Uhuru’s uphill task as he seeks to win back his Mt. Kenya backyard

With campaigns for the August 9 presidential election getting more intensive, President Uhuru Kenyatta is scheduled to launch a charm offensive to win back his Mt Kenya backyard, which has in the last four years been drifting towards his deputy William Ruto.

While most elected leaders, including the majority of governors, have sided with Azimio la Umoja movement, which is rooting for ODM leader Raila Odinga, who has Uhuru’s support, there is a feeling that the President will need to do more to woo ordinary citizens in the vote-rich region to back his candidature.

Speaking in Mombasa on Monday, the President indicated his resolve to back a presidential candidate other than Ruto, who before the 2018 Handshake deal was assured of being the favoured successor, accusing him of abandoning his duties to engage in early campaigns.

“I pleaded with them to stop early campaigns but they ignored me and my advice and yet they are claiming that they have been working. Let us not be cheated at all. I am now ready to face them and we will do politics properly,” said Uhuru, adding work is not done on SUV sunroofs but on the ground.

The President, who was speaking during the launch of the universal health coverage programme, was hitting out at Dr Ruto for variously taking credit for the Jubilee administration’s flagship projects, especially infrastructure, yet he has been virtually a ghost worker during his second term.

However, Ruto also fired back, stating the President cannot deny him credit for the progress the national government has realised since their election in 2013.

“You cannot deny me as Deputy President the credit for the many things we have achieved as a government. It is not going to happen, my friends,” he said during a campaign rally in Kakamega.

History professor Macharia Munene says the tour - real tour - is long overdue, adding it will have some political benefits to Uhuru’s succession plot though some people will remain sceptical.

But he adds the president and his handlers will only make serious headway if he adequately explains what went wrong between him and Ruto, how Raila has changed to warrant an embrace and impression that he has lost the initiative and the government to the ODM leader, which will need to be discounted convincingly.

“The public is still wondering about what went wrong between Uhuru and Ruto, and no adequate explanation has been offered. Two, how has Raila changed to warrant embracing him? And three, the impression that Uhuru has lost the initiative and the government to Raila would need to be discounted convincingly,” Prof Munene told The Nairobian.

Analysts further say that while Uhuru’s legacy as far as big projects is solid, he faces accusations of engaging in “development without a soul” especially in his Mt Kenya stronghold, where ordinary citizens cite a lack of government interventions to address their bread and butter issues.

A second charge against the President is that he has appeared to concentrate on regions that backed Raila in both the 2013 and 2017 elections such as Nyanza and Coast in matters development to the detriment of his strongholds.

Indeed, it is this disaffection that Ruto rode on to woo the Mt Kenya region through his Tangatanga movement, which has since been projected as the Hustler movement, and which claims it will address the problems of neglected sections of society such as small business people, women and the youth.

For starters, the straw that broke the camel’s back is the government clampdown on importation of counterfeit goods and tax evasion, which nearly paralysed operations of traders in areas such as Nyamakima and Gikomba in Nairobi, majority of whom trace their roots from Mt Kenya.

Leaders allied to Tangatanga, including Gatundu’s Moses Kuria, who has since drifted away, led protests against the move, putting Uhuru in a spot, at one time even forcing him to personally go and address challenges they were facing at the Nairobi Inland Container Depot.

But at the same time, the President refused to be pushed into abandoning his efforts to ensure all regions of the country enjoy the national cake.

“Every citizen is entitled to development regardless of where the leader comes from kwa hivyo hao washenzi muwachane na mimi (so can the fools leave me alone),” he added.

Uhuru’s critics at the time protested that unlike when he visited regions such as Nyanza and Coast with a bag of goodies in hand, his trips to Mt Kenya saw him only engage in politics, especially against his deputy’s allies.

In the last one year or so, however, Uhuru has unveiled major projects in Mt Kenya, which he is determined to complete before he leaves office, as part of his legacy. They include the dualling of the Kenol-Sagana-Marua highway and the Mau Mau Road; which cuts across Nyandarua, Murang’a and Nyeri counties.

But in his engagements with ordinary citizens, it will be interesting to see whether they will embrace his strategy given their misgivings over how his administration has addressed issues affecting them.

Overtaxation, closure of companies and a weak economy have made it impossible to create and grow business ventures and employment opportunities leading to the suffering of ordinary citizens. The most affected are exporters, retailers, manufacturers, transporters, microfinance operators and property owners.

Multimedia University journalism lecturer Kipkirui Kap Telwa, who is also a lawyer, says while the importation of counterfeits and tax evasion are indefensible, insensitive actions have rattled the business community.

“Well, as a lawyer, I won’t speak for tax evaders or counterfeit traders. But I would say his style of handling issues rattles and destabilises businesses,” he told The Nairobian.

But he also agrees that the high cost of living, impunity, corruption and other insensitive actions that undermine the wellbeing of Kenyans make Uhuru’s efforts to propel his preferred successor a hard sell.

 “I can’t imagine families evicted from their homes during a chilly night turning up to cheer him on. The President also cushioned big businesses during the Corona lockdown but left out small and informal businesses. They too can’t forgive him,” he adds.

Prof Munene agrees the concerns of dispossessed people in urban areas are a challenge that would need addressing.