Ruto tours Central in bid to take the pulse of restless residents

President William Ruto and his deputy Rigathi Gachagua meet Field Marshall Muthoni, the wife of General Stanley Mathenge, at Sagana State Lodge, Nyeri. [PCS]

President William Ruto completed his five-day working visit to the Mt Kenya region on Wednesday in a tour replete with heavy political overtones reminiscent of an election campaign.

The tour was planned and executed like a political rally with popular Kikuyu gospel and Benga artistes led by Ngaruiya Junior, the face of United Democratic Alliance’s rallying song 'UDA, Kazi ni Kazi', playing a prominent role.

Other artistes included Muigai wa Njoroge, better known for his hit song 'Ino Migunda' that criticises politicians for the squatter problem in the country, Kajei Salim of ‘Tigai Gitango', and Phyllis Mbuthia of ‘Tiga Niwe Ngai', among others.

The musicians travelled around the region in a truck to mobilise residents and moved to the next town once the President arrived. This differed from the President’s tours in other regions.

Local MPs played a key role in mobilising people and arranging transportation to the venues that Ruto visited.

During the tour, the President re-launched several projects that were initially initiated by his predecessor, Uhuru Kenyatta, including the Sh15 million Githurai water supply project (May 2020) and the Sh500 million Githurai modern market (2019).

Other projects that had been launched by the Jubilee administration but were relaunched by Ruto included the Sh1.1 billion Kagio water supply (January 26, 2021) and Sh60 million Othaya water sewerage plant (2016).

The President also revived stalled projects like the Sh4.5 billion Ichamara-Thangathi-Rutune 45-kilometre road, which had stalled at Rutune, and the Sh1.5 billion Gatung’ang’a-Chieni-State Lodge 46-kilometer road, which was only halfway complete.

On Tuesday, the President visited the New KCC Kiganjo to commission a modern pasteurizing machine worth Sh700 million and capable of processing 10,000 litres per hour. This was two years after former Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya had initiated the project.

Additionally, the Sh800 million Kaigonji irrigation project in Tetu, which the President commissioned on Monday, began in 2017 and was finished in April of this year.

Ruto refuted allegations of taking credit for Uhuru's flagship projects, saying he had played a key role in the planning and launching of the road projects during the previous administration.

"I have heard some people saying that Ruto has come here to open roads that were built by the previous government. I am not a visitor here in Mt Kenya. Many roads here, they will tell you that I started when I was the deputy president,” he said during a TV interview on Sunday.

Ruto’s tour climaxed at Sagana State Lodge on Tuesday when he met over 5,000 grassroots leaders and opinion shapers from Mt Kenya region. Some attendees even travelled from as far as Nakuru and Nairobi to gain insight into the government's agenda and help spread its message.

President William Ruto (right) commissions Othaya Sewerage Project in Nyeri County on August 7, 2023. [PCS, Standard]

During this event, the President dedicated two-and-a-half hours to explaining his agenda to residents. He stressed that the contentious Finance Act was crucial for progress, and also vowed not to form an alliance with opposition chief Raila Odinga.

The assembled opinion leaders, who were present alongside elected officials including MCAs, MPs, senators, and governors, were given the responsibility of acting as the government's ambassadors and conveying its agenda to every corner of the region.

While the President discussed his plans, he carefully avoided delving into the specifics of his meeting with Raila and former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo in Mombasa. Instead, he repeated his message of sending Raila back home to Bondo.

Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua also spoke, assuring the President of the region's unwavering support. However, he cautioned against any actions that might betray the trust of residents.

"Mundu wanarumwo onaga kamukwa akaruga… (anyone who has ever been bitten by a snake jumps after seeing a rope). This region is clear and is opposed to handshake based on the repercussions of handshake between Raila and Uhuru,” Gachagua said.

Gachagua said that he used to be a close friend of Uhuru, and that he used to visit Sagana State Lodge frequently, but this changed after Uhuru formed an alliance with Raila.

The deputy president's sentiments in the presence of Ruto and Mt Kenya leaders at a meeting last week to discuss "the place of Mt Kenya region" after Raila-Ruto talks culminated into a private meeting between Ruto and the region's leaders at Sagana State Lodge on Sunday evening and on Tuesday. This further explains why Ruto visited the region.

"At the meeting, he sought to restore trust and assured that despite meeting Raila, he would never corner the region which has crucial Cabinet and State agency positions and could suffer should he enter into a pact with Raila,” a source disclosed.

A political commentator, Charles Njoroge, told The Standard that it was clear that there was a need for the President to visit the region to "seal the loopholes of trust deficit that had started creeping into the mountain."

“The region was full of hopes when they voted for this administration, but the hopes are dimming day by day due to the high cost of living. This is another reason that the President had to come to continue giving them hope without mentioning the opposition strategy of inciting locals against the Finance Act,” Mr Njoroge said.