Why Uhuru is facing backlash in Mt Kenya

President Uhuru Kenyatta.  [Tabitha Otwori, Standard]

President Uhuru Kenyatta is facing open rebellion from his backyard characterised by massive decamping from his camp to that of his rival, Deputy President William Ruto.

While those in team Ruto’s camp are celebrating, pro-government leaders said the celebrations will be short-lived and that soon, all the leaders who are supporting Ruto will ‘come back home’, saying it was too early to tell the political wave for next year’s General Election.

On Wednesday, several leaders who include Kiambu Woman Rep Gathoni wa Muchomba visited Ruto and declared their support for his 2022 presidential bid.

Interestingly, Gathoni who has been a sharp critic of Ruto and a frontline crusader for the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) was the beneficiary of the Kenya Women Parliamentary Association (Kewopa) where a Ruto allies purge saw Kirinyaga woman rep Wangui Ngirici routed.

In an interview, Gathoni said like a smart politician, she was overwhelmed by Ruto’s support from the ground and decided to bolt out to resonate with the people.

“I don’t understand why Ruto’s popularity is on the rise in Mt Kenya region. I only responded to what my electorate want. To be on the safe side, I joined where the people are,” she said.

Yesterday, at a campaign meeting for UDA candidate John Njuguna Wanjiku in Kiambaa, Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria struck a defiant tone.

“Let no one cheat you that Uhuru is not going home. I am ready to transmit the live video stream of the president going home next August. You will see him leaving State House,” Kuria said at a campaign caravan stop at Karuri.

Also present at the caravan, which the deputy president was expected to join but skipped at the last minute, were Rigathi Gachagua (Mathira), Ndindi Nyoro (Kiharu), George Koimburi (Juja), Glady Shollei (Uasin Gishu), Ngirici (Kirinyaga) and Jayne Kihara (Naivasha).

President Uhuru Kenyatta addresses residents of Ndathi in Kieni Constituency, Nyeri county, February 1, 2021. [Mose Sammy, Standard]

Nyoro, while welcoming the recent defectors, disclosed that they were in talks with Cabinet and principal secretaries, governors and MPs from the region who will join the hustler nation in the coming days in droves.

“Almost all sitting MPs from Mt Kenya region except just about five are Hustler Nation - they are where they are during the day for fear of victimisation and harassment,” Nyoro said. He claimed that the Kenyatta administration had tattered the economy and intimidated leaders, a move that did not auger well with the people.

Gachagua said Ruto has gained sympathy from Mt Kenya region due to the ruling government turning dictatorial, use of police to harass leaders with dissenting opinion, and the economic hardships.

“The president surrendered power to civil servants who are abrasive and used police to manage politics. When the likes of (Fred) Matiang’i go to commission projects without including elected leaders, they lost touch with the ground,” Gachagua added.

He said the region never embraced the handshake and the fact that Ruto was left out in the deal.

But pro-government leaders led by Ngunjiri Wambugu (Nyeri Town), Peter Kimari (Mathioya), Wangari Mwaniki (Kigumo) and Nduati Ngugi (Gatanga) denied claims that the president had lost touch with the Mt  Kenya people.

They asserted that their Tangatanga counterparts manufactured the rebellion and used the grievances as a political weapon against the president to undermine his authority and political influence in the region.

Wambugu said the defections were a political strategy of politicians positioning themselves for post-Uhuru politics after 2022 and that more jostling would occur with politicians trying to determine which team will serve their political interests. This, he argued, had nothing to do with Uhuru’s popularity.

“Uhuru’s grassroots popularity is intact and this is why no one is willing to take him head-on. It is the political manoeuvring by others that is creating the perception that he is weak, but coming months this will prove them wrong,” he said.

President Uhuru Kenyatta. [File, Courtesy]

Said Kimari, “Uhuru will roar in the final days of his term and most of those in Ruto’s camp will come back because of their political survival. The president will lead us in the next government and probably ask us to support Ruto, but we shall have to be told what is our stake.”

“We elected Uhuru to work and the work is tangible. We understand that he has a huge task for the whole country but when he finds time and visits the region, you will see the difference,” the Kigumo MP said.

However, political commentator Gitile Naituri cautioned Ruto’s political camp that the locals were not necessarily supporting Ruto, but were responding to the economic mismanagement and hardship they are going through, thus protesting against the government.

“Defectors are only responding to the hostility of government by the people on the ground, but it is not that they support Ruto. That notwithstanding, the Hustler Nation has also divided the region between the haves and have nots and since the poor are the majority, they support Ruto who is posing as their savior,” he said.

He advised that the president should control the anger by coming up with a political strategy to neutralise the ground to counter Ruto’s growing popularity, saying he can secretly marshal his support for a neutral politician who will deconstruct Ruto. 

[Additional reporting by Fidelis Kabunyi]