region.

Former rival

Uhuru had risen to power by presenting Raila, his former fiercest opponent, as a greedy politician and at one time referring to him as Kimundu Kiguruki meaning an insane man. But after the March 9, 2018 handshake, he sought for forgiveness and said he was only campaigning.

“We had imagined that we could have undone the Raila phobia we had created in Mt Kenya region not knowing that it was encrypted in peoples’ hearts,” recalled former Gatanga MP Nduati Ngugi. 

Ngugi, who unsuccessfully defended his seat on a Jubilee ticket, said by supporting Raila, Uhuru was trying to play clean politics devoid of propaganda and innuendos but based on the results, he insists that Kenya is not yet there.

“This is a man who has worked for the electorate, his development track record speaks volumes and he hoped that people would listen to him on that account but they didn’t. They chose hypes, political sloganeering as opposed to facts and in the process we also went home,” said the former MP.

However, Isaac Thuita, Nyeri chairman of young professionals said Uhuru was like the proverbial pork that cooks itself in its own fat.

“In his own words, he announced he could reciprocate President Ruto’s support by campaigning for him for 10 years. In his own motion, he told his natives that Raila was bad for the country, he spoiled his own broth and has himself to blame for poor ending,” said Thuita.

Thuita said the arrest of elected leaders who seemingly supported Ruto’s ambitions was seen as weaponisation of State agencies and this attracted hate towards Uhuru and sympathy to the UDA battalion.

Uhuru Kenyatta (left) chats with William Ruto during the latter's homecoming as Eldoret North MP. [File, Standard]

“No one who supported the government was arrested and charged but only those that supported Ruto. Uhuru’s about-turn on “yangu kumi na ya Ruto kumi” narrative also disconnected him with his people,” added Thuita.

Former Kiambu Governor James Nyoro said Uhuru concentrated on infrastructural development, which are never considered by the ordinary citizens as developments, and forgot social programmes that put money in peoples’ pockets. The hardware priority as Nyoro puts it included the Jubilee government’s blueprint projects like the Standard Gauge Railway, the dualing of Kenol Sagana road and other major projects.

“Ordinary citizens don’t care about the major projects but are focused to see programmes that puts money in their pockets. He also disconnected with his supporters by locking himself in State House instead of comforting his people during the hard times and our opponents took advantage,” said Nyoro.

On another reason that could have disconnected the President with his natives, Nyoro says the nature of politics has it that when elected leaders are being ushered to office, the electorate has admiration and love from locals but the love fades away as years move.

“It was the case with Jomo Kenyatta, Daniel Moi, Mwai Kibaki and now Uhuru Kenyatta. It is also the same case with leaders in other elective seasons,” said Nyoro.  

However, Prof Gitile Naituli says Uhuru was a victim of circumstances given the Covid-19, drought, and inflation issues that affected his influence in his backyard.